It started and ended unconvincingly, but what came in between was excellent from Fremantle and ultimately enough to get them over the line in a classic.
Port Adelaide forwards Robbie Gray and Todd Marshall were left to lament their set-shot misses in the dying stages, as the Dockers scrambled home by eight points, 15.9 (99) to 14.7 (91) at Optus Stadium on Sunday.
Trailing by 40 points late in the third quarter, the Power threatened an extraordinary comeback on the back of veteran Charlie Dixon’s late heroics.
While Fremantle would have preferred a more assured final term after Port Adelaide had eight scoring shots to two, it was ultimately a case of centre-square submission to domination for the Dockers after they rebounded from their mauling at the hands of Carlton last weekend.
And they did it without captain Nat Fyfe.
The Dockers returned to their on-ball formula from earlier in the season as Fyfe played as a full-time forward, not required at a single centre bounce.
With Sean Darcy and Rory Lobb – who starred with five goals – dominant against makeshift Power ruck pair Jeremy Finlayson and Dixon, Fremantle owned the centre clearance battle 20-10 and dominated overall clearances 48-30.
The tussle featured outstanding Mark of the Year contenders from Fremantle defender Hayden Young and Port Adelaide forward Mitch Georgiades, as well as jaw-dropping goals from the boundary line from Caleb Serong and Dixon.
WA youngster Georgiades gave 100-gamer Luke Ryan the early run around as the Power got the first three goals of the game, before the Dockers quickly lifted around the ball.
Fremantle kicked eight of the next nine goals and led by 25 points at the major break and 34 points at three-quarter time.
Port looked like they were beaten but didn’t know it. With Dixon the spark as the visitors surged home, only for Gray to kick his shot out on the full with 2min37sec on the clock.
Port, now destined to miss the finals, had another chance to draw to within a goal when Marshall kicked a behind with 1min28 sec remaining.
Brownlow medallist Ollie Wines had a game-high 39 touches for the Power.
We’re good thanks, Jacko
Well what a juicy little twist this was in Fremantle’s pursuit of Melbourne premiership star Luke Jackson.
Rory Lobb’s career-high five-goal game comes with the big man widely expected to again request a trade away from the Dockers, with the club trying to line up Jackson to replace him in the forward/ruck role.
Lobb, 29, has now kicked 27 majors in 14 games in his best season in purple and whatever happens, his strong form is good news for Fremantle.
The better he plays, the more competitive tension there could be for his services and the Dockers could end up netting a nice draft pick which could be part of the Jackson package.
It’s just hard to understand why Lobb would want to leave when he’s playing well, is paid well and is a crucial cog in a team that looks to be on the cusp of doing something special over the next few years.
Nat not required
For so long used to having to carry the team, Fyfe is now fitting into it.
In his third game back following long-term shoulder and back issues, Fyfe was not used at a single centre bounce as he returned to the half-forward role where he began his career.
The million-dollar man even came up to stoppages at times to help block for new star Andrew Brayshaw.
The sight was confirmation of the baton change – the dual Brownlow medallist trying to keep Port Adelaide tagger Willem Drew away from Brayshaw, the young gun who could become Fremantle’s second Brownlow winner in September.
Fyfe had decent stints on the bench but was a strong contributor with 21 touches and a second-quarter goal.
Young talent time
Fremantle have had two Mark of the Year winners in their history, with Tony Modra’s effort in 2000 followed up by Luke McPharlin’s famous 2005 grab.
Defender Hayden Young lodged a strong nomination to make it a third in 2022, after he soared onto and above the shoulders of Port Adelaide’s Lachie Jones in the second quarter.
Springing off his right foot, Young had eyes for the ball all the way and made first contact with his arms outstretched.
The 21-year-old juggled the ball on the way down but never let it spill, suffering no serious injury despite landing at an awkward angle on his head and back.
Remarkably, either Young or Georgiades won’t even take out the mark of the round.
Also in the second term, reigning Goal of the Year holder Serong decided he would lodge a nomination for this year, nailing a left-footed drop punt from deep in the pocket.