Fremantle will be on red-alert for a snarling Melbourne in their Friday night blockbuster, with the Demons desperate to rediscover their defensive “hallmark” in the next six days ahead of a potentially season-defining trip west.
It comes as gun Fremantle recruit admits his team was probably “lucky” to get away with a draw against Richmond at Marvel Stadium, with the 50-gamer’s side clinging on despite the Tigers having two golden opportunities to score in the final 90 seconds of the match.
Noah Balta was called to play on from about 35m out directly in front with Dockers defender Michael Frederick producing a brilliant smother.
Clark also had a big late moment, laying a tackle on Liam Baker before youngster Noah Cumberland’s late brain fade when he played on after taking the mark on the 50m line with two seconds left.
He praised his fellow back-six members, including Hayden Young, Luke Ryan, Brennan Cox and Alex Pearce, who all stepped up late, for their “amazing” efforts in salvaging two very valuable points in the context of the top-four.
It was remarkably the first draw of Clark’s career, which started back in 2018 at the Cats when he was picked up in the first round of the draft.
“We had our chances, they had their chances as well,” Clark told The West Australian.
“They probably had a lot more chances late that probably should’ve been goals really.
“We had some amazing efforts where we were able to stop them which kept us in the game so I think we were lucky to get a draw.
“It was obviously not the result that we wanted but at the end of the day, two points are better than zero.
“We felt that we fuelled their game style a little bit, particularly in the first half, and just couldn’t take our chances in the second half.”
Clark wasn’t surprised with the “really reliable” Young’s career-best performance.
The 21-year-old has game-high 31 possessions and 14 marks to go with 10 intercept possessions and showed maturity beyond his years late.
“Youngy is awesome,” Clark said.
“He’s a great defender to play alongside of and we know what we’re going to get from him, week in, week out.
“He’s really reliable and a trusted player in our team.”
Clark was one of Fremantle’s best once again, continuing his strong form in the back half with 24 disposals, seven marks, five score involvements, five rebound 50s and 425 metres gained.
But, despite going at 75 per cent efficiency, he was harsh in his assessment of his own game, saying he “couldn’t hit the side of a barn at times”.
The Dockers face a stern test of their premiership credentials against reigning premiers Melbourne at Optus Stadium on the Friday night stage.
“It’s one of the biggest tasks in footy and we’ve shown that we’re capable of beating the best teams in the game at the moment,” he said.
“We just need to get back to our best and these are the games we really want to win.”
The Demons conceded 100-plus points for the first time in three years in Saturday night’s 10-point loss to the Western Bulldogs in a wildly entertaining Marvel Stadium shootout.
Simon Goodwin’s side has suffered defeats in five of its last eight to lose the aura of invincibility it once boasted despite leading by a game-high 27 points late in the second term.
But it was the Bulldogs’ ability to run rampant on the reigning premiers’ defence, which was missing All-Australian Jake Lever (shoulder), that bothered Goodwin most.
“It’s a missed opportunity at our end,” Goodwin said.
“(But) they’re just typical games against the Western Bulldogs – they swing on momentum and we’ve had that before. Probably for us, 110 points against isn’t a normal Melbourne game.
“The Bulldogs certainly got the game more looking like their type of game for longer, and that’s what enabled them to get themselves back into the game … so we’ll go away and look at that.”
Melbourne could be outside the top four by the end of next round if it doesn’t avenge the round 11 defeat to the Dockers at the MCG, which started the rot after a 17-match winning streak.
“When you lose tight games at this time of year, it hurts,” Goodwin said.
“Our challenge as a footy club now is to respond quickly and that response needs to come next week against Fremantle … but, as I said, 110 points against isn’t quite the way we want to play.”
Goodwin expects Lever to be available for the Fremantle showdown but was less confident about spearhead Ben Brown, who continues to manage a knee injury that will impact him until his career ends.