Caleb Serong celebrates a goal during the match between Fremantle and Essendon at Optus Stadium in round 15, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

FREMANTLE produced the response that its past fortnight demanded on Saturday night, rediscovering a high-pressure style to notch an impressive 32-point win over Essendon at Optus Stadium.

In what shaped as a season-defining match, the Dockers squared their season at 7-7 and kept themselves in the finals hunt, overwhelming the Bombers for long periods to win 14.9 (93) to 9.7 (61).  

DOCKERS v BOMBERS Full match coverage and stats

With ruckman Sean Darcy back from injury, Luke Jackson flying in attack, and midfielders Caleb Serong and Andrew Brayshaw dominating in the centre, the Dockers extended their lead at the first three breaks before a late Essendon rally.


They saw that off too, however, and should take a lot of confidence out of a performance that had all the trademarks of their best football, winning the critical contests, tackling ferociously, and capitalising through an array of young targets, led by Jackson (three goals) and Jye Amiss (two).

Serong (32 and 10 clearances) was outstanding in a best afield display, adding the icing to his and Fremantle's performance with a last-minute goal from a snap over his shoulder.


The Dockers may well be most pleased with the significant contributions of others, like young midfielder Matthew Johnson (16 and eight marks) and Liam Henry (32 and eight) who repeatedly linked the backline and the midfield with their run.

Captain Alex Pearce led from the front with his blanketing job on Essendon key forward Peter Wright, who was held goalless after booting five goals in his last start against Carlton.

The Bombers were best-served by midfielders Zach Merrett (29 and a goal) and Nic Martin (26 and one), while star Darcy Parish returned in style, finishing with 24 and a team-high nine clearances after a hot start.


The Bombers couldn't find an avenue to goal when the Dockers' pressure was at its fiercest, however, and the game wasn't on their terms, finishing without a multiple goalkicker.

Meanwhile, they leaked goals from stoppages, conceding 8.5 from that source across the night, including 4.4 from centre bounces as the Dockers' onballers – including now part-timer Nat Fyfe (19 and six clearances) – flexed their muscles.

The pressure that would help Fremantle get the game on its terms was nowhere to be seen early, as the Bombers got the jump in Perth and kicked back-to-back goals to open.


The visitors were on top at the coalface and had free players everywhere on the outside, picking through the Dockers with uncontested marks before the response eventually came. 

It was emphatic, too, with Fremantle kicking five unanswered goals either side of quarter time on the back of increased pressure around the ball and an ability to force turnovers.

The Dockers kept the momentum going throughout the second term, with Jackson influential both in the air and at ground level, and Serong racking up 11 disposals for the quarter as they dominated inside 50s (15-7) and built a 22-point lead at the main break.


Fremantle turned the screws in the third quarter and was inspired by some brilliance from its midfield leader Brayshaw, who won a hard ball inside 50 and then snapped a fantastic goal under pressure.

The tackling pressure that was turning their form around continued to ramp up and the backline held firm as Pearce continued his blanketing job on a goalless Wright.

When Jackson marked on the boundary and converted his set shot, the result appeared settled and the Dockers took a 39-point lead and all the momentum into the last break.

Three goals from the Bombers to open the final term sent a scare through the Optus Stadium crowd, but milestone Docker Michael Frederick settled the result in his 50th game with four minutes to play.


Early focus pays off for Freo
Fremantle entered Saturday night having lost 12 of its 13 first quarters this season and was coming off its worst opening term of the season against Greater Western Sydney. The concerning trend looked like continuing after back-to-back Bomber goals to open the game, but the response eventually came from the Dockers, who lifted around the ball to break a run of five first-quarter 'losses'. Fittingly, it was the red-time goals they have developed a bad habit of conceding that got them over the line, with Michael Walters flying for a terrific contested mark and converting to put them ahead late. 

Michael Walters celebrates a goal during the match between Fremantle and Essendon at Optus Stadium in round 15, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

Dockers get their 'Swag' back
The return of Sean Darcy might not have given the Dockers the hitout dominance that was anticipated with Essendon's Sam Draper on the sidelines, but it unlocked the best of Fremantle, freeing Luke Jackson to play the forward/midfield role he excels in. The man the Dockers call 'Swaggy' was still influential on his own after two matches out with a hamstring injury, finishing with 24 hitouts and doing valuable bullocking work for his midfielders.

Bye handicap continues 
The Bombers' loss made it 1-8 for teams coming off their bye in 2023, with Melbourne and West Coast also losing so far in round 15 after a week off. It was an issue the Bombers spoke about in the build-up to Saturday night's game, recognising the trend. There was no indication the Bombers were off their game in the opening 15 minutes, dominating most aspects, but the performance spiralled from there to be one of the poorer showings this season. What level of that is attributed to the bye, it is impossible to know. At 8-6 and with Geelong, Fremantle and Richmond all fighting to get into the top eight, Brad Scott will hope a response comes quickly against Port Adelaide next Saturday at the MCG.  

Andrew McGrath walks from the field after Essendon was defeated by Fremantle at Optus Stadium in round 15, 2023. Picture: Getty Images


FREMANTLE        3.3     8.7    12.8    14.9 (93)
ESSENDON          2.3     5.3    6.5     9.7 (61)

: Jackson 3, Amiss 2, Walters 2, Frederick 2, Brayshaw, Johnson, Schultz, Serong, Switkowski
Essendon: Caldwell, Guelfi, Hobbs, Langford, Martin, Menzie, Merrett, Parish, Stringer

Fremantle: Serong, Jackson, Pearce, Brayshaw, Henry, Johnson
Essendon: Merrett, Martin, Hobbs, Parish, Ridley

: Nil
Essendon: Zerk-Thatcher (head knock)

Fremantle: Nil
Jye Menzie replaced in selected side by Nick Bryan

Fremantle: Sam Sturt (replaced Alex Pearce in fourth quarter)
Jye Menzie (replaced Nick Bryan in third quarter)

Crowd: 43,063 at the Optus Stadium