Hayden Young and Nat Fyfe celebrate a goal with Bailey Banfield during the R7 match between Fremantle and Western Bulldogs at Optus Stadium on April 27, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

FREMANTLE responded to its Derby defeat in thrilling style on Saturday night, breaking the Western Bulldogs late to win a tense clash by 24 points at Optus Stadium and return to the top eight. 

Bailey Banfield emerged as the Dockers' unlikely hero in a field of stars, kicking back-to-back goals deep in the fourth quarter to secure the 14.11 (95) to 10.11 (71) win as the Dockers found a new gear after a low-scoring month. 

DOCKERS v BULLDOGS Full match coverage and stats

The game was alive through a nail-biting final quarter and only six points separated the teams before Banfield's intervention 22 minutes in, with the forward converting from 50m out and then again from a tight angle, finishing with three goals after kicking 0.4 last week. 

The win, which was propelled by a significant return to elite form from star midfielder Nat Fyfe, saw the Dockers kick their highest score since round two, ending a month of poor supply for their forwards.

Fyfe was sensational, finishing with an equal game-high 37 disposals as an inside bull who released his teammates constantly with clean handballs. His sidekick was club champion Caleb Serong, who also amassed 37 touches and had a club-record 17 clearances. 


The Dockers relied on captain Alex Pearce to support an undersized backline with his constant aerial interventions, while key forward Josh Treacy (five contested marks) was a frequent target, finishing with an equal team-high three goals alongside Banfield. 

The team's return to form was built on clearance dominance (47-30) and chains of handballs that released their runners, with debutants Cooper Simpson and Pat Voss along for the ride in eye-catching first-up performances.


It was back to earth for the Bulldogs after a 60-point win against St Kilda, with Tom Liberatore's late withdrawal with illness a blow that impacted their clearance game significantly.

Luke Beveridge expected Fremantle to come out "breathing fire" after its dispiriting Derby loss in round six, and his instincts were right early as James Aish, Treacy and Voss laid big tackles and the Dockers kicked two quick goals. 

Players appeared to struggle with the Optus Stadium surface and were slipping over frequently, but the Bulldogs were able to steady and kick back-to-back goals through Aaron Naughton and Tim English.  


A strong contested mark from impressive Treacy and a typically accurate set shot after the siren gave the Dockers an eight-point lead at the first break and some reward for their midfield ascendency. 

Challenges came for both teams as Freo key defender Josh Draper was substituted with a hamstring injury and Bulldogs forward Cody Weightman succumbed to an elbow issue, landing awkwardly in an aerial contest and leaving the ground with trainers.


Bailey Dale, who was brilliant throughout for the Bulldogs, continued to lift and pushed forward to kick two goals in the second term, including a brilliant set shot from a tight angle that cut the half-time margin to just three points. 

The margin never stretched beyond the 12 points it sat at halfway through the third quarter when Fyfe plucked the ball off Bulldogs interceptor Buku Khamis and snapped his second goal of the season. 

With the Dockers' backline undersized after the loss of Draper, however, Sam Darcy emerged as the dangerman and kicked two goals from contested marks. If Marcus Bontempelli had converted from 15m out, the Bulldogs would have had a lead going into the tense finale. 

The evolution of Fyfe 
Nat Fyfe spoke during the week about judging himself differently in 2024 as he evolves as a player late in his career, but Saturday night's performance was a return to his ball-winning best, reaching 30 disposals for the first time since round 17, 2021, and matching the 37 he last accumulated back in 2019. The dual Brownlow medallist made a flying start, handballing 12 times among his 15 first-quarter possessions as he set up teammates around him. The three-time All-Australian said he was judging himself more on the collective midfield's output, and on that measure he was outstanding.   


Darcy impresses, but Dogs can't exploit height 
Fremantle's backline was already undermanned, making the loss of key tall Josh Draper a gift for the Bulldogs' tall forwards. Sam Darcy took the chance to impose himself on the game, impressing in the air with seven marks and kicking three goals. Former Docker Rory Lobb had little impact in his return to Optus Stadium, however, finishing goalless and with two marks from eight touches. The Bulldogs hope to regain Jamarra Ugle-Hagan for next week's clash against Hawthorn, with the tall forward missed on Saturday night. 

Debutants enjoy their moment 
Draftee Cooper Simpson has generated plenty of excitement at Fremantle since joining the club with pick No.35, and he showed glimpses of why on Saturday night. Substituted into the game at quarter-time, he showed his rapid sidestep to set Andrew Brayshaw into space and grew in confidence from there. Late in the game, he used his speed to break the lines and set up Banfield for the crucial match-sealing goal. Voss was a strong target in the air and a pressuring force at ground level. He lifted the team midway through the second quarter when he converted a set shot for his first AFL goal. Both look like reliable options when chances for selection present through the season.  



FREMANTLE                       4.4   7.6   10.9   14.11 (95)  
WESTERN BULLDOGS      3.2   7.3   9.10   10.11 (71)   

Fremantle: Treacy 3, Banfield 3, Frederick 2, Jackson 2, Fyfe, Voss, Walters, Young 
Western Bulldogs: Darcy 3, Dale 2, Naughton 2, English, Vandermeer, West 

Fremantle: Serong, Fyfe, Pearce, Treacy, Aish, Brayshaw, Young
Western Bulldogs: Dale, Darcy, Treloar, Jones, Richards, English  

Fremantle: Draper (hamstring)
Western Bulldogs: Weightman (elbow)  

Fremantle: Nil 
Western Bulldogs: Tom Liberatore (illness) replaced in the selected side by Caleb Daniel 

Fremantle: Cooper Simpson (replaced Josh Draper at quarter time) 
Western Bulldogs: Caleb Daniel (replaced Cody Weightman in the second quarter)  

Crowd: 45,931 at Optus Stadium