Rory Lobb wrestles with Sam Sturt during round six, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

FREMANTLE took its eye off the ball in Rory Lobb's return and paid the price, losing a spiteful clash against the Western Bulldogs by 49 points at Optus Stadium on Friday night.

The Dockers' focus on Lobb, who left in messy circumstances at the end of last season, was clear before the opening bounce when captain Alex Pearce ran straight through the tall forward, sparking a scuffle.

And it was clear during the third quarter when a handful of players wrestled with the new Bulldog and allowed Adam Treloar to pounce on a mis-kicked set shot and snap a crucial goal.

'WE EXPECTED IT' Dogs anticipated hostility, JL denies Lobb focus

When they needed to respond in the final term they couldn't, conceding five goals to one as the impressive Bulldogs prevailed 17.16 (118) to 10.9 (69) with an important win that squares their season at 3-3.


The Dockers, meanwhile, are back to square one after ball-movement issues and poor connection with their forwards became issues again and their season reached a flashpoint at 2-4.

Bulldogs captain Marcus Bontempelli was brilliant throughout but lifted when the game was alive, finishing with 31 disposals (18 contested), eight clearances and two goals.

DOCKERS v BULLDOGS Full match coverage and stats

Sidekick Treloar challenged for best afield honours with his two superb goals at crucial times, finishing with a team-high 35 disposals and three score assists as the Bulldogs dominated contested ball 154-129.

They had winners all over the ground and a depth of contributors, with Bailey Williams kicking a career-best three goals, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan taking a career-best 10 marks, and Jack Macrae winning a career-best 14 clearances.

As a team, they were able to lock the ball in their half for long periods and build pressure, linking up with well with handballs and winning the inside 50s 60-45 in their second straight game on the road.


Fremantle has been plagued by slow starts this season and Friday night was no exception, with the Bulldogs dominating field position early with 10 of the first 12 forward entries.  

The issue for the Dogs was their conversion, kicking 0.6 to start the game while the Dockers converted from each of their first two forward entries and made up for their stilted ball movement with efficiency.

The Bulldogs eventually started capitalising, with Bontempelli asserting himself through the midfield and entering quarter time with nine disposals and a goal as the Bulldogs built a seven-point lead.


They took their momentum into the second term and when Aaron Naughton, who finished with three goals, caught Ethan Hughes holding the ball and converted his free kick, the Bulldogs had kicked six of the last seven goals to open a 25-point lead.

The Bulldogs had no right to get comfortable after last year's elimination final loss, however, and Fremantle again mounted a comeback, launching their own run when in-form small forward Lachie Schultz converted on the run.

Clever half-forward Sam Sturt, who went goalless in his first AFL game since 2021 last week, then showed why he is in this team, kicking back-to-back goals after finding space inside 50 and cutting the margin to just six points.

The Bulldogs needed to steady after cracking under the Dockers' increased pressure around the ball, and the man who got them back on top was Lobb.

The former Docker marked inside 50 and, to a chorus of fierce boos from the crowd, converted his set shot from just inside 40m to lift the Bulldogs.


From there, the Bulldogs got their hands dirty and prevented the Dockers from getting any momentum when they threatened in the third quarter and three times cut the margin to 18 points.

They would get no closer though as the Bulldogs recorded one of their gutsier road wins.

No 'Lobster Tears' as forward smiles his way through return
From the beers that were canned in his name by Fremantle fans to the booing debate, former Docker Rory Lobb was in the news every day this week as he prepared to return to Optus Stadium. Few Dockers have left the club is messier circumstances, and it was clear that plenty of his former teammates were unhappy about it. A smiling Lobb appeared unfazed by the early scuffle and, while quiet early, had some key involvements. He was booed throughout, but ultimately had the last laugh and was friendly with former teammates after the siren. 

Freo's forward issues
On the same day key forward Matt Taberner underwent back surgery that will likely sideline him for most of the season, Fremantle handed workhorse goalkicker Josh Corbett his club debut as the medical substitute and again turned to Luke Jackson and Jye Amiss as tall targets. With that trio sharing two goals, it was Sam Sturt who provided the best option, kicking a pair himself and finding space in attack. There is talent inside 50 for Fremantle, but consistency, an ability to hold marks, and connection with the midfield all remain works in progress that are hindering the team.   

A midfield lesson
The final quarter highlighted the gulf in experience between these two midfields as the Bulldogs' hardened brigade turned the knife. They won the contested ball 43-27 and sent the ball inside 50 17 times to the Dockers' eight. It was an ominous sign from the Bulldogs, who have steadied after an 0-2 start and still have one of the best midfield units in the game when Bontempelli, Treloar, Macrae and Liberatore are firing. Those four shared 33 clearances and got the ball outside the contest and into dangerous positions rapidly. It was a humbling night for the Dockers' onballers, with Caleb Serong (10 clearances) their best again.    


FREMANTLE                                3.1    6.2    9.6      10.9 (69)
WESTERN BULLDOGS                 3.7    8.9    12.11   17.16 (118)

Fremantle: Sturt 2, Frederick 2, Amiss, Darcy, Jackson, O'Meara, Schultz, Walters  
Western Bulldogs: Williams 3, Naughton 3, Treloar 2, Bontempelli 2, Daniel, English, Liberatore, Lobb, McNeil, Scott, Weightman

Fremantle: Serong, Darcy, Frederick, Clark  
Western Bulldogs: Bontempelli, Treloar, Williams, English, Macrae, Ugle-Hagan, Liberatore

Fremantle: Nil
Western Bulldogs: Liberatore (head), Johannisen (head)

Fremantle: Josh Corbett (replaced Jye Amiss in the third quarter)
Western Bulldogs: Lachlan McNeil (replaced Toby McLean in the fourth quarter)

Crowd: 47,503 at Optus Stadium