Western Bulldogs players celebrate after a goal during their match against Fremantle at Marvel Stadium in round 16, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

THE WESTERN Bulldogs have recorded a crucial win over fellow top-eight rival Fremantle, putting the foot down to win an at-times tight clash by 29 points at Marvel Stadium on Saturday.

The see-sawing margin sat at less than 10 for most of the game, and the Dockers hit the front seven minutes into the final term, but the Dogs lifted to kick the next five goals and seven for the quarter to win 16.6 (102) to 11.7 (73).

BULLDOGS v DOCKERS Full match coverage and stats

The Dogs bucked the post-bye trend of general flatness, bringing plenty of spark and intensity to the opening quarter. By comparison, Fremantle – who had a comfortable win over Essendon last week – looked as if it was the one who had just spent a week on the beach, with just two tackles in the first 12 minutes.


Two Michael Walters goals in the space of two minutes hauled the Dockers back into the opening term as their midfielders belatedly got their hands on the footy.


Such was the weight of play in the Bulldogs' forward half in the opening quarter, Fremantle's leading ball-winners were key defenders Luke Ryan and Brennan Cox at the first break, yet the Dockers only trailed by one point.

Fremantle pieced together its best disposal chain at the start of the second quarter, a piercing Hayden Young kick freeing up Caleb Serong, the Dockers working hard to create a spare and Jye Amiss' second impressive snapped goal.


Winger James Aish's return from a back injury meant impressive second-year runner Matthew Johnson (19, five clearances) was moved back on the ball for the most part, while Liam Henry's breakout form continued on the opposing wing with a career-high 33 touches, albeit with a couple of costly skill errors.

While Aaron Naughton had a quiet game until two crucial fourth-quarter goals, he always attracted a defensive crowd, which Jamarra Ugle-Hagan took full advantage of, kicking 4.2 and lodging his bid for a mark of the year nomination in the third term.


Two rucks who are set to dominate the League for the next decade in Sean Darcy and Tim English went head-to-head, and it was the Docker (50 hitouts, 18 disposals) who had the edge both in the stoppages and around the ground.

Fremantle dominated the outside ball, but was unable to capitalise on its sheer amount of disposal. Walters and Amiss kicked four apiece, but Luke Jackson was very quiet, and they struggled to find any other paths to goal.


Serong (38, 10 clearances) was coming off a best-on-ground game against the Bombers and was once again the Dockers' best in a well-rounded game, while the Bulldogs' clearance combination of Tom Liberatore, Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae and Adam Treloar was superb.

Reshaped Western Bulldogs backline
It was a different Bulldogs defensive line-up after serious injuries to Liam Jones (broken arm) and Tim O'Brien (hamstring) just before last week's bye. Ryan Gardner and James O'Donnell returned to the side, and while the backline had plenty of bright moments, the Dockers at times found spare players too easily. O'Donnell took a handful of strong intercept marks, and now looks set for a decent stint at the top level given the injuries to fellow backmen.

James O'Donnell tackles Josh Treacy during the match between the Western Bulldogs and Fremantle at Marvel Stadium in round 16, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

A top-eight shaper?
With a host of teams snapping at their heels, it was a crucial win for the Bulldogs, who have now given themselves a bit of a buffer from falling out of the top eight. By contrast, Fremantle blew an opportunity to have only sat out of the eight by percentage, and remain four points adrift.

Freo flicks the sub switch on champion
It's safe to say it wasn't former Fremantle skipper Nat Fyfe's finest game. Playing primarily forward for the first three quarters, he didn't have much impact on the game, except for one set shot that just travelled 30m, falling well short of the goalline. Coach Justin Longmuir revealed post-match that Fyfe's troublesome foot injury had flared again, hence his substitution at three-quarter time with 12 disposals to his name.

Nat Fyfe sits at the back of the bench after being subbed out of the game between the Western Bulldogs and Fremantle at Marvel Stadium in round 16, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos


WESTERN BULLDOGS     3.1     7.3     9.4     16.6 (102)
FREMANTLE                    3.0     6.3     7.5     11.7 (73)

Western Bulldogs: Ugle-Hagan 4, Weightman 2, Naughton 2, English, Hannan, Bontempelli, Williams, Lobb, Macrae, McNeil, Dale
Fremantle: Walters 4, Amiss 4, Frederick, Darcy, Schultz

Western Bulldogs:
Liberatore, Bontempelli, Ugle-Hagan, Treloar, Dale, Williams
Fremantle: Serong, Darcy, Henry, Cox, Walters, Amiss

Western Bulldogs:
Fremantle: Fyfe (foot)

Western Bulldogs: Rhylee West (replaced Mitch Hannan at three-quarter time)
Fremantle: Neil Erasmus (replaced Nat Fyfe at three-quarter time)

Crowd: 25,412 at Marvel Stadium