DOGS LOCK TOP SPOT
Undefeated Bulldogs lock up WAFL top spot
BROCK Higgins has never had an opposition ruckman stand on his head to take what will probably be the mark of the season.
And the South Fremantle stalwart has never had an opposition ruckman effectively hand him the ball three times in a row to allow comprehensive centre clearances and set up a most unlikely victory.
The Bulldogs secured the minor premiership on Saturday and the right to host the second semi-final but it took the biggest and most thrilling comeback of the year to see off a dogged East Perth.
Higgins was the catalyst with one of the best quarters of his 147-game career as South Fremantle kicked 50 points in the last term at Fremantle Community Bank Oval to win by 22, 13.7 (85) to 9.9 (63).
The Royals had been rewarded for kicking long and quickly to their big forwards, a lesson that could be learnt by football teams at all levels of the sport, but that success relied on them winning the ball in the middle where Jackson Ramsay and Rohan Kerr were dominant for the first hour.
The lowlight of Higgins’ first three quarters came when Ajang Ajang planted his boots on the Bulldog’s head to pull in a screamer over a big pack.
“He moves around the ground really well and then he jumped on my head,” Higgins said.
“Tough opponent.” But Ajang’s ruck colleague Scott Jones balanced the ledger early in the last term when, with the Royals leading by 28 points, he won three clean ruck contests only for Higgins to shark the taps and gallop from the centre towards his team’s goals.
Kade Stewart, Jimmy Miller and Jacob Dragovich were the beneficiaries and their three rapid strikes slashed the deficit and provided the home team with momentum.
“I got lucky I reckon,” Higgins said.
“It is rare to get three clearances like that. The ball just bobbed up in my hands three times.
“We needed to win it out of the middle, which we hadn’t done all day, but we stuck at it and put our heads over the ball.
“I got the clearances but other blokes laid tackles, Haiden Schloithe got a clearance, Nick Suban put his head over the ball and got it out and we were back in the game.”
South are the best finishing team in the league, averaging 23 points more than their opposition in the final term, while East Perth are the worst with an average 10point deficit in every game. So it proved again.
But South also benefited from Ben Rioli’s switch from defence, where he had held the division together, on to a wing where he thrived.
Rioli’s hallmark is poise and balance but he revealed a level of ferocity with a couple of run-down tackles that saved certain goals in the first half.
“He is a Rioli; he uses the ball well and always lands on his feet and doesn’t get tackled,” Higgins said.
South Fremantle’s Chris Luff. Picture: Justin Benson-Cooper