Un­de­feated Bull­dogs lock up WAFL top spot

Fremantle Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - John Townsend

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

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