THERE is just something about South Fremantle-Claremont battles at Fremantle Community Bank Oval and Saturday produced another gripping arm-wrestle with the Bulldogs holding on for a one-point triumph over the Tigers.
Back to the same venue that saw the two teams produce one of the all-time great WAFL Grand Final battles with South Fremantle beating Claremont by three points in front of over 10,000 fans, the return encounter for NAIDOC Week didn’t fail to deliver either.
It was the 14th annual battle in NAIDOC Round between the two clubs vying for the Jimmy Melbourne Cup and while Claremont had won 10 of the previous 13 meetings, South Fremantle prevailed on this occasion largely based on their efficiency in front of goal.
That was highlighted by two of their Indigenous stars with Ben Rioli going forward and kicking three goals from just seven kicks for the day before ultimately Cody Ninyette kicked the match-winner with the last goal of the game before celebrating in style in front of the South Fremantle members.
The Bulldogs had less inside 50s and scoring shots, but proved it was quality over quantity, getting the job done by the barest of margins to run out winners 11.2 (68) to 9.13 (67).
South Fremantle trailed by a point at three quarter-time and found themselves behind with less than seven minutes to go, before Ninyette kicked a clutch set shot from 45m out to give his side the lead.
It was a tense final few moments, with the ball locked in Claremont’s forward 50 but some desperate goal line defence helped the home side cling onto the win that sees them hold their spot in the top three.
Premiership defender Zac Dent played his first game of the season and was excellent in defence for South Fremantle with 26 possessions, while midfielders Jacob Dragovich and Haiden Schloithe were prominent throughout.
Up forward, Rioli booted three goals while defender Blake Schlensog was swung forward in the absence of vice captain and Bernie Naylor Medallist Mason Shaw and provided a strong target, kicking two goals of his own.
For Claremont, Sandover Medallist Jye Bolton was herculean in the midfield, amassing 37 disposals and doing everything in his power to will his side across the line.
Small forward Isaac Barton was lively up front with three goals while Jared Hardisty enjoyed the contested nature of the clash, laying 11 tackles to go with his 23 disposals.
Claremont had the better of the opening quarter in general play, but went to the first break two points behind, with the Bulldogs benefitting from some quality forward entries, booting four goals from just six inside 50s.
The contested start to the game continued, with both sides struggling to break free as the margin remained in single figures right up until three quarter time, where Claremont managed to eke out a one-point lead.
The game opened up a touch in the final term, with youngster Manfred Kelly booting an early goal to put the Bulldogs back in front, before four-time premiership veteran Nick Suban made Claremont pay for some of their missed opportunities, kicking truly from an acute angle to give South Fremantle a 10-point lead.
But the Tigers would roar back, kicking two quick goals, the second a classy finish on the run from Ryan Lim to snatch back the lead as they looked headed for victory.
But Ninyette would step up to put the Bulldogs back in front and they managed to hold out the Tigers to secure the all-important triumph.
RIOLI SHINES IN NAIDOC WEEK
In a round that pays tribute to the wonderful contribution of Indigenous people in society, it was only fitting that Ben Rioli put on a show in the first half. Rioli, the nephew of Norm Smith Medallist and South Fremantle great Maurice Rioli, played as a deep forward and looked consistently threatening, kicking three first-half goals and proving a point of difference inside 50 for Todd Curley.
CONTESTED CLASH BEFITTING OF A FINAL
It may only be July, but this clash between two of the competition’s best sides had a finals-like feel to it. The hard fought contest was heavily contested, with plenty of stoppages and high tackle numbers (167 for this game, compared to the rest of this round which averaged 106) similar to last year's Grand Final between the two sides. With both the Tigers and the Bulldogs occupying places in the coveted top three, they both seem primed to have an assault on the flag come the business end of the season if this match was anything to go by.
OPTUS WAFL PREMIERSHIP SEASON – ROUND 14
SOUTH FREMANTLE 4.0 5.1 8.1 11.2 (68)
CLAREMONT 3.4 4.5 7.8 9.13 (67)
SOUTH FREMANTLE: Goals – Rioli 3; Schlensog 2; Schloithe, Suban, Ninyette, Z Strom, Hall, Kelly.
Best – Dent, Schloithe, Z Strom, Blechynden, Dragovich, N Strom, Hall.
CLAREMONT: Goals – Barton 3; Lim, England 2; Bolton, Patmore.
Best – Bolton, Lim, Hardisty, Barton, Elliott, England, Edwards.