The West

Sandilands back at crucial time
Sandilands back at crucial time

Clearly, timely reminders are a matter of perspective.

For Fremantle, Aaron Sandilands' late inclusion in their team to play Richmond at Patersons Stadium on Saturday was as timely as it gets - his team had to beat Richmond to get into the eight and will have to beat North Melbourne next Sunday to stay there.

For half a game on the way to Fremantle's gritty 13.16 (94) to 11.6 (72) win, having the bloke rated as their most important player at the start of the season remind you that he is still pretty damn important heading towards the end was good timing.

Richmond coach Damien Hardwick saw things differently. His team needed to beat Fremantle to retain any hope of playing finals this year and, with Sandilands still out and doubt over Nat Fyfe's fitness, the Tigers sensed an opportunity.

They careered around at their main training session yelling out "You only live once".

The rest of the football world replied: "Yes, but you can finish ninth six times in 18 years."

The good news for Hardwick is that there will not be another heartbreaking ninth this year. The Tigers will finish a couple of rungs below that.

The bad news is that there won't be finals either. Whether Fremantle's decision to pull a sore Jonathon Griffin out and thrust an underdone Sandilands into their team minutes before running on to the ground was sudden, as Fremantle insist, or premeditated, as Hardwick insinuated after the match, the 211cm giant did play.

He dominated play for half of this sun-soaked match and his team ended Richmond's finals hopes. For Hardwick, this was not timely at all.

For the football world, though, it was timely indeed. Sandilands' form in 10 games at the start of the year had not been up to his high standards of recent years.

His ruck knocks were being picked off by opponents, Fremantle were getting skun at clearances and, when the team's form appeared to lift after he went down with a turf-toe injury in the club's round-11 clash against Richmond, he was even touted by pundits and critics as possible trade bait.

There was an element of running with the hares and hunting with the hounds to the speculation. Sydney's 2005 premiership coach Paul Roos typified this when he said he would consider trading Sandilands if he was Fremantle. But if he was a rival coach, he would definitely pick him up.

Confusing? Well, if Sandilands found it confusing it didn't seem to show in his first two quarters of football in over two months.

By half-time only Richmond star Trent Cotchin and Docker defender Adam McPhee had seen more of the ball than Sandilands, who had 14 disposals.

His 17 hit-outs helped his team to a 2-1 ruck advantage. His six clearances were two more than any other player on the ground. His 11 contested possessions led all comers. His influence on the game was profound.

But for some shoddy finishing Fremantle would have put this game and Richmond's finals hopes to bed by half-time. The scoreboard flattered the Tigers.

When Sandilands inevitably tired in the second half, there were any number of Fremantle players doing enough to keep their team's noses in front and rub Richmond's noses in it.

David Mundy was on his way to 32 touches midfield, Michael Barlow had 25 - a number matched by Paul Duffield rebounding from defence, while Hayden Ballantyne was spritely and dangerous on his way to 24 possessions and three goals.

Luke McPharlin kept Jack Riewoldt to 10 touches and two goals while gathering 19 himself.

Ryan Crowley kept Deledio to 14 possessions and two goals, though they were good ones, and had 17 possessions.

Matthew Pavlich spent more time hobbling than running freely but still kicked three and kept Alex Rance busier than Andrew Demetriou's travel agent in an Olympic year.

Richmond's big weapons were neutralised one by one until it looked very much like Sandilands and crew versus Cotchin and, well, Cotchin.

Richmond's midfield maestro was dazzling in his ability to win and use the ball, and involve himself a number of times in the few chains of dangerous possession that Richmond mustered.

He was as influential as any single player in this match, but it was a lone influence.

Deledio couldn't shake Crowley, Riewoldt couldn't shake McPharlin. Shane Tuck and Shaun Grigg won possessions without turning them to any great influence. Dustin Martin waited a long time to even win possessions, with 15 of his 22 touches coming after half-time.

Ross Lyon's defensive mechanisms choked the life out of the Tigers, a timely reminder that the mechanisms work for a team that had been picked apart by Adelaide the previous week.

And Cotchin was left to do too much with too few to help, a timely reminder for Hardwick that his stars need more help and a genuine lift in standard from those around them.

The West Australian

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