The West

Port Adelaide are wedged back into the top six after winning a battle of attrition by 24 points against a decimated Fremantle at AAMI Stadium on Saturday night.

In a gruelling encounter marred by inclement weather, the Power overcame a spirited young Dockers and an early 20-point deficit to finally prevail 14.10 (94) to 11.4 (70) and keep their vulnerable finals hopes alive.

Fremantle were forced to monitor the health of forward Adam Campbell, who was knocked unconscious for a minute after being knocked out by giant teammate Aaron Sandilands and Port defender Toby Thurstans as he sat in wait under a floating ball.

But Campbell pulled up fine on Sunday and should becleared to play when the Dockers return to action against Geelong in two weeks' time.

The Dockers went into the match without key leaders Antoni Grover, Luke McPharlin, Michael Johnson, Des Headland and Ryan Crowley while young star Rhys Palmer, who had 31 possessions in a shock win over the Power at the venue last year, is in rehabilitation following his knee reconstruction.

Accordingly, Port were hot $1.18 favourites to beat the $4.65 Dockers, even though they too were without three of their best players in Chad Cornes, Shaun Burgoyne and Daniel Motlop.

The lead-up to the match was also a case of musical chairs with Port's Hamish Hartlett forced out of the game with hamstring tendonitis and replaced with Nick Lower. And just before the match, Robbie Gray was left out because of a bout of gastro paving the way for key forward Justin Westoff to play his first game since round two.

Fremantle - already forced to monitor the midweek fitness of Stephen Hill, Paul Hasleby and Byron Schammer - also had to swing more changes, firstly calling on debutant Michael Walters and Ryan Murphy to fly in from Perth last night after traveling emergency Clayton Hinkley injured his shoulder at training that afternoon.

Walters eventually made his way into the team for his first game when reigning Sandover Medalist Hayden Ballantyne was denied his AFL debut with what Dockers assistant coach Dean Wallis described before the first bounce as back spasms during the day. The clever goal kicker also copped a nasty cork in the WAFL last week.

Murphy and Hinkley remained out of the side as emergencies.

But once all that was out of the way, it was Fremantle who took a clear early advantage by winning the hard ball with 19 contested possessions to just six in the first 13 minutes as they slipped to a surprise 20-point lead. Sandilands was dominating the clearances and solid grunt work by Dean Solomon and Paul Hasleby, who had stitches put into a cut on his ear, added strongly to the drive.

Walters provided an early highlight when he made an important spoil in a marking contest in the Dockers forward line, allowing captain Matthew Pavlich to swoop and kick the first goal of the match.

Port looked a rabble in the early part of the first quarter as they refused to chase and man up and struggled to get into the game.

But with former Docker Josh Carr, East Fremantle recruit Dom Cassisi and Kane Cornes leading the midfield charge and setting the standard for hardness, the Power fought back to be just five points behind at quarter-time.

Fremantle booted two goals in a minute early in the second term to restore a 16-point break, but Port then got the spark they were looking for when power forward Warren Tredrea put in a sensational 50-metre chase on Paul Duffield to force a poor kick and turnover which ended in a Justin Westoff goal to cut the lead to just three points.

Port were in front for the first time after a goal to Brendan Lade two minutes later and with Toby Thurstans dominating in defence they looked as though they might take control of the game. But the Dockers showed impressive spirit and late goals to Walters and fellow debutant Clancee Pearce gave them a two-point lead at the main break.

Fremantle's only win away from Subiaco Oval last year was against the Power in round 17 at AAMI Stadium, amazingly with Pavlich out injured. The now-retired veteran Mark Johnson led a group of 16 goal kickers for the Dockers in that match, with Byron Schammer starring in front of his family and friends in his 100th game in his home State.

But with the expected rain starting to fall at half-time, scoring was always going to be tough in the second half.

That made Marlon Motlop's goal after just 50 seconds of the third term absolute gold, but the Power struggled to shake the resilient visitors. The two teams swapped the lead three teams in the first nine minutes before the exciting David Rodan kicked the goal of the night and the home side again looked ready to pull away.

They got away to a 14-point lead after a superb Matthew Westoff goal on the boundary as he and he brother started to add some real spark to their team's forward line, but then there was no score for 10 minutes until Pavlich produced a classy mark and goal from 55 metres out to keep the game alive.

But with Rodan, Danyle Pearce and Peter Burgoyne coming into their own in the wet conditions, it seemed just a matter of time before the game broke open. Another special goal to Rodan and one to Cornes gave Port a more-than-handy 20-point lead with just a quarter to play and Fremantle seemed to have it all to do.

Port peppered the forward line in the opening minutes of the final term and even though it resulted in only the single goal to Brad Ebert, it seemed enough for them to be able to hang on to win. At no stage did they completely put Fremantle to the sword, but their lead in the slippery conditions proved enough.


The West Australian

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