A seven-goal haul to Coleman Medal leader Josh Kennedy has saved West Coast from embarrassment in the AFL western derby, but they’ll need more stars to stand tall if they are to negotiate a brutal end to the home-and-away season.
Fremantle threatened to cause a derby boilover on Sunday after opening up a 15-point lead midway through the second term.
The Dockers had dominated the contest until that point, but West Coast booted nine of the next 10 goals to run out 17.8 (110) to 9.10 (64) winners in front of 36,215 fans.
Kennedy won the Ross Glendinning Medal as best on ground.
His match-winning haul took his season tally to 67 – six goals before Sydney’s Lance Franklin and Gold Coast’s Tom Lynch in the race for the AFL’s Coleman Medal.
Kennedy’s three goals in the third quarter proved crucial as the Eagles killed off Fremantle’s challenge.
The win moved West Coast (13-6) into sixth spot on the ladder, and guaranteed they will play finals football for a second straight year.
But with games against premiership fancies GWS (away), Hawthorn (home), and Adelaide (away) to round out the season, West Coast face an uphill battle to earn a home final.
“We’ll know where we’re at in three weeks heading into the finals,” Simpson said of the tough run home.
Eagles ruckman Nic Naitanui tallied seven disposals, 26 hit-outs and a goal in his first game back from achilles tendon surgery.
More important, he finished the game unscathed, with the 2012 All-Australian shaping as a key cog in West Coast’s bid to cause some damage in the finals.
But Simpson couldn’t help but feel a tad worried by his team’s lethargic start to the match.
Luckily for the Eagles, Kennedy took a series of big marks and booted some clutch goals to help lift the side to victory.
“He’s a tremendous leader for us,” Simpson said.
“He got on the end of a couple today and he stood up in big moments. He makes others better around him.”
Fremantle (3-16) remain mired to 16th spot on the ladder.
But their performance was much better than last week’s 90-point loss to Sydney.
Dockers ruckman Aaron Sandilands, playing his first match since breaking several ribs in round three, made a strong start before fading to finish with 12 disposals and 23 hit-outs.
Fremantle utility Tom Sheridan racked up 16 disposals and two goals while keeping West Coast ball magnet Andrew Gaff to just 19 touches and a late goal in a strong tagging effort.
“I thought Tommy Sheridan’s job on Gaff was outstanding,” Dockers coach Ross Lyon said.
“(Gaff) racked up a few cheapies late, but I thought (Sheridan) was really good.
“And it was a great return from Aaron. He had real influence, and that will only get more pronounced as he plays more.”
Dockers forward Michael Walters could come under scrutiny for his high bump on Eagles midfielder Matt Priddis.