For 67 minutes, the Eagles goal tally remained stranded on four goals, as the Dockers blew their rivals away to stamp their own premiership claims.
In Round 21, the most anticipated Western Derby in recent times became a rout as Fremantle tallied 10.7 to just eight behinds through the middle quarters, on their way to a 57 point win.
West Coast entered the contest in top spot on the ladder, but the Dockers were the in-form team in the competition, having won their previous seven matches.
The Dockers kept the same line up that trounced St.Kilda the week before, despite doubts over Derby specialist Paul Hasleby who was battling a knee injury. Conversely, the Eagles were once again forced into juggling their side.
Daniel Chick returned after serving a one-week suspension, while Adam Hunter played his first game since Round 16 due to a knee injury and Ashley Hansen was also initially brought into the side.
However, Hansen was then withdrawn before the bounce as was Daniel Kerr due to a calf complaint. Brett Jones and Ashley Sampi were both given reprieves after being omitted during the week. Steven Armstrong was the one player to make way from the win over Brisbane, as he was replaced by Daniel Chick.
The unsettling of the squad seemed to have an early impact on West Coast, as the Dockers jumped out of the blocks with the opening two goals. Michael Johnson started forward, as did Troy Cook who was given the defensive role on David Wirrpanda. Matthew Carr was given the first crack at running with Chris Judd, but it was Judd and Cousins who got West Coast back in the game.
Both players finished the first quarter with 11 possessions and a goal, as West Coast started to control general play. Quinten Lynch and Brent Staker also goaled to turn an early 12 point deficit into an 8 point lead. However, a Des Headland goal on quarter time, reduced the margin back to 2 points and the quarter time scoreline was not a true reflection of the Eagles dominance for the majority of the quarter.
From there, it was all Fremantle.
Peter Bell replaced Carr in running with Judd, and while Judd continued to collect possessions, Bell finished the day as the Ross Glendinning medallist with 28 disposals, 10 marks and two goals. Jeff Farmer caused the Eagles defence headaches up forward to finish with four goals and a hand in several others.
Fremantle booted four goals in the second quarter, to take a 21 point lead into the main break, before a six goal quarter in the third stretched the margin to 57 points and just one quarter to play.
At the other end, the Eagles were non-operational. West Coast continually found the Docker defence, with Luke McPharlin outpointing Lynch and Roger Hayden keeping Ashley Sampi to just five possessions. Adam Hunter struggled in his return to get into the game at either end.
On an unseasonably hot August day, The Eagles were unable to keep pace with the Dockers. Brett Peake and Heath Black both racked up possessions, while Josh Carr enjoyed the freedom of not having a run-with role to gather 21 second half disposals and finish with 31 for the afternoon.
The Eagles cause wasn’t helped with injuries to Andrew Embley and David Wirrpanda before half time. Wirrpanda strained a hamstring, while Embley could be sidelined for several weeks with a shoulder complaint.
Eventually, Cousins broke the drought early in the final quarter to boot this second, but the game petered out as both sides booted four goals to finish the game. Cousins was arguably the Eagles best, with 31 disposals, while Tyson Stenglein had 28 and Chad Fletcher 27. Darren Glass claimed another scalp in minimising Matthew Pavlich’s influence, but there were too few winners.
For Worsfold, the disappointing performance seemed to be one of an aberration. “I rate us as close to the best in terms of fitness. Our record shows that we are one of the best in the comp. Today, the boys looked tired. We lost a bit of run through [Wirrpanda] and Embley. We ran hard early but ran out of steam early.”
Despite the loss, the Eagles held on to top spot, courtesy of another loss for the faltering Crows. This time Adelaide lost in the Showdown, as Port Adelaide booted 8 goals to 5 after half time to claim a 14 point victory. Along with a fourth loss in five games, the Crows injury woes continued to mount.
Forward Trent Hentschel suffered a serious knee injury, ruling him out for the remainder of the year, with Ben Hart likely to miss a fortnight with an achilles tendon strain and Nathan Bassett stretchered off after a clash of heads with Brett Ebert. They join Mark Riccuito, Brett Burton and Ken McGregor on the sidelines as the Crows are losing momentum at the wrong time of year.
Along with the top two teams both losing, third placed Melbourne dropped points, when they could only manage a draw against Geelong. The Cats had been the disappointment of 2006, and the draw did them no favours either, as they sat 1 ½ games outside the top eight with one round to play. The Demons led by 33 points at half time, but couldn’t hold on, as Geelong reeled them in. The Cats had one last chance to win as Jimmy Bartel tried to rush through the winning behind, but were beaten by the siren.
The Demons draw meant that the Dockers jumped up to third following their victory, two points clear of Melbourne, with Sydney, Collingwood and St.Kilda all one win behind.
While West Coast maintained their one game advantage at the top of the ladder, the Eagles still had a number of issues to deal with. A second loss to Fremantle had its concerns, particularly with the likelihood that the Dockers would be finishing in the top four.
And like Adelaide, there were a number of key players who were under injury clouds, or battling the fatigue of interrupted seasons. Daniel Kerr’s return from a calf problem was unknown, while Ashley Hansen was a week by week proposition as he battled a cyst on his knee and Mark Nicoski remained an outside chance to return from a broken ankle.
Adam Hunter had just returned from six weeks out with injury, while Dean Cox, Chris Judd, Drew Banfield, Chad Fletcher and Sam Butler had all had stints on the sidelines during 2006. With one game to play against the Tigers, there was still much to learn before the Eagles entered their finals crusade.
Match Details Sunday 27 August 2006
Fremantle 4.1 8.5 14.8 18.10 (118)
West Coast 4.3 4.8 4.11 8.13 (61)
Subiaco Oval Attendance: 43,527
Best: FRE Bell, Farmer, Sandilands, Crowley, Hayden, J Carr, McPharlin, Peake, Black
WC Cousins, Stenglein, Judd, Glass, Fletcher
Goals: FRE Farmer 4, Crowley, Headland, Bell, Hasleby, Pavlich 2, Johnson, Peake, Longmuire, Cook.
WC Cousins 3, Staker, Lynch 2, Judd.
Brownlow: 3. P Bell (FRE)
2. A Sandilands (FRE)
1. B Cousins (WC)