MELBOURNE has kept pace with the ladder leaders, holding off a challenge from Fremantle to kick away and win an enthralling battle at Fremantle Oval by 30 points on Sunday.
In a clash of styles that saw both teams enjoy periods of momentum, it was Melbourne's skilled ball-movement and marking prowess that prevailed against the Dockers' speed and chaos.
DOCKERS V DEMONS Full match coverage and stats
Just five points separated the teams at the final change, but the Demons kicked four unanswered goals to close the game and win 10.6 (66) to 5.6 (36), moving to 5-1 alongside fellow top-four teams Brisbane, Adelaide and Collingwood.
Kate Hore was the game-breaker in the end, booting back-to-back goals in the final term from clean crumbing, finishing with a game-high three to prove the difference.
Midfielders Tyla Hanks (21 disposals and five clearances) and Olivia Purcell (26 and five) combined brilliantly in the midfield to set up the attacking handball chains that proved pivotal throughout the game.
Forwards Eden Zanker and former Docker Sabreena Duffy booted two goals each in what was a strong team performance from the season six grand finalists.
Fremantle's pressure was at a high level, winning the tackle count 57-48, but it was not enough to prevent the polished Demons from working the ball into space and then finding marking targets.
The Dockers were at their best during the third quarter when, led by midfielders Kiara Bowers (26 and eight inside 50s) and Hayley Miller (17 and five clearances), they rallied from 18 points down to cut the margin to five points before running out of steam.
Melbourne made its first move late in the second quarter with back-to-back goals that gave it a 12-point buffer at the main break, with Duffy capping off the half with a skilful snap that gave her new team the momentum heading into half time.
When Hore extended the margin to 18 points just 15 seconds into the third quarter, it was hard to see the Dockers recovering and getting back into the game, but they forced the issue with another lift in pressure.
Back-to-back goals to Amy Franklin and Miller cut the margin to five points at the final change, setting up a high stakes final term. They had no answer for Hore when it mattered though as the Demons kicked away.
Duffy returns to old playground
Fans at Fremantle Oval would have fond memories of Sabreena Duffy, who booted 30 goals in her 25 games for the Dockers as a livewire forward capable of making the most from half chances. On Sunday she returned as a Demon after taking season six off due to work commitments and her health, reminding the crowd of her talents with a classy snap on the run to close the second quarter. With the game done late, she snapped a second for a bit of icing on the Demons' cake.
Bowers' powerful adjustment
Fremantle superstar Kiara Bowers has tried to become more of an outside player in the past, but continues to be drawn back to the contest where she is a fierce tackler. To move forward, the Dockers need her skills in space, and it was in that area that she delivered in a dominant, 10-disposal opening quarter that included a wonderful goal from a snap. The Dockers remained a fierce tackling team early in the match, but it was others who stepped up to make sure the load was shared, with Bowers laying two herself.
Dees ball movement "a work in progress"
The Demons had passages of play where one or two clean handballs sparked a rapid surge forward and allowed them to get over the top of the Dockers, but there were also times where they overdid it, recording 115 handballs to Freo's 58. For coach Mick Stinear there is work to be done. "[We're after] the balance of one give and then try and take it forward, not trying to overdo the handball," the coach said. "At our best I think it's that quick give to the outside and then look to attack the opposition and get the ball in a bit deeper. That's a work in progress."
FREMANTLE 2.1 3.2 5.3 5.6 (36)
MELBOURNE 2.1 5.2 6.3 10.6 (66)
Fremantle: Bowers, Tighe, Kauffman, Franklin, Miller
Melbourne: Hore 3, Zanker 2, Duffy 2, Harris, Pearce, Purcell
Fremantle: Bowers, Miller, East, Tighe, O'Sullivan
Melbourne: Hanks, Purcell, Hore, Zanker, Paxman, Harris