Will Docker Johnson play on Tiger Rance?

Fremantle have the chance to ruin Richmond’s top-four aspirations and veteran defender Michael Johnson could hold the key.

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The Tigers are guaranteed to finish in the AFL’s top four if they beat Fremantle in Perth and St Kilda at the MCG in their final two matches.

The double finals chance would give the Tigers a strong platform to end their 37-year grand final drought.

On paper, the Dockers look like an easy kill following their 104-point shellacking at the hands of Sydney last week.

But Fremantle have been ultra competitive for most of the year, beating Richmond at the MCG in round eight, and also pushing heavyweights Geelong and GWS all the way.

Alex Rance looms as the key to Richmond’s hopes, and Fremantle coach Ross Lyon appears set to dig into his bag of tricks to curb the influence of the star Tigers defender.

Rance has been tagged by lock-down forwards on several occasions this season, and he had his colours lowered in last week’s loss to Geelong when Harry Taylor used a similar tactic on the way to four goals.

Fremantle are set to follow suit on Sunday, with Lyon throwing up the possibility of playing Johnson as a forward in order to curb the influence of Rance.

“You’ve got to make sure you’ve got a Harry Taylor (type player),” Lyon said.

“He’s been a special player – a big, strong man.

“Michael Johnson might be able to go forward and carry out the role. We’ll have a look at that.”

Although Fremantle’s finals hopes are well and truly over, the match will carry significance given it will be Harley Bennell’s debut for the club.

Bennell has been plagued by career-threatening calf issues since crossing to Fremantle from Gold Coast at the end of 2015.

But he has been given the green light to face the Tigers after making it through four straight WAFL games unscathed.

Fremantle have recalled Ryan Nyhuis and Hayden Crozier, but Shane Kersten (groin) and Lachie Neale (knee) were ruled out. Veteran Danyle Pearce was dropped.

Richmond lost Josh Caddy to a hamstring injury, while Ivan Soldo and Corey Ellis were dropped.

Inside midfielder Jack Graham, the No.53 pick in the 2016 national draft, has been named for his debut, while Jacob Townsend and Oleg Markov have also been called into the side.

Saints left stunned by AFL loss to Demons

Ruckman Billy Longer admits St Kilda were left “stunned” by a loss to Melbourne which left their AFL finals hopes in tatters.

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The Saints had a golden opportunity to book their first top-eight finish since 2011 when they faced the Dees at the MCG on Sunday.

But when the time came to deliver, Alan Richardson’s men were found badly wanting, throwing the game away with an error-riddled first half.

The 24-point loss left the Saints a game and significant percentage below eight-placed West Coast with two rounds remaining.

But while a return to September action looks increasingly unlikely, Longer says there are still positives to take from their season.

“To have a loss like that, I think it stunned the whole group,” Longer told AAP.

“I think everyone in the team this year would have definitely had their eyes set on finals as an end goal.

“But I think the most important thing for us this year was to play a brand of football that we’re really proud of and that we know will stand up in finals.

“As much as perhaps the results haven’t exactly gone the way we’d hoped for, and we’ve let ourselves down definitely in a few weeks, I think in general there’s been a consensus that we’re building strong foundations.

“We’re all learning and maturing into the team that we think will be able to win a flag one day.”

The Saints’ ability to bully opponents around the ball when they’re switched on was plain to see during their 67-point demolition of Richmond in round 16.

But the loss to Melbourne showed that their ball movement and their ability to recover when they turn the ball over remain big areas for improvement.

“A lot of the reason why the turnovers hurt us so much was just because our defending wasn’t good enough,” Longer said.’

“It was a little bit of skill execution but we should be able to defend that anyway, so I think that’s where we most of all let ourselves down.”

Longer’s strong performance against All-Australian ruckman Max Gawn was a rare positive for the Saints.

He faces another big test in the form of North Melbourne ruck duo Todd Goldstein and Braydon Preuss at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

Retiring Saints champion Nick Riewoldt will play his final home game ahead of an MCG clash with Richmond next week.

Souths expect to see Burgess again in 2017

South Sydney are confident captain Sam Burgess will play again this NRL season despite continuing to battle a rib injury.

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Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire revealed on Friday night he had to personally stop Burgess from playing in Souths’ 36-18 defeat of the Warriors.

Burgess is hopeful of being fit for England’s end-of-season World Cup campaign, but has played with the injury since the side’s round-20 loss to Cronulla a month ago.

However Maguire said he will be given every chance to return against Melbourne next week before the Bunnies finish their season against Parramatta.

“Sam was busting to play (on Friday) and I had to basically say: ‘No, you’re not playing’,” Maguire said.

“He’s on the mend, we’ll have to see how he is throughout the week.”

Speedster Alex Johnston could also be added to the casualty ward after injuring his right hamstring as he completed a hat-trick in the win over the Warriors.

The 22-year-old has provided one of the brightest shining lights for Souths this season, deputising for the injured Greg Inglis at the back.

His haul for the season has now reached 22 – well clear of his nearest rivals – to potentially give Maguire a headache on who should wear the No.1 jersey next year.

The Bunnies will also welcome Queensland’s State of Origin man-of-the-series Dane Gagai into their back line next year, as Maguire attempts to rebuild the club.

But the 2014 premiership-winning coach said he was regularly seeing clear signs in his current troops that the club is ready to get back on track.

“The character of the people we have in our club has really grown and come a long way throughout this period,” he said.

“Obviously it’s been very hard little period, we’ve got a lot of good things going on inside our club.

“We’re continually working to make this a better and stronger club, and there is a lot of positives.”

Bennett hails Milford’s NRL form reversal

Wayne Bennett has credited Anthony Milford’s stellar form with the joy of playing again after his season was “on death row” not so long ago.

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Brisbane held onto second spot after five-eighth Milford and two-try hero Alex Glenn sparked their 24-12 NRL win over a gutsy St George Illawarra on Friday night.

Milford made up for a quiet night from halfback Kodi Nikorima by stepping his way over for a 20th-minute try then setting up another two as the Dragons suffered their 10th straight loss at Suncorp Stadium.

Broncos coach Bennett said Milford was just happy to be on the field after suffering what was first thought to be a season sending shoulder injury against South Sydney in round 14.

Milford missed just four weeks and hasn’t looked back.

“He’s just enjoying his footy,” Bennett said.

“He was on death row with his shoulder then he realised he could finish the season.

“I think he is just appreciating being able to play every week.”

Bennett paid tribute to Milford’s resilience after overcoming the shoulder drama.

“He’s a tough little player,” he said.

“You have to be tough to play this game. Some are just tougher than others.”

The ninth-placed Dragons must now win their final two games and hope other results go their way after remaining winless at Suncorp since 2009.

“We were a bit flat tonight but I thought our defence was our feature,” Bennett said.

“If you want to be a quality football team you have to be able to defend.

“And I thought Anthony (Milford) was very good tonight but (halfback) Kodi Nikorima was off the pace but that is okay he’s had plenty of good games.”

The Broncos led 14-6 at halftime after piling on three tries.

Glenn all but sealed the result when he nabbed his double in the 50th minute.

“He’s taking some ownership for the first time in his footy career,” Bennett said of Glenn.

“All of a sudden he realised he had a lot more to offer the team than he thought he had.”

Brisbane will sweat on Tevita Pangai Jr (hamstring) but have cleared fellow forward Jai Arrow (elbow).

Blair faces biggest decision of NRL career

Money talks and it seems off-contract Brisbane forward Adam Blair is listening.

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The Kiwi international says he faces the hardest decision of his career as he contemplates whether to take up a lucrative rival NRL offer and leave his beloved Broncos.

The veteran prop admitted it would be hard to leave the second-placed Broncos, especially after they maintained their title charge with a 24-12 win over St George Illawarra at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.

Blair will reportedly sacrifice $1.5 million if he remains loyal and re-signs with Brisbane after Newcastle and the Warriors tabled $2.4 million, four-year deals.

Blair had been expected to make a call in the next week but the 31-year-old said he had no idea when he would make a decision.

“It’s a difficult decision, that’s why it has taken so long,” he said.

“To be honest I don’t know when I am going to get it done, I just want to make the right one.

“This will be the hardest decision I will make in my footy career – this is going to take time.”

Asked if Brisbane’s stellar form heading into the finals may help keep him, Blair said: “I have said all along I didn’t want to leave, that I wanted to finish my career up here.

“Now Wayne (Bennett) has given me the opportunity to look around and I guess clubs are wanting me to go there.”

Blair’s previous experience as a big-name recruit at a rebuilding club has not put him off such a move.

Blair moved from heavyweights Melbourne to the Tigers in 2012 and struggled for three seasons before being snapped up by Brisbane.

“I am older and wiser now. I understand when you go to a club as a big signing there is pressure that goes with it,” Blair said.

“When you choose where you go you look at the people you will have around you and hopefully there is enough around you that can take you to the top similar to the Broncos.”