The most important Western Derby in recent memory
Matthew Pavlich leads out Fremantle (Slattery Images)
With the most important Western Derby in recent memory only days away, all eyes should be on Fremantle captain Matthew Pavlich.
Pavlich, who has kicked 47 goals this season to sit equal second in the race for the Coleman Medal, looms as the game’s X-factor.
The Dockers veteran is only four goals behind Hawthorn’s Lance Franklin for the top spot and will be keen to add to that tally in the clash with West Coast on Sunday at Patersons Stadium.
The power forward has averaged 4.5 goals a game since the mid-season bye and has been his team’s best player as they strive to make up ground with the teams in the top eight.
The Eagles will be missing captain and defensive general Darren Glass through suspension, leaving a sizeable hole in the West Coast backline. In-form defender Eric MacKenzie is likely to get the job marking Pavlich.
The Eagles will also be without the injured Matt Rosa, who destroyed Fremantle the last time the teams met collecting 43 disposals and winning the Ross Glendening Medal.
It is a must win game for both clubs, with the Eagles trying to stay in touch with the top four and the Dockers looking to remain a threat for a place in September.
Fremantle will need to win at least three of their remaining five games, which includes away games against Adelaide and North Melbourne, and have other results go their way to feature in September.
West Coast have tougher run home with games against Geelong, Collingwood and Hawthorn still to come.
Fremantle have won four of their last six games since the bye and were rampant in the first half against Port Adelaide last week, before dropping off in the final quarter.
West Coast has won four of their last seven since the break, including a thumping of Brisbane last week, with the three losses all coming against sides entrenched in the top four.
Injury clouds hover over premiership players Dean Cox and Daniel Kerr heading into the derby.
Fremantle may be forced to bring in emergency Zac Clarke to help out Jon Griffin if Cox is named in the team.
The continued blossoming of the Cox-Natinui duo has been a huge positive for West Coast this year and would leave the Dockers exposed with only one ruckman, should Clarke not play.
The Dockers have only made one change with key defender Zac Dawson coming in for rookie Cameron Sutcliffe while West Coast have recalled Tom Swift and Mitch Brown, who will play his 50th game.