Failing Fremantle are even worse than they seem

Cameron Rose Columnist

By , Cameron Rose is a Roar Expert

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    Round 12 was another weekend of upset results, one that arguably provided more questions than answers. Something definitive however, was clarified at the Gabba on Saturday afternoon.

    In case there was any doubt, Brisbane put to bed any thought or contention that Fremantle were a legitimate top eight side.

    The Dockers had been a sheep in wolves clothing up until Round 9, a bottom four team masquerading as a potential finalist thanks to their 6-3 win-loss record and fifth place on the ladder, even though their percentage was a tick over 90, which ranked 14th.

    The problem was, three of Fremantle’s six wins had been by less than a goal, over Melbourne, North and Richmond, each coming with the last goal of the day. Each of these matches could easily have gone the other way, but to be fair to the Dockers they probably did deserve to win at least one or even two of them.

    The last three rounds have seen Freo’s true colours come to the surface.

    First, it was losing by the even 100 points to Adelaide in Adelaide, followed by a 20-point defeat at home to a Collingwood line-up with barely a fit man to call upon late in the game, and then came Saturday’s humiliation in Brisbane, a 57-point loss that felt like more while watching it.

    Lachie Neale Fremantle Dockers AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

    The Dockers now sit in 10th, with a reasonable chance they’ll fall to 12th while having the bye next week. A percentage of 78 is the third worst in the competition thanks to the combination of close wins and savage defeats.

    Once again, it’s scoring, that old chestnut, that is at the heart of Fremantle’s problems. Only Carlton, they of the defence-first game-plan as Brendon Bolton builds his team from the ground up, has scored less per game than Ross Lyon’s men.

    The Dockers midfield doesn’t exactly drown their forward-line with opportunities, but the lack of finishing class is a problem.

    Cam McCarthy, Shane Kersten and Matthew Taberner all have individual capabilities, but have long periods of games where they have no impact. Hayden Ballantyne hasn’t played a game through injury but is on the way out anyway, and the class of Michael Walters has been needed through the midfield.

    David Mundy and Lachie Neale have stepped up to fill a hole inside 50 when they can through rotations, and have provided clinical finishing at important times, but they can’t be everywhere.

    Nat Fyfe appeared to be rested forward more on the weekend as his body looks to be battling. Weight was given to this theory with his contested possession count of only five against Brisbane. You have to go back to Round 20, 2010 to find a match where he had less.


    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Fyfe has been the subject of much discussion this season, as befitting a Brownlow medallist that is out of contract at the end of the year. The fact he only played five matches in 2016, and is coming off severe injury, has added to the intrigue.

    Comparing the straight numbers from Fyfe’s 2017 to his combined 2014-15 zenith, and there is a clear drop-off. Disposals are down, contested possessions are down, clearances are down. His clanger count is up.

    But while the numbers suggest a drop-off, they are not as significant as the naked eye. He is lacking that explosive, ball-tearing, you’ll-have-to-shoot-me-to-stop-me animal momentum through the ball, through the man and through stoppages that was his trademark.

    Frankly, Fyfe’s standard was so high, that he can’t help but fail in comparison to himself, especially coming off a broken leg. The bye has come at the right time for him, and hopefully we see him return to his very best in the second half of the season.

    Fremantle are scoring 15 points less than the competition average, and conceding a goal more. The backline is full of jobbers who do what they can.

    When comparing their numbers to the average of teams currently in the top eight, the Dockers are four goals short in attack, and two goals off the pace in defence. That’s six goals a game behind in total.

    In short, they are nowhere near the standard required to be a finals contender.

    Fremantle are not about 2017, and can not be. The fans may not like it, but they simply aren’t good enough. They have to be looking towards 2018, 2019 and beyond.

    Lachie Weller, Connor Blakely and Ed Langdon are three 21-year-olds that look the brightest prospects. Cam McCarthy is only 22. Brad Hill is 23, Lachie Neale has just turned 24. We need to see some more names added to that list of ten year players aged in their early 20s, that a grand final team can be built around.

    Fremantle are further away from contending for a premiership than any other team in the league, with the exception of probably Hawthorn. But, the Hawks have four recent flags in the bank. The Dockers have none.

    Dockers coach Ross Lyon looking glum

    (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

    Freo have a first-round pick in this year’s draft, but nothing in the second round. That pick needs to be a high one, and it needs to be a good one. A bottom four finish would see that first round pick, and then something around pick 40, as their next selection.

    The Dockers don’t have many tradeable commodities to try and get some higher picks. Nat Fyfe is obviously one, if they wanted to be outrageously bold. Michael Walters is really the only other player that could fetch a high draft yield. Both are Western Australia boys though, which makes things harder.

    The rest of the list are either too old, too young, or no good. It’s a tough spot to be in.

    Fremantle are not a good football team. They may only have a couple of wins left in them this season, and it would be in their best interests for this to be the case. Can they build into something good by next decade? That remains to be seen, and is anyone’s guess.

    Cameron Rose
    Cameron Rose

    Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.