2017 AFL preview series: Fremantle Dockers – 14th

Cameron Rose Columnist

By Cameron Rose, Cameron Rose is a Roar Expert


61 Have your say

    Fremantle’s fall from ladder leaders after the 2015 home-and-away season, to 16th after 22 rounds in 2016 was the biggest drop in the history of the game.

    After four straight years of finals under Ross Lyon, they descended into disgrace.

    The speed of the decline was remarkable. This wasn’t a side that gradually fell off the pace, or had periods of momentum but could never quite put it all together. Bang, right out of the gate they were seven goals down to the Bulldogs at quarter time in Round 1, and there was plenty more where that came from.

    Gold Coast dominated them in Round 2, they lost a hometown Derby in Round 3, and before we knew it, 0-3 was 0-5 with the season gone, on the way to a 0-10 start to the year.

    They certainly had their injury troubles, but those early losses weren’t marred by them. Something was deeply troubled and wrong at the Dockers in 2016. Can they bounce back this year?

    Fremantle Dockers’ best 22

    B Lee Spurr Joel Hamling Alex Pearce
    HB David Mundy Michael Johnson Tommy Sheridan
    C Stephen Hill Lachie Neale Brad Hill
    HF Harley Bennell Shane Kersten Michael Walters
    F Hayden Ballantyne Matt Taberner Cam McCarthy
    Foll Aaron Sandilands Nat Fyfe Connor Blakely
    Int Hayden Crozier Cam Sutcliffe Garrick Ibbotson Lachie Weller

    Emergencies: Sam Collins, Ed Langdon, Darcy Tucker

    Let’s look at the good news first.

    Nat Fyfe is back after only playing five games last year. He started 2016 as the best player in the league, but Danger signs were starting to emerge in the form of a certain Geelong superstar.

    Fyfe will lead the midfield once more in contested beast mode, and will be hoping Aaron Sandilands can also feature in the majority of matches to provide him with gilt-edged service. The big ruckman also hit the park only five times last year.


    In their absence, Lachie Neale stepped up with 33 touches a game and was top three in the league for disposals, clearances and contested possessions. He truly was a one-man band on the inside, with the next best contested possession player at Fremantle (David Mundy) over 160 behind him, clearly the biggest differential in the competition.

    The inside support of Michael Barlow is gone, but the impressive Connor Blakely should step up again with his third pre-season under his belt, and Fyfe’s return will help everyone else down the chain. Mundy will still be used, but has also been earmarked for a half-back role.

    Outside run has always been seen as a weakness of Ross Lyon teams, with his reputation for stodginess and stifling of natural flair for the advantages of structure, discipline and team defence. He’s been unfairly maligned over the journey, but should get to showcase some attacking principles now.

    Brad Hill has come across from Hawthorn to join his brother Stephen, and they will seek to run the wings, scything through opposition midfields, calling to mind two bishops on an open chessboard.

    Clusters of pawns in the centre are the natural enemies of bishops, and have proven to be Ross Lyon’s preferred method of attack and strangulation over the years. Will he allow his bishops the space they need to be used to best advantage?

    Michael Walters was a deserved top three finisher in the Fremantle best and fairest last year, and possesses a deadly combination of creativity, skill and smarts, regardless of what part of the ground he’s operating in.

    Freo fans, and the football world at large, will be hoping Harley Bennell can get on the field and return to his best. Few have more talent than he, and it’s worth remembering that five times in his career he’s had 27 or more possessions and kicked three or more goals in the same game.

    If Bennell, Walters and the Hill brothers can get up and running, the Dockers will have no excuses transitioning the ball between the arcs and looking dangerous moving forward.

    The tall forward trio of Matt Taberner, Shane Kersten and Cam McCarthy have all walked different paths to reach where they are today, and it doesn’t exactly look a premiership line-up.

    The Dockers' Michael Johnson

    Kersten improved significantly last year, after looking every bit a VFL-only player across 2014-15, which made it surprising when the Cats were happy to let him go. He’ll lead hard, and has good hands and a strong kick. He’ll be an important player on his long home ground.

    McCarthy has had his off-field issues, and is by no means the complete player yet. It remains to be seen how many dimensions he has to his game, and although he kicked 35 goals in 2015, in the last four matches he played that year, he had a combined total of 27 touches, six marks and one goal.

    Taberner has looked on the verge of taking the next step for a couple of seasons now, but keeps falling down the stairs instead. In last year’s preview series, I asked “Is Taberner mentally ready to take the next step? Is he hungry enough? Is he desperate enough? Is he willing to attack each contest as if it’s his last?” We’re still waiting for the right answers, but then maybe he’s only got the wrong ones.

    The Fremantle defence struggled under the weight of easy ball that headed their way last season, and should find things easier this time around, but still look on the limited side as individuals.

    Lee Spurr and Cam Sutcliffe have been doing what they do for years. Michael Johnson only played four matches last season, and his run and carry is as important as his intercept play. Premiership Bulldog Joel Hamling has been added to play full-back, and strikes as a typical Ross Lyon defender.

    One of the questions for Lyon will be what balance he strikes between playing the older servants (Spurr, Garrick Ibbotson, Danyle Pearce, Hayden Ballantyne, Zac Dawson) and the younger brigade (Alex Pearce, Ed Langdon, Darcy Tucker, Harley Balic). This will likely be determined by the shape of the season.

    The Dockers are going to need a lot of things to go right in order to surge back up the ladder, and while they have some unique tools to do so (particularly in the shape of Fyfe, Sandilands, Bennell and Walters), it feels like a bridge too far, and they’ll be closer to the bottom than the top come Round 23.

    Predicted ladder spread: 13th-16th

    Predicted finish: 14th

    Best and fairest: Nat Fyfe

    Leading goalkicker: Michael Walters

    All-Australian potential: Nat Fyfe, Lachie Neale, Michael Walters

    Rising Star candidates: Harley Balic, Brennan Cox, Sean Darcy and Griffin Logue are the only senior list players eligible – but how many opportunities will they get under Ross Lyon?

    Cam Rose’s AFL preview series ladder

    14th – Fremantle
    15th – Essendon
    16th – North Melbourne
    17th – Carlton
    18th – Brisbane

    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.

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    The Crowd Says (61)

    • March 3rd 2017 @ 7:52am
      Neil from Warrandyte said | March 3rd 2017 @ 7:52am | ! Report

      Have you set a date for the BBQ Don Freo? Hope you have a big back yard.

      • Columnist

        March 3rd 2017 @ 12:32pm
        Cameron Rose said | March 3rd 2017 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

        I feel like I’m missing something with this Don’s BBQ thing…

        • Roar Guru

          March 3rd 2017 @ 12:41pm
          AdelaideDocker said | March 3rd 2017 @ 12:41pm | ! Report

          I can’t remember where it was posted, but he said if Freo got under 10.5 wins or something he’d hold a BBQ and wear the jerseys of the 17 other clubs, finishing with a Hawks jersey.

          Or something like that, it was posted late last year or early this year.

          • Columnist

            March 3rd 2017 @ 12:52pm
            Cameron Rose said | March 3rd 2017 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

            Haha, gold! Classic Don, and classic Roarers for not letting him forget it!

    • March 3rd 2017 @ 8:52am
      Don Freo said | March 3rd 2017 @ 8:52am | ! Report

      I’d suggest that Cam’s listed team would have me firing up the barbie too.

      That won’t be Freo’s team. Apeness will be at full forward and Sandi’s chop out quite often. Sam Darcy will step up by mid season in the ruck (the guy’s a gorilla…if that’s ok to say, Goodsey?)).

      Ed Langdon and Darcy Tucker are definite starters with Tucker being a regular mid field support for Fyfe, Mundy, Stephen Hill and Neale. Sam Collins will go past Joel Hambling. Collins’ poise and disposal last year was terrific and he is a very strong man. Pearce will be be CHB when fit with Johnson supporting down back, providing creativity and, quite possibly, swinging forward.

      Tommy Sheridan will only be a depth player and Lee Spurr might find himself being surpassed. Ibbotson is certainly better than Sheridan and Spurr but you’ll find the young gems like Balic and Hughes will be established fairly soon.

      • Columnist

        March 3rd 2017 @ 12:41pm
        Cameron Rose said | March 3rd 2017 @ 12:41pm | ! Report

        Okay, so after seven games in three seasons, Apeness is ready to be the next John Coleman. Got it.

        I’d like to think Langdon and Tucker would play too, but then again they were both in and out last year, and played the last couple of months when Lyon didn’t have a choice.

        Ibbotson was dropped last year and went backwards. I hope he can bounce back.

        Put it all together, and it reads like a team in a state of flux, which can be exciting.

        • March 3rd 2017 @ 2:58pm
          Don Freo said | March 3rd 2017 @ 2:58pm | ! Report

          Not a Coleman…although that is likely in his future. Getting 5 games is no reflection on his ability. He has been injured…the last one a collision injury, not soft tissue. Every time he has played, there is something compelling about his play. He has the goods.

          You listen to the McPharlin, Pavlich, Sandilands comments about Apeness and you hear some very impressed people. He will be a cult figure for Fraser Gehrig/Tom Hawkins stuff, not for Zac Dawson/Travis Cloke stuff.

          • Columnist

            March 3rd 2017 @ 4:23pm
            Cameron Rose said | March 3rd 2017 @ 4:23pm | ! Report

            I haven’t seen enough of him to comment, but I’m certainly intrigued now, and will be keeping a close eye on when he gets his chance.

            • March 3rd 2017 @ 8:19pm
              Don Freo said | March 3rd 2017 @ 8:19pm | ! Report

              I feel guilty now. Sorry Zac!

              I think Dawson still has a role to play but I think it might be depth (a la Silvagni) now rather than first picked. Pearce, Collins, Johnson and Hambling are ahead of him now.

              The thing about Zac is that he has been the defensive co-ordinator with the Ross method down back. The problem last year was that the cattle were in the injured pen. He may still figure but I suspect he may be surpassed.

      • Roar Guru

        March 3rd 2017 @ 12:47pm
        Dalgety Carrington said | March 3rd 2017 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

        Sheridan is likely to be the run-with player this year for the Dockers. Was recruited as an inside mid and with his running power, it’ll be a good fit I reckon, especially with (and maybe part of the reason) the departures of Barlow, de Boer and Mzungu.

        • Columnist

          March 3rd 2017 @ 12:54pm
          Cameron Rose said | March 3rd 2017 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

          I quite like Sheridan, but gee he disappointed me last year. Lacked confidence in himself, it appeared to me. I’m still backing him in to have a bright future.

      • Roar Guru

        March 3rd 2017 @ 1:07pm
        Pumping Dougie said | March 3rd 2017 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

        Don, I think there is room for Pierce (when fit), Collins, Johnson and Hambling in your backline. You just need a couple of quick, smaller types to compliment them.

        Hambling is agile and quite versatile – for example, in last year’s finals series he spent time on Buddy and Cyril Rioli with success against both..

        • March 3rd 2017 @ 2:15pm
          Krash said | March 3rd 2017 @ 2:15pm | ! Report

          Are you only pumping Dougie? Or also pumping Don? Don should get an Avo out on you mate….

          • Roar Guru

            March 3rd 2017 @ 2:22pm
            Pumping Dougie said | March 3rd 2017 @ 2:22pm | ! Report

            No idea what you’re talking about, Krash. Maybe you’re being really witty.

            What’s an Avo?

            • Roar Guru

              March 3rd 2017 @ 2:25pm
              AdelaideDocker said | March 3rd 2017 @ 2:25pm | ! Report

              Apprehended Violence Order

              It’s like a restraining order. Very odd comment from Krash though.

              • March 3rd 2017 @ 3:53pm
                Birdman said | March 3rd 2017 @ 3:53pm | ! Report

                or avocado?

                krashed avo?

                I’ll see myself out…..

              • Roar Guru

                March 3rd 2017 @ 4:12pm
                Pumping Dougie said | March 3rd 2017 @ 4:12pm | ! Report

                Like it Birdman.

                Krash Smashed Avo?

                Avo-go Krash?


    • Roar Guru

      March 3rd 2017 @ 9:23am
      Steve J said | March 3rd 2017 @ 9:23am | ! Report

      Interesting read, I think you can put a line through Alex Pearce for 50-80% of the season (maybe you meant Danyle Pearce in the backline)

      My best 22 would be

      Sutcliffe, Hamling, Spurr
      Mundy, Johnson, D Pearce
      Hill, Neale, Hill
      Bennell, McCarthy, Weller
      Ballantyne, Apeness, Walters

      Foll: Sandilands, Fyfe, Blakely

      Int: Sheridan, Kersten, Langdon, Crozier

      Logue and Balic may get regular game time, as may Hughes.

      If Apeness and/or Taberner don’t perform over the first 4-5 rounds and Pearce is on the long term injury list then they may promote Strnadica early … at 200cm and 95kg he’s AFL ready and a more natural footballer than Taberner

      • Columnist

        March 3rd 2017 @ 12:45pm
        Cameron Rose said | March 3rd 2017 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

        I hadn’t realized A.Pearce had re-injured that leg of his. I really liked him early last year.

        If Lyon starts throwing the kids like Logue, Balic and Hughes in, it will be a first. The injury list isn’t too long, with only Bennell and Pearce on it at the moment, so we’ll get to see in Round 1 what his intentions are.

        The Dockers have some very raw options for this key forward post.

        • Roar Guru

          March 3rd 2017 @ 1:09pm
          Dalgety Carrington said | March 3rd 2017 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

          Neale came in pretty early, but agree Logue will most likely be gradually introduced, although I think they’ve got big hopes and plans for him.

          Hughes already has had his period of traineeship I’d say. Balic they might be a little careful with. All up you think it will be a revolving door for the younger brigade, but Weller, Blakely and even Tucker have made it to the regulars pool.

          • Roar Guru

            March 3rd 2017 @ 1:12pm
            AdelaideDocker said | March 3rd 2017 @ 1:12pm | ! Report

            They’re definitely gonna be careful with Balic I reckon, but I’m looking forward to seeing him eventually get on the park.

        • Roar Guru

          March 4th 2017 @ 4:06pm
          Dalgety Carrington said | March 4th 2017 @ 4:06pm | ! Report

          There’s been a fair amount of “4-year rebuild” talk from the Freo footy department. So this would pretty much be the first time in Lyon’s senior coaching career that he hasn’t had the brief to have the team in contention here and now. Last year Lyon already gave the kids more opportunities and responsibility, so it’d be odds on that there’s more of the same this year.

          • March 4th 2017 @ 5:10pm
            Don Freo said | March 4th 2017 @ 5:10pm | ! Report

            I think any 4 year rebuild talk is pure bluff. I think this is one of our best squads ever…ideally the under 22yo brigade could do with 30 more games in them but they are pulling their weight already.

            Even if Ross is re-stumping etc, I think we’ll all be re-calibrating and expecting finals very early in the piece.

    • Roar Guru

      March 3rd 2017 @ 9:55am
      Pumping Dougie said | March 3rd 2017 @ 9:55am | ! Report

      Fair placing Cam. Another team that’s hard to predict, given their fall from grace last year, run of injuries and early tanking strategy. The loss of Pavlich adds further to their misery up forward.

      But Freo had the best trade period I can recall them ever having (they’ve never before had a good one); unfortunately though, any team with Zac Dawson getting regular games is hard to respect. Freo’s Best 22 looks pretty good in most positions but they still carry half a dozen unconvincing players and seem to lack depth in their seconds.

      Lyon is now in his 11th season as coach and has never previously displayed any attacking verve. He has been a great coach, but he also deserves his criticism. Can he re-design himself this year? I doubt it. Malthouse couldn’t. He also has a number of character and discipline problems bubbling within the team to manage, judging by the off-season dramas. One d..head is tolerable but multiple causes an issue for team harmony and performance.

      I’d put Sam Collins in the starting line-up ahead of the injured Alex Pierce. In fact, I wish we had Collins at the Dogs.

      • March 3rd 2017 @ 10:49am
        Jeremy said | March 3rd 2017 @ 10:49am | ! Report

        Kieren looked a champ in the under 18 champs, didn’t get to see any VFL last year but surely gotta get a run this year or next.

        • March 3rd 2017 @ 8:21pm
          Don Freo said | March 3rd 2017 @ 8:21pm | ! Report


      • Columnist

        March 3rd 2017 @ 12:48pm
        Cameron Rose said | March 3rd 2017 @ 12:48pm | ! Report

        Yeah, it was a bold trade period wasn’t it, PD. There are a lot of injury issues and off-field distractions in the best 22, so it’s unlikely we’ll see them playing all at once. Yep, Collins was okay.

        I think this year, and the next couple, are Lyon’s stiffest test. All eyes will be on him after last season, to see how he responds. One thing’s for sure, he’ll have confidence in himself.

    • Roar Guru

      March 3rd 2017 @ 11:32am
      Paul D said | March 3rd 2017 @ 11:32am | ! Report

      Last year you made a big call on Port Adelaide finishing 14th and got slammed for it – everyone said you were well off – they weren’t quite that bad but they weren’t much better than that either, eventually straggling in 10th. I expect Freo will be the same. That being said, if they finish 14th I think Don’s BBQ will be the least of their worries, as Fyfe will probably be leaving and they’ll also be having second thoughts about Rossco’s coaching contract.

      • Columnist

        March 3rd 2017 @ 12:52pm
        Cameron Rose said | March 3rd 2017 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

        I can forsee a similar scenario this year too. Dockers could very well finish about 10th, and that can be a good thing if it looks like a 10th that will break into the eight the year after.

        I doubt Ross is going anywhere, I think he’ll manage expectations well again, like he did last year once the season was gone.

        • March 3rd 2017 @ 3:01pm
          Don Freo said | March 3rd 2017 @ 3:01pm | ! Report

          That’s just Paul baiting FreoFolk. Paul doesn’t believe that because he seems to follow footy. He knows better.

          Ross and Fyfe are two of the many reasons why Freo won’t finish out of the 8.

    • Editor

      March 3rd 2017 @ 12:12pm
      Josh Elliott said | March 3rd 2017 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

      Unlike the most recent two this is a placing I pretty much agree with. Ross seems to be embracing playing the kids which may well be a sign that he is losing his marbles and while Fyfe will be back, one superstar does not make a team. Sandilands is a superstar too but at this age it’s hard to have confidence in him doing his thing. Will personally be a little surprised – and very happily so, don’t get me wrong – if Bennell ever plays a game for Fremantle.

      • Roar Guru

        March 3rd 2017 @ 12:43pm
        Dalgety Carrington said | March 3rd 2017 @ 12:43pm | ! Report

        Given how long he’s been out, it is understandable the doubt on Bennell making it, but they’ve invested a lot in him (i.e. sending him both to Melbourne and to Germany to get those calves right) and everyone inside the club speaks of Bennell’s efforts and attitude glowingly, the ingredients are there to best ensure he makes it back fit and firing. Essentially it’s his body that will determine it and not a lack of effort on anyone’s part.

        • Columnist

          March 3rd 2017 @ 12:57pm
          Cameron Rose said | March 3rd 2017 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

          Bennell’s been out so long, you can just see him doing the calf again two or three games into his comeback, which would be gutting. I wonder how many WAFL games Lyon would want to see from him before an AFL return.

          Good to have Josh on board for once! It’s been a rough couple of days. I just know North are going to smash Richmond when they meet now, and Josh will have some kind of meme or gif ready for me when they do…

          • Editor

            March 3rd 2017 @ 3:19pm
            Josh Elliott said | March 3rd 2017 @ 3:19pm | ! Report

            It’s my favourite annual tradition.

      • March 3rd 2017 @ 12:54pm
        spruce moose said | March 3rd 2017 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

        I said it last year and I’ll reiterate it again this year:

        Aaron Sandilands will announce his retirement this season.

        His body is too big to keep going.

        • Roar Guru

          March 3rd 2017 @ 1:51pm
          Steve J said | March 3rd 2017 @ 1:51pm | ! Report

          Yeah …nah. Sandi loves his footy and will go at least another year. Especially if Darcy comes on, he’ll look at working with him.

          BTW – you’ll be right one year with Sandi’s retirement, keep going with it in 2018

          Interesting to read that throughout last year Sandi was spending time with Strnadica before he was drafted, down at East Freo helping him with his ruckwork, he could definitely be the smokey as far as Freo are concerned in the forward line. Apeness really needs to be able to play out a game and go full tilt. Tabs ….. he just needs to get in the contest

          • March 3rd 2017 @ 4:35pm
            spruce moose said | March 3rd 2017 @ 4:35pm | ! Report

            He’s 34, and 7ft tall playing one of the most intensive games on the planet, about to start his 14th season with 244 games under his belt.

            Those stats alone are impressive enough if you lived on the East coast. Factor in West coast travel and that is a herculean effort…but one that is just one injury away from ending.

            There are loads of players that loved their footy but the body just gave out.

            And fyi, I announced in 2016 that Sandi was done by the end of 2017. So, I’m still bang on track. Just you watch…

        • March 3rd 2017 @ 7:00pm
          Don Freo said | March 3rd 2017 @ 7:00pm | ! Report

          Sandi is an elite runner, gets to position always theough his reading and smarts.

          His missed games are collision not soft tissue. He has 2 or 3 more years.

      • Roar Guru

        March 3rd 2017 @ 1:03pm
        Pumping Dougie said | March 3rd 2017 @ 1:03pm | ! Report

        Bennell would make a huge difference to Freo if he was physically fit and mentally focused. He’s capable of having a big influence. They also need McCarthy to deliver on his early promise. Interesting year ahead for Freo.

        • Roar Guru

          March 3rd 2017 @ 1:11pm
          Dalgety Carrington said | March 3rd 2017 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

          Definitely a very interesting year for Freo. I’d almost have them with the widest possible range for their ladder position out of all the teams.