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Going into his seventh year as coach of the Fremantle Football Club, Ross Lyon had the huge task of taking the Dockers back up the ladder after plummeting down it following their minor premiership in 2015.
With only 12 wins from their last 44 matches, Fremantle did not have many friends when it came to predictions on the eve of last season.
With a new stadium for both the Dockers and Eagles, Fremantle enjoyed early success at Optus Stadium, winning four of their first five matches there.
However, it was another disappointing campaign for Lyon, suffering both his and the club’s biggest ever loss in Round 22 against Geelong when the Cats cruised to a 133-point victory.
Fremantle finished with an 8-14 record, the same as the previous year, highlighting how stuck in the mud the team had become.
Star midfielder Lachie Neale, shortly after shocking the club with the news that he wanted a trade to the Brisbane Lions, won his second Doig Medal from David Mundy and Nat Fyfe.
The free agency period kicked off a busy player swap period for Fremantle, with Tiger midfielder Reece Conca signing with the Dockers.
A complex trade with Port Adelaide helped set up the Neale deal, which then saw GWS ruckman Rory Lobb and Melbourne power forward Jesse Hogan both traded to Fremantle.
Approaching the trade deadline, the Dockers secured the services of speedy Bomber Travis Colyer for a future fourth-round pick.
Veteran Fremantle trio Michael Johnson, Danyle Pearce and Lee Spurr all retired at the conclusion of the season, seeing 622 games of experience walk out of the club.
Out-of-favour Dockers Tommy Sheridan and Cam Sutcliffe were both delisted, as were Brady Grey and Luke Strnadica.
Ryan Nyhuis and Ethan Hughes were both axed with the promise of being re-rookied, while former first-round draft pick Michael Apeness decided to hang up the boots after five injury-plagued seasons.
With their first selection in the 2018 national draft coming at pick 17, Fremantle grabbed Sam Sturt from the Dandenong Stingrays in Victoria.
The highly-rated Luke Valente from South Australia was snatched by the Dockers after he slid to pick 32, before grabbing mature-age pair Lachie Schultz and Brett Bewley from Williamstown in the VFL.
Tagger Bailey Banfield and defender Taylin Duman were both upgraded to the senior list, with Tobe Watson from Swan Districts added to the rookie list and Jason Carter signing as a category B rookie through the Next Generation Academy program.
1. Hayden Ballantyne
2. Griffin Logue
3. Brandon Matera
4. Sean Darcy
5. Adam Cerra
6. Reece Conca*
7. Nat Fyfe (C)
8. Andrew Brayshaw
9. Bradley Hill
10. Michael Walters
11. Jesse Hogan*
12. Mitchell Crowden
13. Harley Bennell
14. Nathan Wilson
15. Ethan Hughes (R)
16. David Mundy
17. Hugh Dixon
18. Darcy Tucker
19. Connor Blakely
20. Matt Taberner
21. Joel Hamling
22. Shane Kersten
23. Cam McCarthy
24. Tom North
25. Alex Pearce
26. Ed Langdon
27. Sam Sturt*
28. Lachie Schultz*
29. Luke Valente*
30. Lloyd Meek
31. Aaron Sandilands
32. Stephen Hill
33. Travis Colyer*
34. Brett Bewley*
35. Jason Carter (R)*
36. Brennan Cox
37. Rory Lobb*
38. Luke Ryan
39. Sam Switkowski
40. Scott Jones
41. Bailey Banfield
42. Stefan Giro (R)
43. Ryan Nyhuis (R)
44. Taylin Duman
45. Tobe Watson (R)*
FB: Taylin Duman, Joel Hamling, Luke Ryan
HB: Stephen Hill, Alex Pearce, Nathan Wilson
C: Ed Langdon, Nat Fyfe, Bradley Hill
HF: David Mundy, Jesse Hogan, Michael Walters
FF: Travis Colyer, Brennan Cox, Rory Lobb
R: Aaron Sandilands, Andrew Brayshaw, Connor Blakely
I/C: Reece Conca, Harley Bennell, Griffin Logue, Adam Cerra
EMG: Matt Taberner, Sean Darcy, Cam McCarthy, Bailey Banfield
One of the biggest stars in the competition, Nat Fyfe looked on track to claim his second Brownlow Medal after a hot start to the season.
However, any chance of that happening was quashed in Round 11, with Fyfe suspended for one match for an errant elbow to the head of Levi Greenwood.
Less than a month later, Fyfe suffered a hamstring injury that saw him spend six weeks on the sidelines.
Despite missing seven matches in total for the season, the Dockers’ captain still managed a podium finish in the Doig Medal.
Given the loss of Lachie Neale, it will be interesting to see how Fyfe responds to shouldering an even heavier load in the Fremantle midfield.
Clubs under Ross Lyon aren’t known for being heavy on the scoring front, but suddenly in 2018 the Dockers are spoilt for choice with attacking options, especially key forwards.
The arrival of Jesse Hogan and Rory Lobb puts serious pressure on Cam McCarthy and Matt Taberner, who both had disappointing seasons for different reasons.
McCarthy, who was Fremantle’s leading goalkicker in 2017, struggled with his form this year, dropped back to the WAFL after Round 11.
The former Giant managed just 19 goals from 17 appearances, and it is currently hard to see where he fits in Fremantle’s best 22.
If he can get back to his exciting best, the Dockers will become a lot more potent in attack.
For Taberner, it was looming as a breakout season before he suffered a broken metatarsal in Round 5, sidelining him for majority of the season. He returned in Round 20, playing out the remainder of the season.
With Brennan Cox staking his claim up forward for the Dockers, Taberner has a fight on his hands to get back in favour with Lyon.
Both selected by Fremantle inside the top five in the 2017 national draft, Andrew Brayshaw and Adam Cerra experienced vastly contrasting debut seasons in the west.
For Brayshaw, he enjoyed a solid first year as an AFL player, averaging just under 16 possessions and 4.4 tackles playing in a Dockers’ midfield that was more often than not outclassed and outplayed.
However, he was a central figure in one of the most controversial events of the season, suffering a broken jaw and dislodged teeth in the Round 20 Western Derby when Andrew Gaff struck the teenager in the face.
As a result, the number two draft selection missed the remainder of the season, but he looms as a key component of the Fremantle midfield, especially with the departure of Lachie Neale.
Cerra, on the other hand, displayed his sublime skills and football knowledge to play 21 games in his maiden season.
He showed the kind of player he could become with a starring role in Round 12 against Adelaide with 30 disposals, six marks and four tackles.
The 19-year-old, like Brayshaw, will be given every opportunity to play senior matches as the Dockers continue to opt for youth.
Also, keep an eye out for young defender Taylin Duman, who seemed to cement himself in the Fremantle backline in the final month of the season.
It’s easy to say Harley Bennell, who’s played just two games in three seasons with the Dockers and been involved in a number of controversies.
In fact, rumours swirled during the trade period that his contract, which is due to expire at the end of 2019, would be ripped up, but instead Fremantle’s new GM of Football Peter Bell gave the former Sun one last opportunity at saving an AFL career that promised so much at the beginning.
Another player under pressure to keep his spot on the list is ex-Cat Shane Kersten.
After booting 24 goals in his debut season with the Dockers last year, Kersten was reinvented as a defender this year, putting together nine appearances, including the final three matches of the season.
With Joel Hamling and Alex Pearce holding down the two key positions in the backline, and with impressive youngsters Taylin Duman and Griffin Logue aiming for more opportunities, the 25-year-old has a big fight on his hands to get regular game time in the final year of his contract.
A young leader in the making, Luke Valente was one of the biggest bargains at the draft, slipping all the way to Fremantle’s pick 32 despite a starring season in his final year as a junior.
Valente captained the South Australian side to victory in the Under-18 Championships and was named his state’s MVP after averaging 28 possessions and seven clearances across the four games.
The teenager was given the honour of wearing the number 29 at the Dockers, made famous by six-time All Australian and six-time Doig Medallist Matthew Pavlich.
Given the loss of Lachie Neale in the midfield, there’s every chance Valente could earn an early-season debut in 2019.
After one of the busiest off-seasons in the club’s history, the Dockers have a number of big-name recruits set to represent the purple and white for the first time in 2019.
The biggest name of all is Jesse Hogan. Having tried unsuccessfully to lure a number of star forwards from opposition clubs over the years, Fremantle finally landed their main target, acquiring Hogan in a blockbuster trade with Melbourne.
The former Demon is coming off a career-best year, averaging 18.2 disposals and 6.2 marks as a lead-up forward while booting 47 goals from 20 matches.
There are question marks over Hogan’s fitness, as he suffered a stress fracture to the navicular bone in his foot late last season.
He may not be ready for Round 1, but Fremantle will be hoping they have finally found their replacement for Matthew Pavlich in attack.
Rory Lobb is another name that is expected to line-up alongside Hogan in the Fremantle forward line.
One of the best components of the contested mark across the league, Lobb returns to his home state of Western Australia after 74 matches and 64 goals.
At 207cm, Lobb is equally comfortable playing in the ruck, but with Aaron Sandilands going around for one more year and Sean Darcy waiting in the wings, the ex-GWS Giant’s biggest impact looks set to be in front of goal in 2019.
Also look for Reece Conca and Travis Colyer to take their new opportunity with both hands.
Conca, who signed with the Dockers as a free agent from Richmond on a four-year deal, played a lot of his footy in Victoria off the half back flank, but his mature body might be best-suited to the midfield to give Nat Fyfe a helping hand.
Colyer will provide genuine speed in a tall attacking half and will be competing hard with Hayden Ballantyne and Sam Switkowski for that small forward role.
Not a mainstay in fantasy football by any means, but 2019 could be the year that Connor Blakely stamps himself as a contested ball winning beast.
Spending the majority of the past two seasons in defence, Blakely has averaged a healthy 87.4 Supercoach points from his last 30 matches.
Expected to move into the centre square following the departure of Lachie Neale, Blakely should expect to find a lot more of the ball, meaning his output in Supercoach will no doubt increase.
A terrific point of difference for your midfield or backline.
Round 1: North Melbourne (OS)
Round 2: Gold Coast (MS)
Round 3: St Kilda (OS)
Round 4: West Coast (OS)
Round 5: GWS Giants (UNSW)
Round 6: Western Bulldogs (OS)
Round 7: Adelaide (AO)
Round 8: Richmond (OS)
Round 9: Essendon (MRVL)
Round 10: Brisbane Lions (OS)
Round 11: Collingwood (MCG)
Round 12: Bye
Round 13: Port Adelaide (OS)
Round 14: Melbourne (MCG)
Round 15: Carlton (OS)
Round 16: West Coast (OS)*
Round 17: Hawthorn (UTAS)
Round 18: Sydney (OS)
Round 19: Western Bulldogs (MRVL)*
Round 20: Geelong (OS)
Round 21: St Kilda (MRVL)*
Round 22: Essendon (OS)*
Round 23: Port Adelaide (AO)*
Not a great fixture commerically for the Dockers, with no marquee matches for the third consecutive season, however they will have four Saturday night games at home, up from three last year.
Fremantle’s recent record at the Adelaide Oval is horrible, and they will play two matches there in 2019, while they head to Melbourne five times.
The Dockers will also go to Canberra to play the Giants, while they face two long flights to the Gold Coast and Tasmania to face the Suns and Hawks respectively.
Fremantle haven’t really been looked after when it comes to the teams they play twice in 2019. One of those sides is St Kilda, which presents a good opportunity to bank two wins.
The Power, Bombers and Western Bulldogs will be tricky teams to face twice, as will the 2018 premiers West Coast.
The main abnormality that stands out with Fremantle’s fixture surrounds their Round 9 clash with Essendon at Marvel Stadium.
Scheduled for a Saturday night, the AFL have created a contingency plan in case Melbourne Victory qualifies for the A-League Grand Final, which is scheduled for the same weekend.
If that is the case, the Bombers and Dockers will instead play on a Sunday afternoon, with the Port Adelaide vs Gold Coast match at the Adelaide Oval taking its place on Saturday night.
The AFL have also changed up most of the Perth matches that are scheduled in the Sunday twilight timeslot.
Usually starting at 2:40pm in the west, they will now instead start at 3:20pm, making it a 5:20pm (or 6:20pm depending on daylight savings) first bounce on the east coast.
Anyone with a vested interest in Australian Rules Football won’t be able to avoid the build-up to the first Western Derby of 2019.
The last time the Dockers and Eagles met, it resulted in Andrew Gaff being handed an eight-game suspension for a crude blow to Fremantle young gun Andrew Brayshaw, leaving him with a broken jaw and three dislodged teeth.
Freo fans and players bayed for Gaff’s blood for the remainder of the game, and with both players set to take the field for the Round 4 clash at Optus Stadium on a Saturday night, it is certain to be a match with a lot of feeling.
Fremantle will also celebrate their 25th year in the AFL in Round 22 when they face Essendon at home on a Saturday night which will be a massive occasion for the club.
The Dockers will face two daunting trips to the Adelaide Oval, a venue they have a 1-6 record at, but it is Round 17’s clash with Hawthorn at University of Tasmania Stadium in Launceston that will strike fear into Fremantle supporters.
From 11 matches at the venue since 2002, the Dockers have just one win, which was the infamous ‘Sirengate’ match against St Kilda in 2006.
Their last five games in Launceston have all been against the Hawks, losing every one of them by an average of 65.4 points.
Anything can happen in footy, but right now it’s not too appealing of a match for the Freo faithful.
“Hogan the new hero for Fremantle”
“Dockers to treat Gaff ‘like any other player’ in Derby”
The influx of new players from other teams combined with the continued development of young guns like Brayshaw, Cerra, Logue and Langdon make Fremantle a club to keep an eye on in 2019.
A lot of how their season will pan out depends on the fitness of Jesse Hogan. If he can overcome a nagging foot injury and get back to his best football that he displayed for much of this year, the Dockers all of a sudden become a very dangerous side.
The loss of Lachie Neale will hurt immensely, but this provides Brayshaw, Langdon, Cerra and Blakely the opportunity to step up and become central figures of the team instead of supporting acts.
Can Nat Fyfe play a full season? If he can, watch out.
Predicted finish: 8th-12th