Yes, yes, I know it’s Round 1. I’m not going to make any outlandish calls, but that Fremantle effort on Sunday was the most important game under Ross Lyon’s tenure.
The Dockers were brilliant on Sunday night. They were led by stars Nathan Fyfe, David Mundy and Brad Hill but, more importantly, their youngsters stood up. Darcy Tucker was brilliant in the midfield and across half back with 24 disposals and seven tackles, Ed Langdon was good after a much-improved season last year and Matthew Taberner was brilliant taking nine marks.
This was all without their two highest-rated young players, Adam Cerra and Andrew Brayshaw, having much of an impact, with only 34 disposals between them. That will obviously change throughout the season.
Their recruits from both this year and last year were also brilliant. Cam McCarthy kicked five goals and gave the Dockers that vital presence up forward in the absence of Jesse Hogan. Rory Lobb was fantastic in a swing-man-like role, kicking two goals and competing well in the ruck, and Reece Conca did a good job off half back.
This effort was still without some of their best players. Big-name recruit Jesse Hogan was missing for obvious reasons; Brennan Cox, who was impressive last year, missed out with a hamstring injury, as was promising defender Griffin Logue; and experienced speedster Stephen Hill is out with a quad injury.
Importantly, Fremantle played a better brand of football, which is uncharacteristic of Ross Lyon-coached football teams. Admittedly they still took their time with possession on occasion, but when the opportunity was there to run and put pressure on North Melbourne’s supposedly strong defence, they did, and with great success.
The defence was brilliant, with players up the ground to thank for the poor service coming in. That defence comprises two of the most underrated defenders in the game. Alex Pearce is only 23 but is one of the best key defenders going around. He did some brilliant work on some of the best key forwards in the game in 2017 when he had no help from his other defenders or midfielders before missing 2018 due to an ACL injury. This year could be when he bursts onto the scene to take the mantle as the best defender in the competition or at the very least get the media recognition he deserves to be in the conversation.
Joel Hamling also does a good job on opposition forwards and should love Pearce coming back into the fold. The premiership player from the Western Bulldogs comes on a big contract, and it’s hard to say he hasn’t been worth the money. Luke Ryan and Nathan Wilson provide good run out of defence but can also be very inconsistent.
Basically the defence wasn’t the issue in recent years at Fremantle; the lack of scoring was. They scored over 100 points only three times last year and scored under 60 points nine times, so to score 141 in Round 1 is huge for both the club and the team.
It was a big win for Fremantle, and with the inclusions of Cox, Hill and hopefully Hogan in the coming weeks, if they keep playing attacking football, they’ll be 3-0 and on their way to the finals after getting an easy draw.
The green shoots are growing quickly in the west, and opposition teams might have to get the rubber out for the games they’d pencilled in against Fremantle.