Fremantle had the kind of year that promised a lot and then fizzled at the end, as injuries crippled their late-season run, although silver linings could be found everywhere you looked in the postmortem.
In and out of the top eight all year, the season would have turned out vastly differently had they won the eight-point game against the Bombers in Round 9, having taken a three-quarter time lead and kicked poorly in the last, as that result alone would have seen them finish eighth.
Defeating both Sydney teams, winning the return Derby and putting a nail in Richmond’s coffin were the highlights, while losing to Carlton twice, losing the opening Derby and giving up too many blowouts were the lowlights.
Coach Justin Longmuir brought the team back to the verge of finals, but unlike the handful of close losses in 2020 with a healthy percentage at the end of the season, this year Freo were either blazing hot or freezing cold.
Adam Cerra was the big exit, with the wantaway asking for a trade to Victoria and Carlton emerging as the club with the right offer. Fremantle bargained hard to get fair value for a player they had put four years of development into.
Club stalwart Stephen Hill retired after 218 games, having been taken at pick three in the 2008 draft and getting to 200 games inside ten seasons, but injuries cruelled his past three seasons and he hangs up the boots as a Freo legend.
The knife came for several players getting regular top-grade footy, with Brett Bewley, Reece Conca, Taylin Duman, Stefan Giro and Tobe Watson cut, while Leno Thomas slid off the category B rookie list after finishing the year in the WAFL reserves.
Mitch Crowden and Connor Blakely were also delisted but were then given reprieves in the rookie draft.
Fremantle did not participate in the 2021 supplemental selection period or the mid-season rookie draft or free agency, doing all their business in October and November.
The Dockers were resigned to losing Cerra, so they wasted little time in acquiring Will Brodie from the Suns in a deal that saw them also net picks 19, 61 and 69, sending back a future second-rounder and future fourth-rounder, which only makes sense given that Fremantle has taken on Brodie’s $750,000 contract.
They did a smart little deal with Collingwood to get up the order trading pick 27 and a future third-rounder for pick 22, then got pick six and a future third-rounder for Cerra from Carlton.
Those trades allowed them to send pick 22 and the Blues’ future third to Geelong in exchange for Jordan Clark and a future fourth.
Fremantle had to wait through three bid matches and five picks before calling out prolific goal-kicker Jye Amiss from the East Perth Colts at pick eight, while again going local minutes later with Subiaco Colts midfielder/forward Neil Erasmus at pick ten on the first night.
They didn’t have to wait on the second night, using the first pick of the second round on Subiaco prospect Matthew Johnson, which made it their third WA recruit of the draft inside the top 21 picks.
Having begun the post-season with only one usable draft pick, the Dockers used the fourth-rounder acquired from the Suns to select their own next generation academy player Eric ‘Roy’ Benning, their fourth WA recruit.
The Dockers had pick eight in the rookie draft and they picked the third genuine draftee Karl Worner from the Oakleigh Chargers, repeating their pattern from 2020 where they stayed in their own state until the rookie draft.
Crowden and Blakely got put back on the rookie list, while Ethan Hughes received a rookie elevation, although these player movements are simply part and parcel of the final list lodgement.
The Dockers will go into 2022 with just 42 players as they have only got a pair of category B rookie spots available, but they won’t be concerned because their next generation academy elite squad has a Yarran, a Rioli, a Pickett, a McAdam, and a Jetta coming through among a crop of talent who will vie for those spots in the near future.
The club can use the supplemental selection period to add one of their next generation academy prospects, but they must have gone undrafted and go onto the category B rookie list.
There don’t appear to be any major injuries that could keep a player out for the whole of 2022, but the club will become active in the supplemental selection period should this change, while Irishman Ultan Kelm has postponed his arrival in Australia for a year due to injury.
Will Brodie may not be a like-for-like replacement for Adam Cerra, but he is a quality inside bull who will gain a second life at the club he followed as a kid, so the Dockers’ midfield will not be losing any of its potency.
Jordan Clark was also starved of opportunity at his first club but has the ability to crack Freo’s best 22 where he can command a wing spot after so many departures by previous owners of the position.
Fremantle has been searching for a dead-eye full forward for years, and while they will have to wait a little longer while he continues to develop, Jye Amiss looks very likely to be that player after a colts career of 69 goals, 22 behinds.
South African-born Neil Erasmus showed the first glimpse of his talent with a match-winning four-goal haul as an underager in the 2020 WAFL colts grand final for Subiaco after converting from cricket, then went on to totally dominate the public schools competition this year as an accumulating inside midfielder.
Matthew Johnson was the slider of the first round having been touted as a top ten pick, but the Dockers didn’t let him past their opening pick of the second round. He is arguably the most ready to play seniors having been blooded in the WAFL premiers’ senior side and carving out an impressive reserves season.
Roy Benning continues the Halls Creek connection, although he grew up four hours up the highway in Kununurra. With brothers Shane McAdam and Ash Johnson playing for Adelaide and Collingwood, he is the biggest and shapes as a ruck/forward.
Karl Worner is a versatile utility who can play up and down the field on the flanks, who went undrafted last year and impressed enough this year to get picked. He will run all day and offer another wing or flank option.
Fremantle continue to bleed wantaway players with Lachie Weller, Lachie Neale, Ed Langdon, Brad Hill, and now Adam Cerra all being traded for high picks that leave the Dockers in a perpetual rebuild.
Gaining draft picks and perpetually remaining a young list is a road to mediocrity, as is continuing to give games to players based on fitness rather than form.
So for Freo to have transformed a poor draft hand and losing another high draft pick after four years into arguably the best combined trade and draft hauls of the year is remarkable.
Fremantle are now better than they were, which is the sign of a good draft, but they are younger too, so perhaps predicting a leap up the ladder could be premature.