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Opinion

Fremantle's forwards are flowering in 2022

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Roar Rookie
8th May, 2022
24

Cast your mind back to season 2021, and ask yourself one simple question: who was the most frustrating team to watch throughout the year?

There are a few answers, but if you compare performance to product, Fremantle would be right at the top of that list. The Dockers were in the hunt for the majority of season 2021, playing a brand of footy not dissimilar to what we see today, albeit without that same level of poise that has seen them rocket up the ladder.

While there have been lots of subtle changes and shrewd bits of recruitment that have factored into this daring Dockers display we have seen so far, forward line performance is the biggest influence on the turnaround.

Last season, Fremantle struggled mightily in front of goal, kicking more than ten behinds on 17 separate occasions, compared to 11 games scoring over ten goals. Crucial contests against Essendon, Carlton and St Kilda were marred by appalling accuracy, while even wins against the likes of GWS, Richmond and Hawthorn came with the key caveat of not being able to put teams away.

What we have been treated to this year has been vastly different. Eight rounds in, Fremantle has become a reliable, ruthless force in front of the sticks, across a spread of players. With some injuries and health and safety enforced absences, there’s become three key layers to the Dockers’ forward line.

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Layer 1: The key pieces

Matt Taberner: Four games, 12 goals

Before an unfortunate hamstring injury put him on the sidelines, we were starting to see the potential be converted to performance for Matt Tabernar. He caused real problems for West Coast in his first game back, put in a tradesman-like performance against GWS before dominating Essendon at Marvel, booting seven and wrestling the game away from the home side.

The hamstring injury against Carlton in Round 6 has curtailed him, and the Dockers will be sweating on his return prior to massive games against Melbourne and Brisbane. He’s also kicked just two behinds at the time of writing, a notable turnaround from seasons past. When he’s right, he has to be the first forward picked and the Dockers will be relying on him should they push into September.

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Matt Taberner

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Lachlan Schultz: Seven games, 12 goals

After almost losing him to Hawthorn in the off-season, Fremantle will be delighted with how Schultz has started his year, with the dynamic forward taking the next step in the early parts of the campaign.

Big performances against West Coast and Carlton, the latter of which was instrumental in his side gaining the four points, have married his high-pressure play style with scoreboard results. If he can keep this form going, we might be talking about a dark horse for All Australian selection.

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Sam Switkowski: Eight games, ten goals

Fast becoming a fan favourite in purple, Switkowski has found his groove so far this season, with coach Justin Longmuir rewarding the gut running forward with some midfield time to utilise his engine.

For those unfamiliar with the relentless pressure Switkowski brings, his chase down tackle on North Melbourne ruckman Todd Goldstein in round 8 ratifies his importance to the team. That effort gifted him a set shot, which he duly converted, to set a standard for his side. In a team that has remarkable depth in the small/medium forward position, he has made himself undroppable on current form.

Layer 2: The serviceable pieces

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Rory Lobb: Seven games, 12 goals

For a player who appeared to be on the next flight to New South Wales for the majority of the 2021 trade period, there was a real uncertainty as to what we would see from Rory Lobb this season. In many ways, it’s been the Lobb of years gone by, always appearing to be on the precipice of brilliance, yet ending up firmly in the above average box.

Against Geelong, he started positively, moving well and kicking straight, yet as the game went on the holding pattern of Rory Lobb continued. He’s been better this season (the midfielders seemed to have figured out how to kick to him), but there’s still noise about his contract situation.

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Fremantle may have options for talls returning home from the Eastern seaboard as they enter their window, which puts pressure on Lobb to elevate his game. A good start, but he needs a great finish.

Travis Colyer: Seven games, five goals

The impact that Travis Colyer provides is often not quantified by statistics (although he is a reliable goalkicker), but from his influence in transitioning the ball into the forward half. Often acting as the middleman between the half backs to the forwards, Colyer often finds himself as high up as the wing, running and chasing to bring teammates into the game.

Averaging just under 15 disposals and a goal a game is a handy return for another player who had question marks about his spot prior to the season commencing.

Michael Frederick: Seven games, nine goals

Ask ten Fremantle fans who their favourite player to watch is, and at least one will say Michael Frederick. Already arguably a cult hero, what we have seen so far from Fredrick in 2022 is the ability to elevate his game with his teammates.

He’s not a high possession forward, but he doesn’t stop chasing and has a knack for making the most of every touch around the goal face he receives. Throw in a potential goal of the year in Round 1, and this has the potential to be a launching pad season for the Freo dynamo.

Michael Walters: Eight games, six goals

From one Michael to another, albeit one with significantly more tenure in purple. It was a tough start to the campaign for Walters, with his pressure acts going unrewarded, mostly due to his struggles in front of goal.

Since the Carlton clash in Round 6, we have seen flashes of 2015 Walters standing up to be counted, hitting the scoreboard with vigour and nailing down a place on the team sheet that was at one point looking in jeopardy. Injury permitting, he will chalk up 200 games this season, cementing himself as one of the greatest Dockers of all time.

Michael Walters of the Dockers celebrates a goal

(Photo by Jono Searle/AFL Photos/via Getty Images )

Bailey Banfield: Eight games, six goals

It’s been a challenging campaign for Banfield in season 2022, with the eight-game statistic being a little misleading given his tether to the medical sub vest.

He may have found himself in the next category had this been written after Round 7, but an eye-catching (if not inaccurate) performance against North Melbourne has gone a long way to securing his spot in the best 23.

He certainly can’t rest on his laurels, but there’s improvement to come and there’s a chance for him to make himself undroppable in the coming weeks.

Layer 3: The spare parts

Jye Amiss: One game, two goals

Putting such a promising player like Amiss in the third and final category of this list was a quandary I toyed with for a while, but ultimately the lean boy from Busselton may be suited to a season in the WAFL. Despite disposing of Aaron Corr for a strong mark and goal in the opening stanza of his debut, he seems like he will only benefit from experience against older defenders.

His form for Peel Thunder has been excellent and he is already shaping as a key part of the club’s future, but as of right now, he’d be better suited to starring in the twos and strengthening up ahead of the years to come.

Josh Tracey: Three games, one goal

Another teenage key forward, Tracey has been solid in 2022 despite limited opportunities, yet he hasn’t been able to stamp himself as part of the best possible line-up Fremantle could play. He hasn’t played badly in any of his three games so far, but he’s also not put his foot down and exerted his physicality on his opposition.

The Round 8 game against North Melbourne was a golden opportunity as the primary key forward, but he was overshadowed by others despite not playing badly. He’s still got a lot of time and we’ll see him again this season, but he may find himself yo-yoing in and out of the team.

Liam Henry: Two games, zero goals

Bookending the rounds played so far in 2022 has been Liam Henry, who has struggled to press his case for sustained selection both times. The top-ten pick has always dangled promise in front of fans but has always seemed to be unable to take the next step, and has been confronted by the same issue in this campaign, which has been compounded by mixed form at WAFL level.

He still has plenty of time to come good and he’s far from a bust, but there is a concern that other players have gone past him and he needs to show his brilliant best in his opportunities to entrench himself in the lineup.

Sam Sturt: Zero games, zero goals

The forgotten man in this equation, and one I couldn’t do this breakdown without. The handy medium forward has been decimated by injury since bouncing onto the scene in 2020. Lockdowns and misfortune on the treatment table derailed any momentum that was building, and now there’s a real question mark over when he gets his opportunity.

There was a sense he would come in for the North Melbourne game, but Liam Henry took that spot, with Neil Erasmus taking the medical sub slot. His WAFL form has been good enough to warrant another opportunity at AFL level, it’s now just a question of when. If he’s called upon, he’ll need to perform.

While plenty has been made (and rightfully so) about the depth down back for the Dockers, they’ve quietly built a damaging operation to attack with and complement their efforts down field. If the output can be sustained and the accuracy doesn’t desert them, we could be witnessing a flourishing Fremantle come September.

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