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The need to fix Freo's scoring woes before another season slips by: Can the Dockers kick enough goals in 2024?

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Roar Rookie
11th March, 2024
9

The AFL season is underway and the hopes and fears of fans across the country are beginning to gather some momentum.

Everyone has the dream of seeing their captain hoist the Premiership Cup in front of 100,000 fans at the MCG in September.

But one fanbase that has had to battle plenty of patience as that dream slips by each season is Fremantle – and there is a very real prospect of that happening again if the right changes were not made in the offseason.

The Dockers dropped alarmingly from finishing fifth in 2022 to 14th in 2023. So, where did that dynamism we saw less than 24 months disappear to?

To me, the answer seemingly lies in the forward 50, with an unproductive season in front of goals, and an inability to put numbers on the scoreboard with any real consistency seriously denting their chances of building up from a bright 2022.

Now on the precipice of the new season, it’s high time to look at where the problems emerged in 2023, and if there’s a potential renaissance ahead.

The pressure problem

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Arguably the biggest problem Fremantle faced in 2023 was their inability to be productive with forward play, with key metrics for offensive elements of the game reflective of their ladder position.

Their total entries inside 50 across the entire season was 1158, the third-lowest in the competition, beating only 18th-placed West Coast and 17th-placed North Melbourne. It’s quite hard to score if you don’t have the ball in scoring areas, which plagued Fremantle across the season.

Even with the low number of entries, they relatively overperformed by way of goals, with the 11th highest number (271) in the competition. They failed to score more goals than a single finals team (although they did tie with St Kilda) and were only seven goals clear of ending up in 15th position on this metric as well.

Immediately the problem is quite apparent. The goals simply aren’t there, but neither is the pressure. For a team with one of the youngest list profiles in the competition, intense running and creating chances by way of perceived or actual pressure should be a relative non-negotiable.

Fremantle’s ranking of 14th for tackles inside 50, with 240, is only one spot, and one tackle, higher than West Coast, who endured an incredibly challenging season, especially with their movement in the forward half.

Matthew Johnson. (Photo by Will Russell/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Given how poor they were for the majority of the season, it’s a genuine concern for Fremantle that they laid one less tackle than them in the forward 50, despite exactly 150 fewer entries.

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In fact, the drop in tackles within the forward 50 is truly staggering, while they only laid 30 less, their total of 270 in 2022 was good enough for fourth in the competition and was a big element in their push to fall just shy of the top four.

Their steep decline in offensive metrics was a big factor in their plummet down the summit, and with an out-of-contract Justin Longmuir already under the microscope, addressing the forward structure presents as priority one.

Individual productivity

Fremantle’s forward group, it’s fair to say, didn’t holistically cover themselves in glory across last season, and given the lack of recruitment, the improvement needs to come from the players who enjoyed game time last season.

Starting with those who did enjoy a fruitful campaign; Jye Amiss announced himself as a potential star key forward, with 41 goals at a shade under two per game. He managed to play 22 games across the season, a luxury Fremantle key forwards have not always had, and clearly stood out as the number one target throughout the campaign.

Michael Walters, despite being 32 last season, looked lively and ageless in just about every game he played, scoring 33 goals (tied for second) at 1.7 per game. Even more impressively, he got on the park for 20 games, which given his previous injury complaints and age was an invaluable contribution.

Tied with Walters for goals was Lachie Schultz, who has since left for Collingwood in a move that threatens to destabilise the entire forward structure.

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Not only is that 33 less goals in their best six forward group, but the removal of 4.1 tackles and 20.1 pressure acts per game is an enormous loss to a team struggling to retain the ball inside their forward 50.

Outside of tangible numbers, Schultz plays with an energy and combativeness that elevates those around him, a quality that a young team like Fremantle will undoubtedly be poorer for losing.

The only forward to score more than 20 goals in 2023 was Michael Frederick, who was a livewire throughout the campaign. He presents an interesting puzzle for Longmuir, as he looks like a genuine Liam Henry replacement for the wing, but can you afford to take him out of the forward 50?

Sam Sturt managed 17 goals from 14 games and showed some signs of finding his feet at AFL level, but he’ll need to continue to progress if Fremantle wants to avoid another bottom-third finish.

Another Sam, this time Switkowski, doesn’t score more than a goal a game, but a lot of his work is done higher up the field, and he is an irreplaceable part of the best 22 with his pressure and ball use.

Now we get stuck into where I see that the problems lie. Josh Tracey played 17 games last season, for 15 goals, spending the majority of the season as a second tall.

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For a player with his role, going at a goal a game isn’t sufficient for Fremantle to contend, and he’s occupying perhaps the most obvious position for essential improvement. Tracey has serviceability, but his output on the scoreboard and overall consistency need to improve in 2024.

Bailey Banfield hasn’t quite been able to cement his spot in the team, scoring 11 goals from 14 games last year, while Tom Emmett’s late-season pair of games, in which he scored four majors, does create a splash of intrigue for that role in the forward line.

Josh Corbett looked to struggle to find any form of momentum when given time in the purple – although a bizarre decision to play him as a substitute couldn’t have helped – while Matt Taberner, who has carried the forward line for years, couldn’t shake off persisting injuries.

The other piece of the puzzle is Nathan Fyfe, who was touted as the missing link to the forward line heading into 2023, but it’s fair to say that move was a disaster.

Injuries didn’t help, but he simply isn’t a forward, and he looked a shadow of who he is as a player from his limited exposure. With a strong pre-season, he’s likely to play in round one, which creates a real quandary.

He’s 32 now, and with the better part of half a decade of injury woes, there remain genuine questions about whether he can physically cope with the rigours of an AFL midfield.

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Couple that with the difficulty he had transitioning into a forward, he finds himself in a really awkward spot. How he fares on Sunday shapes one of the biggest sub-plots of the Dockers’ first game of the season.

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Can they turn the tide?

It’s hard to base anything off pre-season with any real certainty, but the Amiss-less forward line struggled against a robust and regimented Port Adelaide defence.

Their inside 50 count of 37 was 19 less than Port Adelaide mustered, while their efficiency inside 50 was a woeful 35.1 per cent.

Tracey and Taberner both spent more than 75 per cent of the time on the ground and combined for zero goals, with only Patrick Voss really impressing in the forward group.

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This presents a real problem, as regardless of who is playing in a pre-season game or how fitness-building the game might be, the ghosts of 2023 were well and truly haunting Alberton Oval.

If Fremantle’s forwards can’t collectively lift, both in terms of production and pressure, it looks destined to be another forgettable, and ultimately wasted year.

West Coast Eagles
v
Melbourne Demons
4.35
1.20
PlayUp
AFL : Head To Head
Sun, 19 May 2024, 18:21
Western Bulldogs
v
Sydney Swans
2.55
1.52
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AFL : Head To Head
Thu, 23 May 2024, 19:30
Fremantle Dockers
v
Collingwood Magpies
2.00
1.80
PlayUp
AFL : Head To Head
Fri, 24 May 2024, 20:10
* Odds Correct At Time Of Posting. Check PlayUp Website For Latest Odds
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