PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA - JULY 22: Nat Fyfe of the Dockers speaks to the huddle at the start of the game during the round 18 AFL match between the Fremantle Dockers and the Hawthorn Hawks at Domain Stadium on July 22, 2017 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Will Russell/AFL Media/Getty Images)

2018 Season Preview: Fremantle

Last Season

Fremantle’s 2017 season was a rollercoaster, kicking off with back-to-back thumping defeats at the hands of Geelong and Port Adelaide, before winning six of their next seven games to sit at 6-3 and fifth on the AFL ladder.

That’s where the good news stopped however, with Fremantle only managing to win two of their remaining 13 matches to finish in 14th position.

Consecutive triple-figure defeats to Sydney and Richmond in rounds 21 and 22 was met with intense media scrutiny over the direction of the club under Ross Lyon, with another triple-figure loss to Adelaide and a belting in the hands of the lowly Brisbane Lions ruining what was an exciting opening to the year.

Off-Season Grades

The Dockers enjoyed a strong off-season both at the trade table and in the National Draft.

Nathan Wilson was the club’s prized recruit, a dashing half-back who is already a star of the competition and will provide run-and-carry in Perth for years to come.

Brandon Matera could also be a handy pickup, likely playing a high half-forward role and being a creator in the front half.

Fremantle did lose the services of youngsters Lachie Weller, Harley Balic and Hayden Crozier, but were well-compensated in the draft by selecting midfield jets Andrew Brayshaw and Adam Cerra with their two top-five picks.

Off-Season Grade: A

PERTH, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 27: Scott Jones, Hugh Dixon, Tom North, Mitchell Crowden, Sam Switkowski, Andrew Brayshaw, Adam Cerra and Lloyd Meek pose following a Fremantle Dockers AFL pre-season training session at Victor George Kailis Oval on November 27, 2017 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Defining Period

After last year’s catastrophic end to the season, Fremantle will be desperate to finish the year on a positive note in 2018, making their final month of football crucial for the club.

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Home fixtures at Optus Stadium against Hawthorn, Carlton and Collingwood are all good opportunities to perform strongly, as is their round 20 derby with the Eagles. A round 22 meeting down at Geelong could spell disaster if the wheels start falling off again, but could also be a chance to test themselves against quality opposition if they happen to be finals bound.

Champion Data Suggests

Fremantle’s ball movement is simply not good enough to compete with quality opposition.

The Dockers were dead last in average scores from turnovers at 39.2 per game, clearly below even the second-last placed Carlton, a concerning statistic given the focus in this area in modern footy.

To give a clearer picture, the Crows led the competition with over 70 points from turnovers per game in 2017. Fremantle ranked last in scoring from defensive midfield chains, 15th at scoring from their defensive 50 and had the worst percentage of scores from intercepts since the first-year GWS squad.

On a positive note, the Dockers excelled in stoppage situations, led by Aaron Sandilands and Nat Fyfe.

A whopping 42% of their scores came from stoppages, yet without Sandilands the Dockers struggled to replicate these dominant figures, highlighting the importance of his health in 2018.

Strengths

As previously noted, the midfield is where the Dockers thrive.

Aaron Sandilands, Nat Fyfe, Lachie Neale, Michael Walters, Brad Hill, Stephen Hill, David Mundy and Connor Blakely form an imposing setup, and one that with another year playing with each other should create greater synergy in their ball-movement.

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Walters’ move into the midfield was a real highlight for the Dockers during their torrid stretch last season, providing flare and creativity that was previously missing from the lineup.

Young talent and talented players just entering their prime is another area the Dockers are strong in, despite having the most players over 30 in the AFL (six).

The likes of Neale, Fyfe, Walters, Hill, Blakely, Wilson, Joel Hamling and Cam McCarthy are all quality players just entering the prime years of their career, forming the core of the Dockers rebuild and supporting the future stars such as Brayshaw and Cerra.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA – AUGUST 05: Lachie Neale and Nathan Fyfe of the Dockers walk down the race after winning the round 20 AFL match between the Fremantle Dockers and the Gold Coast Suns at Domain Stadium on August 5, 2017 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Weaknesses

Fremantle’s glaring weakness structure-wise is their forward line.

In 2017, the Dockers went with a three-pronged attack of Matt Taberner, Shane Kersten and McCarthy which failed to yield effective results.

All three players rate as below average key forwards according to Champion Data and at least one of them will need to breakout in 2018 to turn Freo’s fortunes around.

Hayden Ballantyne’s age is catching up with him and Walters is playing predominantly in the midfield, leaving much goalkicking responsibility in the hands of Matera and possibly Mundy in a new role.

The aforementioned ball-movement struggles is obviously another concerning weakness and will need to be turned around in a hurry if the Dockers are to rise up the ladder in 2018.

Prediction: 14th

 

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