For the first time since 2015, Fremantle made finals in the process of registering its greatest September victory, rallying from a 41-point deficit to topple the Western Bulldogs in a home elimination final.
With an exciting nucleus that includes Andrew Brayshaw, Caleb Serong, Hayden Young, Heath Chapman, Jordan Clark, Josh Treacy, Jye Amiss, Will Brodie, Nathan O'Driscoll and Brandon Walker, expectations for another finals tilt in 2023 are alive.
2022 proved Fremantle can match it with the best, upsetting Geelong at Kardinia Park, beating Brisbane and running over Melbourne at the MCG. More importantly, erasing its poor interstate record - most notably in Victoria where they won five of seven matches, including a draw against Richmond.
This off-season, Fremantle bolstered its forward and midfield stocks by acquiring Melbourne premiership ruckman Luke Jackson, Gold Coast forward Josh Corbett and ex-Hawk Jaeger O'Meara to complement its spine in the middle.
Despite the departures of key players who were integral to the Dockers' success last season, and the retirement of club great David Mundy, the side can cover their losses.
The major question is going to be can Fremantle register a winning score, averaging 79 points in 2022. They did manage to register 100 points on four occasions and 90 points six times. The staunch defence definitely won't be an issue - only second last season for points against at an average of 67.5 per game behind Melbourne.
Coach Justin Longmuir has been the catalyst as to why the side is where they are, steadily improving the group since his appointment in 2020. All that remains is how far this young outfit can go.
Ins: Josh Corbett (trade, Gold Coast), Hugh Davies (No.33, draft pick), Josh Draper (category B rookie), Tom Emmett (No.41, draft pick), Luke Jackson (trade, Melbourne), Max Knobel (No.42, draft pick), Jaeger O'Meara (trade, Hawthorn), Liam Reidy (rookie draft), Corey Wagner (No.57, draft pick), Conrad Williams (category B rookie)
Outs: Blake Acres (trade, Carlton), Connor Blakely (delisted), Mitch Crowden (delisted), Rory Lobb (trade, Western Bulldogs), Griffin Logue (trade, North Melbourne), Lloyd Meek (trade, Hawthorn), David Mundy (retired), Darcy Tucker (trade, North Melbourne), Joel Western (delisted)
Here we named the Dockers' best 23 ahead of the 2023 AFL season.
Fremantle's back six in 2022 were rock solid, with key defender Alex Pearce having a terrific campaign after overcoming injuries consistently blanketing the opposition's number one forward.
Key scalps include holding Essendon 2022 leading goalkicker Peter Wright and 2021 Coleman medallist Harry McKay goalless.
Now, with the 27-year-old past the leg injuries which wiped his entire 2017 and 2020 campaigns entirely, the 197cm defender will seek to build upon a career-best year. With Pearce being the main architect of the backline, other important pieces have been catalysts to why Fremantle has one of the top defences.
The likes of Luke Ryan, who intercepts the ball at will, the dogged defence of Brennan Cox, the penetrating kicks off half-back from Hayden Young, the poise of Heath Chapman, and the dash from Brandon Walker and Jordan Clark go a long way in aiding the Dockers' rearguard. It is the perfect blend of attacking flare and staunch defence which will hold the side in good stead.
It will be more important this season, particularly in contests against sides who score heavily, such as Richmond, Brisbane, Geelong, Sydney, Western Bulldogs and Melbourne.
But Fremantle showed last season they are capable of nullifying teams below their average score per outing.
At the end of 2019, Fremantle's need to inject youth, especially in the midfield, would be the first of many components to address. Sure enough they have done it smoothly and it's delivering with Caleb Serong and Andrew Brayshaw both key pillars as to why the rising side can contend again in 2023.
Brayshaw, in his fourth season, went on to earn his maiden All-Australian selectoin along with winning the club's best and fairest award (Doig Medal). Serong, like Brayshaw, went to greater heights in 2022, averaging 26.4 disposals, including key performances against fellow contender Brisbane (31 disposals and a goal) and the Western Bulldogs (33 disposals, 1 goal, 10 clearances and 6 tackles), often throwing himself into every contest.
The duo are the face of the Dockers' bright future.
Whilst they are leaders of the side's midfield brigade with the retirement of David Mundy, support around has been integral. None more so than Will Brodie.
After only playing 25 games in five seasons with the Gold Coast Suns, the former ninth overall pick in the 2016 draft immediately made an impression. One all about toughness at the coalface.
In his opening game as a Docker against Adelaide, Brodie accumulated 22 disposals, including 13 contested possessions, and would only elevate his production as the season went on, giving the side additional assistance and complementing Serong and Brayshaw.
Add to the mix Jaeger O'Meara, who gives the side another dimension with his efficient ball use, and captain Nat Fyfe, who will put behind an injury-riddled 2022. It is a midfield that can match it against the engine rooms of Melbourne, Geelong, Brisbane, Collingwood, Sydney and the Western Bulldogs.
And with the ruck combination of Sean Darcy and Luke Jackson, it gives the team flexibility by rotating the pair between the middle and up forward.
Further depth options come in the form of young trio Matthew Johnson, Neil Erasmus and Nathan O'Driscoll, with the latter enjoying a strong 2022 campaign.
James Aish will also command a wing spot, while Liam Henry could be utilised further up the field this year.
Fremantle's task in 2023 is going to be consistently kicking a winning score. Last season, the Dockers proved they can, especially in away wins against Melbourne (94 points), Essendon (107 points) and St Kilda (111 points), and even at home against Brisbane (99 points).
Although the side lost Rory Lobb to the Western Bulldogs, Fremantle quickly filled the requirement by bringing in out-of-favour Sun Josh Corbett. Having fallen down the pecking order behind Mabior Chol and Levi Casboult, Corbett had a solid VFL campaign in 2022, kicking 25 goals from 12 matches.
Although he isn't expected to get the opposition's best defender, his production will be important with his ability to take a strong mark. That leaves Fremantle's number one forward, Matt Taberner, who will look to bounce back in 2023. 2021 saw the best of Taberner, kicking 37 goals, while early last season he booted a seven-goal haul against Essendon in Round 5. Unfortunately, injuries would minimise his production.
With the 29-year-old on track to feature in the early rounds and with youngsters Jye Amiss and Josh Treacy waiting in the wings, it gives the Dockers options to kick inside 50.
A benchmark in Fremantle's forward stocks is the immense pressure its smalls give. With unrelenting pressure from Sam Switkowski, Michael Walters, Michael Frederick, Bailey Banfield and Lachie Schultz - the quartet created havoc. None more so in the comeback elimination final victory.
FB: Brandon Walker, Alex Pearce, Luke Ryan
HB: Hayden Young, Brennan Cox, Heath Chapman
C: James Aish, Caleb Serong, Jordan Clark
HF: Lachlan Schultz, Matt Taberner, Michael Walters
FF: Sam Switkowski, Luke Jackson, Michael Frederick
FOL: Sean Darcy, Will Brodie, Andrew Brayshaw
I/C: Nat Fyfe, Jaeger O'Meara, Jye Amiss, Nathan O'Driscoll
Sub: Bailey Banfield
Emerg: Josh Treacy, Liam Henry, Neil Erasmus, Joshua Corbett