After failing to take care of “unfinished business” and falling short of a premiership, Fremantle will be looking to go again in 2022.
Heading into last season, the team had gone 13-2 in the previous two years, including going undefeated in 2020. A second half of the season slump meant the club fell in the first week of finals.
While the competition for a top six spot will be as tough as ever next year, the Dockers still have great talent on every line.
They’re facing the absence of key players for the first time in two years, meaning the team will need to draw on its depth of talent and new draftees to remain amongst the league’s elite.
Fremantle went into 2021 with “unfinished business”, after COVID prematurely ended its undefeated campaign the prior season.
The team started the year strongly, winning its first four games to extend its undefeated run to 11, which included beating Adelaide by 30 points on the road.
But the streak came to an end against the eventual premiers Brisbane in Round 5, and from there the Dockers didn’t look like the same world-beaters.
Inconsistencies started to emerge and they dropped their final two games of the regular season.
In the qualifying final against Melbourne, Fremantle failed to adapt to the windy conditions at Casey Fields and went scoreless in the second and last quarters, ultimately falling by 17 points.
Slow starts were a recurring problem during 2021, going goalless in the first term in eight of its 10 games. Out of those matches, the Dockers only went on to win three.
But despite a disappointing ending, after carrying the label of premiership favourite heading into the season, there was still a lot for Fremantle to celebrate.
Relentless midfielder Kiara Bowers secured her legacy as one of the game’s greats, sharing the league’s Best and Fairest with Brianna Davey, while winning the AFLCA Champion Player Award.
Fremantle’s potent backline also emerged as the team’s most underrated strength.
All-Australian key defender Janelle Cuthbertson led the way, Matilda Sergeant showed her ability as a lockdown defender, while the likes of Ange Stannett, Philipa Seth and Laura Pugh remained consistent.
What to look forward to:
It’s a new era at Cockburn, with freshly minted skipper Hayley Miller taking over from the club’s inaugural captain Kara Antonio.
While Antonio, one of the club’s first signings and a former All-Australian, leaves big shoes to fill, Miller is more than ready for the task.
Taken with the club’s first-ever draft choice, pick four in 2016, Miller has become one of the Dockers’ most consistent and important players.
The hard-working midfielder and two-time state league Best and Fairest winner has played the most AFLW games for the club with 38, tied with Ebony Antonio and Gabby O’Sullivan.
As Fremantle looks to go again after a disappointing finals exit, a new face leading the way is a great start.
Biggest unanswered question:
The biggest challenge for Fremantle will be filling the void of star forwards Sabreena Duffy (work promotion) and Ashley Sharp (pregnant), who are both inactive.
After Dana Hooker departed for the expansion Eagles, a key factor in the Dockers’ success has been retaining their core group of players.
But Duffy and Sharp being gone changes all of that, meaning the team will now need to revamp its forward line. The difficulty is both players possess qualities that are hard to replace.
Duffy has kicked 30 goals from her 25 AFLW games, including 10 last season, and is a genuine matchwinner and nightmare for opposing defenders.
Sharp meanwhile utilises her blistering speed, and doesn’t need many touches to have an impact.
The duo’s absence means Roxanne Roux and O’Sullivan need to step up, while Gemma Houghton will be as important as ever.
In terms of Duffy and Sharp’s potential replacements, former captain Kara Antonio has been earmarked for a role up forward.
Fremantle could look at its range of new draftees, including versatile key position player Amy Franklin and small forward Makaela Tuhakaraina.
It could also give someone like second-year forward Mikayla Morrison or the injury-riddled Ann McMahon a chance to debut.
It’s a big year for…
Aine Tighe might finally make her debut this season, after injuries have cruelled her time with the Dockers so far.
Standing at 185cm and boasting a Gaelic background, the Irish export has all the traits to be a great ruck, but back-to-back knee injuries have kept her on the sidelines for the last two seasons.
It’s a testament to Tighe’s talent and potential that she was re-signed for another year, despite not taking the field yet.
If she can finally stay healthy, she’ll effectively be a new recruit for the Dockers and allow the team to experiment with its ruck and forward mix.
Tighe would also take pressure off Mim Strom, after the 20-year-old has shouldered the number one ruck duties in her first two years in the league.
More AFLW Season Previews
Fremantle doesn’t need to wait long for the highlight of its fixture, with the Derby against West Coast now taking place in Round 1.
The Dockers will look to continue their three-game winning streak against their younger sisters, though unfortunately won’t get the chance to bring in a big crowd at Optus Stadium.
Two of Fremantle’s games towards the middle of the season should give an insight into the team’s top six chances, when it takes on two finalists from last year.
In Round 4 Fremantle is playing Collingwood at Victoria Park, a team that was just four points short of making the Grand Final. The next week its travelling to Hobart to face North Melbourne, and the Kangaroos have never lost in Tasmania.
Later on, the team’s final three games of the home and away season could potentially determine whether it makes or misses out on finals.
Fremantle hosts Adelaide in Round 8 and Melbourne in Round 9, before heading down to Ballarat to take on the Western Bulldogs.
The Dockers managed to defeat the Crows at Norwood last season, but taking on Adelaide is always a difficult task. On the flip side, the Demons beat the Dockers twice last season, including in the qualifying final.
The Bulldogs also only finished one game outside of the top six last year and looked like a finals team at times. If the Dockers need to win one or all of those games to clinch their spot, it could be a tough ask.
The three teams Fremantle won’t play are Brisbane, Gold Coast and St Kilda.
While the Dockers won’t miss facing the reigning premier and the team who ended their undefeated streak, the Saints and Suns were both bottom four teams last season.
COVID and Western Australia’s border could also be a factor in Fremantle’s campaign, with changes already made to its first two games.
R1: vs. West Coast, Jan 8 (Optus Stadium)
R2: vs. GWS, Jan 16 (Victoria University Whitten Oval)
R3: vs. Richmond, Jan 22 (Swinburne Centre)
R4: vs. Collingwood, Jan 30 (Victoria Park)
R5: vs. North Melbourne, Feb 6 (North Hobart Oval)
R6: vs. Carlton, Feb 12 (Fremantle Oval)
R7: vs. Geelong, Feb 20 (GMHBA Stadium)
R8: vs. Adelaide, Feb 27 (Fremantle Oval)
R9: vs. Melbourne, TBC (Fremantle Oval)
R10: vs. Western Bulldogs, TBC (Mars Stadium)
Ins: Amy Franklin (Claremont), Dana East (Swan Districts), Makaela Tuhakaraina (South Fremantle), Airlie Runnalls (North Melbourne VFLW), Jess Low (Claremont) Sarah Wielstra (Swan Districts)
Outs: Leah Mascall (retired), Evie Gooch (West Coast), Tarnee Tester (delisted), Jess Trend (delisted), Alex Williams (delisted), Katie-Jayne Grieve (delisted)
Inactive: Sabreena Duffy (work), Ashley Sharp (pregnancy)
Round 1 line-up:
Despite losing Sabreena Duffy and Ashley Sharp for the season, Fremantle still has enough elite talent to be a contender.
Kiara Bowers is undeniably one of the best players in the league, unmatched in her ability to win the ball and lay bone-crunching tackles. Alongside Hayley Miller and winger Stephanie Cain, that’s a fearsome midfield group for any opposing team.
Up forward, Gemma Houghton is one of the top key forwards in the competition, and Roxanne Roux has the potential to be anything.
The team should also remain strong down back, with the only potential change being Philipa Seth playing more as a midfielder.
Finally, Trent Cooper is a proven commodity as head coach and has promised to be more courageous in his coaching next season.
The club also took an equal league-high six selections in this year’s draft, with Cooper saying each player has the potential to debut in Round 1.
The team’s first two selections, Amy Franklin (pick 14) and Dana East (pick 31), are players to watch.
Fremantle also made a rare move and drafted outside of Western Australia, selecting North Melbourne VFLW midfielder Airlie Runnalls with pick 44.
The Dockers will be hoping some of these players can make an instant impact and give the team the refresh it’s looking for.
Fremantle might struggle to break back into the top four, but the team’s combination of established talent and emerging youth means it still has the tools to be a finalist.
In its strategic plan, the club outlined its vision to win a maiden premiership by 2025, and the Dockers’ AFLW program has the best chance of achieving that feat.
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