As we hit the bye rounds in the AFL season, The Inner Sanctum will be conducting our mid-season reviews of all 18 clubs and assessing the first half of the season and what fortunes may lie ahead.
Up next, Fremantle.
Fremantle sits on the precipice of the top eight with a 6-7 record, bordering on the edge of underperforming pre-season expectations of what this list could achieve in 2021.
It was an all too familiar start to the season for Dockers supporters, coming into round one with 16 players on the injury list including a slew of best 22 locks in Sean Darcy, Rory Lobb and Michael Walters.
Injuries have continued to savage Fremantle throughout the course of the season so far.
Despite a disappointing loss to Carlton in round three, the Dockers sat at an impressive 4-2 after six rounds, pressing strongly into the top eight and looking likely to send coach Justin Longmuir into his maiden finals run.
Midfielders young and old were beginning to click, and the forward line looked the best it ever had. Matt Taberner and Lachie Schultz kicked four each in a domination of the struggling North Melbourne.
However, the Dockers have won only two of their last seven games, breaking the duck with unconvincing wins over Sydney and Gold Coast.
Fremantle has been strong in contested ball, ranking sixth in the competition for contested possessions per game.
Captain Nat Fyfe leads the charge, averaging 14.7 contested possessions per game. Veteran David Mundy (11.7 per game) is no slouch either, while ruckman Sean Darcy (10.3 per game) is imposing himself on every contest.
Young midfielders Andrew Brayshaw and Adam Cerra are beginning to hit their peaks, averaging 28 and 22 disposals respectively. The two have been benefitting from the hard work of their elders, registering score involvements week in week out.
The Dockers have been taking advantage of their bevy of tall timber across the ground, Darcy, Rory Lobb, and Matt Taberner leading the way in contested marking.
As always, they’ve been strong defensively as well. Their link-up play on the rebound has been of particular note, ranking seventh in the competition for intercepts and third for rebound 50s.
Grinding teams down and holding their forward lines accountable has been the hallmark of Fremantle in season 2021. It has held its opponent to just 65 points per game in its wins.
While the Dockers can hold teams to low scores on their day, they still struggle to put up big scores of their own. They’re averaging 76 points per game this year, and other than the bottom four sides, this is better only than St Kilda.
Lobb and Taberner haven’t struggled to mark or score inside 50 when they get the ball, but the big dilemma has been getting the ball to them in the first place.
Despite being one of the better-contested ball teams, Fremantle fails to convert winning the ball on the inside to create opportunities on the outside.
The Dockers sit second last for centre clearances per game, and fifth last for total clearances.
Longmuir has been addressing this concerning stat in previous weeks, winning the clearance count against clearance machines Port Adelaide 34-32 and the Western Bulldogs 37-33.
An easily avoidable issue in accuracy, however, needs to be seriously looked at.
Fremantle has kicked more behinds than goals in 10 games this year, including a disgraceful 11.21 against GWS in round two. It sits second in the competition for behinds per game.
MORE AFL MID-SEASON REVIEWS:
Best and Fairest (Doig Medal) contenders:
You might not expect many players to be hitting career best form at 35, but David Mundy is doing exactly that.
The veteran Docker currently leads the club on the AFL Coaches Association votes leaderboard, averaging close to career-best numbers across a multitude of categories.
Mundy is averaging 26 disposals, four tackles, five inside 50s, six clearances, and seven and a half score involvements, and has kicked 11 goals for the season. He’s just eight away from his career-high of 19 goals in a season, which he kicked in 2018.
He’s been a consistent performer in the Dockers engine room and distributes the ball just as effectively as he’s gathering it at a 72% disposal efficiency.
Mundy’s trademark reliability in front of goals has been as good as ever, pushing forward with ease when he’s not required to win the ball in the middle.
Skipper Nat Fyfe will no doubt be right up there in the votes after round 12, but might not poll any further as he faces the pressing decision as to whether to go under the knife on his injured shoulder.
All-Australian defender Luke Ryan has been the picture of consistency as always, averaging 22 disposals, seven intercept possessions, eight rebound 50s, and 510 metres gained.
However, Ryan missed three games with a calf injury. His high-quality disposal and ability to effectively line up on key forwards with multiple centimetres of height on him should hold him in good stead to pick up the votes.
Young midfielder Andrew Brayshaw has only had two games where he’s picked up less than 20 disposals, enjoying a breakout year on his way to becoming an elite midfielder of the competition.
Who needs to lift?
Connor Blakely hasn’t been able to make the most of his senior opportunities, unable to overtake the likes of Brayshaw or Cerra to claim a spot in middle.
In his seventh season at the club, Blakely still hasn’t been able to establish himself as a best 22 player. He’s played seven games in 2021 but has been named as the medical substitute five times.
He’s averaged 23.5 disposals, six marks, and three tackles in the WAFL games he’s played this year, demonstrating an ability to play in both inside and outside midfield roles.
As has been the case for most of Blakely’s career so far, this hasn’t translated to the top level. He’s averaging a measly nine disposals, despite being activated early in multiple games due to the Dockers’ injury woes.
With Fyfe now out for an unknown period of time, Blakely has a serious opportunity to cement himself in the best Dockers team in an inside position.
Expectations for the second half of the season:
Fremantle’s youngsters’ souring of a promising season through an unfortunate and ever-growing injury list leaves Justin Longmuir and his side in a precarious position.
With Hayden Young and Griffin Logue not far from coming back into the side, the return of Alex Pearce leaves the defense in a good place.
While Fyfe can’t be replaced, the midfield brigade has shown that they can be elite without him, and Mundy will no doubt be leaned on to lead the group to glory.
After the bye, the next three weeks will be crucial for Fremantle.
With winnable games against the bottom-four sides Collingwood and Hawthorn as well as a rematch with Carlton (at Optus Stadium), the Dockers are every chance to go on a four-game winning streak before a do-or-die clash with Geelong at home.
Win those three, and they sit 9-7, likely breaking into the top eight.
The run home sees Fremantle play four top eight teams in a row, however. While it has the advantage of the majority of these clashes being at home, it will need to win the winnable games and cause major upsets while potentially still missing the skipper.
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