The Fremantle Dockers had a terrible run with injuries that caused a difficult campaign in AFLW Season Seven (Image: Fremantle Dockers; Design: Will Cuckson)

It was a disappointing year for the Dockers who were ravaged by injuries on the way to their worst campaign since 2018.

After a long period as one of the most consistent teams in the competition, season seven saw Fremantle return to the pack and find themselves missing finals for the first time in four years.

Last season’s preliminary finalists never quite got started in the second season of 2022 of the AFLW, often struggling to put scores on the board.

Finishing position: 12th (three wins, six losses, one draw)

What worked

Led by the ever-green Kiara Bowers and skipper Hayley Miller, Fremantle’s midfield was their one-wood in a season where not much went right. Surrounded by a dearth of young talent in the absence of regular names, the two Dockers veterans carried much of the load.

Bowers was at her best inside the contest, averaging 14.6 tackles over the season that included 22 in round 10 to set the AFL/W record for the most tackles in a single game. She also averaged 21.6 disposals while leading the league in clearances with 7.2 per game.

Bowers was instrumental in getting the Dockers out of the stoppage while Miller was one of their best on the outside.

The Fremantle captain was 19th in the league for metres gained with an average of 297 metres per game. Miller was the connection from the midfield to the forward line with her 17.3 disposals and 3.3 inside 50s per game.

What didn’t

The Dockers suffered heavily from an extended injury list this season, regularly naming one of the longest injury lists each week with as many as 10 players being named as unavailable.

They simply struggled to get players on the park, and the constant team changes meant they couldn’t develop any on-field consistency.

One of the biggest injuries occurred in a pre-season match against the Eagles, when Ebony Antonio went down with a PCL injury that saw her out of action until round nine. It was immediately evident that Antonio’s absence was detrimental to Fremantle.

They started the season with a horror run of performances highlighted in round two against Geelong. The Dockers looked stagnant and lacked any capacity for outside run and spread.

Her inclusion for the last two rounds showed exactly what the team was missing as she averaged 18 disposals, four marks and 3.5 inside 50s as Fremantle ended the year with back-to-back wins.

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Breakout stars

Fremantle’s young brigade was spearheaded by ruck Mim Strom, the 21-year-old’s tap work improved upon previous years, breaking into the top 10 by averaging 16.9 hit-outs per game. She’s also become one of the premier defensive rucks in the competition, averaging the most intercept possessions with 4.5 per game.

Aine Tighe was the shining light of the Freo forward line, leading the goalkicking and almost tripling the tally of the next best. Her 11 goals are accompanied by averaging 3.1 score involvements per game. The 30-year-old is only in her second season in the league and is already showing a massive improvement on her three-goal return in AFLW season six. Another pre-season and a full Dockers roster will see her be instrumental to their improvement next year.

The development of Emma O’Driscoll impressed this season as she took the mantle of the running, rebounding defender in the midst of the club’s injury crisis. She almost doubled her previous best inside 50s haul, improving it to 2.6 per game this season. Almost one in four of her disposals were clearing the ball from her defensive 50, averaging a career-best 11.4 disposals and three tackles per game.

Highest point

After a disappointing season, being able to finish the year on back-to-back wins will springboard the club into 2023 and give fans a positive memory to end the season.

Those two wins each saw the return of one of the Antonio girls. Season seven was a tough year for the trailblazing couple, seeing only three games combined from the pair.

Ebony’s return rejuvenated the side and gave them sorely needed run on the outside of contests, while Kara gave the side a prolific scorer, kicking two goals from four scoring shots on return in round 10.

Fremantle’s round 10 clash with Hawthorn was a shoot-out that went down to the wire, retiring Kara Antonio proved the difference in her first game for the year. She had four score involvements from eight disposals in a four-point win, ensuring she left the game as a winner despite the teams’ tough year.

Lowest point

In round two, Fremantle hosted Geelong in what would be a miserable night for Fremantle fans. The Dockers only managed one point thanks to a Mim Strom behind late in the last quarter in a 26-point thrashing at the hands of the Cats, holding the Dockers to the tied-lowest score in AFLW history.

The scoreline flattered the Dockers at the end of the day with the Cats only kicking three goals of their 12 scoring shots.

It was a nil-all draw at the first break with Bowers threatening to win the game on her own accord, having seven disposals and tackles after just the first quarter. Geelong came out after the break and kicked a goal in just two minutes and that was as close as Fremantle would get on the night.

Bowers was the only Docker to have more than 15 disposals while Geelong had three girls hit the 20 mark. Amy McDonald had 29 disposals and five clearances, and was a major part of the dismantling of the Fremantle midfield.

Where to next

The Dockers have the capacity to bounce back up the ladder next season, the development of youth will be integral as they introduce some of this season’s injured players back to the squad.

The forward line will need a lot of improvements to be competitive with the scoring volume of some of the higher teams, Gabby O’Sullivan returning from injury alongside Tighe will help but may not present the ideal solution.

Ensuring the continued build of the midfield around Strom will be essential as she continues along this trajectory to become of the league’s premier rucks.

A full pre-season on the track with a focus on keeping injuries to a minimum will help stabilise the side and help build consistency, Fremantle has the potential with a perfect season to push for a low finals spot.

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