Fremantle finds itself without two of its highest scorers for the upcoming AFLW season.
Sabreena Duffy (30 goals in 25 games) and Ashley Sharp (25 goals in 34 games) are both currently placed on the inactive list for 2022, due to work commitments and pregnancy respectively.
Neither will play a single game in 2022, after adding 14 goals between them last season.
It leaves a forward line that had already struggled to get going at the best of times with even less firepower up front. In 10 games last season, the Dockers failed to kick a goal in the first quarter on eight occasions.
This inability to kick early scores let them down in big matches. In the elimination final against Melbourne, they wouldn’t find a goal in the first half, and were similarly toothless in a must-win match against Brisbane at home, kicking seven behinds to three-quarter time.
After coach Trent Cooper described his side as looking to settle “unfinished business” in 2021 after going undefeated in 2020, it was a disappointing return.
With a powerful midfield and backline supported by all All-Australians Kiara Bowers and Janelle Cuthbertson, it was the forward arc that let them down.
In raw numbers, Duffy added 10 majors, Roxanne Roux six, Gabby O’Sullivan five, Sharp four, Kara Antonio, Jasmin Stewart and Bowers two, with singles going to Mikayla Hyde, Tiah Toth (nee Haynes), Bianca Webb, Hayley Miller, Sarah Verrier, and Steph Cain.
It was once again Gemma Houghton who led the way, kicking 15 goals and finishing equal second in the home and away goalkicking alongside Collingwood’s Chloe Molloy and Richmond’s Katie Brennan.
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In a vacuum, the tall trio of Houghton, Duffy, and Roux should be a successful one. With 31 goals between them, it’s as dangerous as any group in the league.
But in practice, the Dockers issues run deeper than just the talent on the park.
As already mentioned, they were already starting most games having to come from behind. Add to that dreadful inaccuracy, and you’ve got a forward group that scores in spite of itself.
Fremantle kicked more behinds than goals in eight of its 10 games in 2021, including dreadful figures of 1.8 against Brisbane and 2.11 against West Coast.
So with two of their spearheads missing, how do the Dockers right these wrongs come Saturday night’s clash with their bitter rivals?
Who’s adding the scores?
Houghton and Roux will be fronting up the attack as the key marking targets in 2022.
Roux is perfectly suited to this role, being renowned for her high-flying marking skills. It’s even earned her a cult following of sorts.
No time did she demonstrate this better than in the Dockers’ last meeting with their state rivals, taking seven marks against the Eagles in that victory.
Will she be able to handle taking on the second key defender with less support around her? It’s the big question mark on the set up.
It may mean she spends less time rotating through the ruck, but this is where Irishwoman Aine Tighe comes in.
Bowers described the 185cm Tighe as the “best player I’ve ever seen”, high praise from the woman who just claimed the competition’s best and fairest award.
29-year-old Tighe’s raw athleticism and height seems to have her perfectly placed to come storming in for a Round 1 debut after persistent knee injuries have kept her sidelined for the past two seasons.
The club’s continued investment in her could pay off in a major way, but she’s still a mostly speculative option.
Not speculative, however, is young draft pick Amy Franklin. Selected at pick 14, the second selection in the WA pool, the teenager could be another that sees herself in Cooper’s forward 50 early on.
Much like Roux, Franklin is known to be a powerful mark with strong presence in the contest. She kicked 13 goals in her 12 WAFLW appearances with Claremont, including kicking three against Subiaco.
While she only kicked a solitary goal across her under 19s championships with Western Australia, those prominent marking hands were once again on show.Embed from Getty Images
Having these options means Cooper can chop and change across the early season to find his best marking mix, especially with Houghton still to count on.
Whoever he chooses, they will still have the advantage of having O’Sullivan, coming off a career best scoring season, at their feet.
Adding more contributions from the midfield group would similarly provide a different look for the Dockers, and could take the pressure off looking for a contested mark every time.
If it can fix its inaccuracy issues and slow starts, Fremantle may just have the personnel needed to turn its scoring woes around.
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