Welcome to Look Back/Look Ahead, a series where every team is analysed in-depth, and their temperature taken. The plan here is to figure out where a team is at with their on-field style and overall list health before transitioning to their most pressing issue, and whether they can solve it over the off-season.
The long awaited step up came from Fremantle in 2022.
After seven wins in 2020 and 10 in 2021, it increased to 15 in the home and away season before an elimination final comeback capped off a strong campaign.
It was built on the back of a formidable team defence, spending most of the year hovering near the top of all those important statistical categories.
Now the question is what’s next for the Dockers. They’ve earned membership in the second tier of teams, with only a couple of areas holding them back from the top.
Look Back/Look Ahead will run during the weeks of September, taking us right up to Grand Final day and finishing with the top two shortly after.
$10 Patrons will have exclusive access to these posts for the first 24 hours after publishing and they’ll be free for all after that. Now that we’re into the finalists, here’s the schedule for the top eight:
If we split a list in half – those turning 25 or under on one side, those turning 26 or over on the other – we can see how young Fremantle are.
Of the finalists, no team handed more minutes to those 25 and under than the Dockers. They were fifth overall in this area, behind only Adelaide, North Melbourne, Carlton and Hawthorn, and narrowly ahead of Sydney.
And few of the 28+ column played a significant role in Fremantle’s year, an excellent sign for the future.
This is going to change significantly over the next few weeks with pending departures and arrivals.
While Lobb, Logue, Tucker, Meek, Acres and Henry are all at varying stages of ‘considering options’, ‘requested a trade’, or ‘not allowed to go anywhere’, it’s easy to forget only two of those six are out of contract this year. I know I have, repeatedly.
The interesting part of this is how Fremantle manage their salary cap with (surely) the arrival of Luke Jackson, only one season left on Nat Fyfe’s big-money deal, Caleb Serong up for an extension next year, and long-term commitments to a handful of key pieces.
Movement at the station this off-season will clarify a lot.
Posts continue to come thick and fast. If you’ve missed anything recently, here are links to catch up:
Monday 19th: Look Back/Ahead: Melbourne
Sunday 18th: Sydney v Collingwood: The last minute
Friday 16th: Look Back/Ahead: Western Bulldogs
Wednesday 14th: Look Back/Ahead: Richmond
Tuesday 13th: Look Back/Ahead: Carlton (9th, 12-10, 108.3%)
Will these individual departures actually hurt Fremantle that much?
This section is heavy on hypotheticals, but let’s roll with it for a moment.
Assumption 1: Lobb ends up leaving because Jackson arrives
This is a net win for Fremantle. Instead of Lobb at 29 years old, Jackson at 20 is on the same time frame of Fremantle’s future forwards, theoretically building a three-pronged attack with Jye Amiss and Josh Treacy.
(I know Treacy had a quiet year, but I’m still sitting on the Treacy Train)
Assumption 2: Acres ends up leaving for Carlton for a middling draft pick
For the record I’m a big fan of Acres and think Carlton are carrying out a piece of smart business in targeting him, especially given the state of their existing wings.
But from a Fremantle perspective, it frees up a spot for Nathan O’Driscoll to make a wing his own. No doubt he’s a different type of player to Acres, but those extra offensive skills feed right into where Fremantle need to improve (more on that in a moment).
Assumption 3: Logue ends up departing to North Melbourne
I am also a big fan of Logue (seems to be a recurring theme here). But all evidence pointed to Fremantle preferring a different defensive mix – one without Logue. No harm in that, given how formidable the back six was.
Then, given Amiss and Treacy will continue to develop as forwards, there’d be no guarantee Logue starts 2023 as a best 22 option at either end of the ground.
Where Logue’s absence will be felt keenly is if there are any injuries. If that doesn’t happen though…
Assumption 4: Tucker finds a new home, wherever that may be
With the younger players coming through, Tucker is a step back from playing week to week at AFL level. To repeat a similar line, a departure hurts depth but not Fremantle’s best 22.
Assumption 5: Meek receives an offer too good for Fremantle to refuse
As things stand in this whirlwind of hypotheticals, Meek starts 2023 as a backup to Darcy (and Jackson) in the ruck, and well down the pecking order as a forward.
While Darcy does tend to look like he’s hurt himself once a fortnight, in reality he’s only missed six games in three seasons.
No doubt he’s an important player to have as a backup, but much like the others his absence will only be felt if there are injuries.
Let’s pretend there’s a worst case scenario and all six players depart, as unlikely as it is. While depth will be thin as a result, from a best 22 point of view it shouldn’t hurt too much if there’s a regulation injury run.
In reality I’d be surprised if Fremantle were handed a deal good enough to force their hand on Meek, or if there’s enough interest in Henry to do the same.
As we head towards free agency and trade period, a reminder that the plan is to have a post for every move that involves a player. To clarify, posts won’t start until free agency officially commences, despite the flurry of announcements recently.
With all these rumours going around it looks like there’ll be words on the hour, every hour:
Where Fremantle’s improvement comes from
Fremantle’s defence was top tier, all year.
The next step comes with their ball movement and whether they can add an extra layer to it without sacrificing the defensive foundation.
Whichever way you slice it, Fremantle survived off their defence and barely treaded water with their offence.
|Fremantle in 2022||Points per 100 possession chains||AFL rank (H&A season)|
|Scores from stoppages||74.9||15th|
|Scores from turnovers||67.4||12th|
|Scores from defensive half||41.0||12th|
|Scores from forward half||107.7||18th|
It’s why someone like an O’Driscoll coming on to a wing full-time can help; his offensive skills providing a point of difference on the outside and in transition.
The third tall forward providing a strong lead up target should complement Taberner (if fit) and Jackson/Darcy, allowing Fremantle to move through the field in a less labour-intensive way. Their worst moments this year came when teams were able to shut down the methodical, step-by-step march and leave the Dockers with few other offensive options.
Maybe Fremantle end up taking a half-step back while they find the right balance between offence and defence. It wouldn’t be the first time a team has had to do something similar, and it’s not as if they’re running against the clock with an aging group.
Because with the way their list is developing, youth on every line and no glaring positional weaknesses as yet, they should come out of that discovery process in as strong a place as any team.