Jump back on the cart, the Dockers have just begun

It turns out that the Dockers are still contenders for the premiership after all.

In another example of extreme overreaction to results, it had only been a fortnight since Fremantle was declared a “fake candidates” after consecutive losses to Gold Coast and Collingwood.

Sure, the results were disappointing and there were negative aspects of performance that had to be taken out, ignoring the first two months of games would always make many look silly in the long run.

Of course, since that loss to the Magpies, the Dockers have beaten only the two best teams in the league, including the stellar win against the reigning Prime Ministers away from home.

The preseason predictions of the Dockers who are in the top four appear to be accurate, but the way this team has functioned goes beyond statements made months ago.

The team remains stingy in defence, at a different level to the rest of the league, along with Melbourne, and have proven to have an attacking switch that is utterly dominant and not dependent on star players who have heavy commitment to a put opposition team to bed.

Sam Switkowski of the Dockers

(Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

To celebrate the good, we must recognize the bad that accompanied the two losses that sent the AFL world into a defamatory twist.

The wet weather was clearly an influence. The Dockers have only faced bad conditions twice, in these two games where they lost to teams that may be fighting for the eight but are more realistic within the 9th to 12th range.

Where a team that handled games with relative ease should have been dominant, they lost both games by six goals each and never seemed to win.

While the real response to dealing with these circumstances will only come in the future, having two wake-up calls feels more beneficial than demoralizing.

The problem with the Dockers against the Magpies and the Suns was simple – instead of playing with the speed and immediacy that brings even the best teams in the league to the sword, a natural response to wet weather, Fremantle played an extremely insular style of football.

Fremantle’s season kick-to-handball ratio is 1.38:1. Against the Suns it was 1.28:1 and against Collingwood it was 1.24:1. Sure, the games were played in a more contested fashion, but the Dockers were completely overcrowded and didn’t try to get the ball forward, preferring to stick to a more tenacious style.

They put themselves under pressure by trying to pass the ball from close range and were punished by teams that took pride in their efficient attacking ball moves and tackling this season.

Against the Suns, as the game was about to end, they began hammering the ball aimlessly inside 50, resulting in a +29 count. Against Collingwood, they corrected too much and got stuck, finishing at -14 in the tally.

As the issues here were more in method and approach than skill, they are highly solvable and with a good coach at the helm we can expect the next wet weather game to be much more direct from the Dockers.

We know that these two weeks have not had a negative impact on the games against the two best teams in the league.

When people ask what the real Fremantle looks like in 2022, it is generally assumed that it is much closer to performance against Melbourne and Brisbane than against Collingwood and Gold Coast.

It was a destruction of the demons. 58 more disposals, 10 more evictions, 56 more points and four more tackles.

They took 17 contested points, seven above the season average and held Melbourne to 36 fewer dives, 15 fewer points, four fewer points within 50 and six fewer clears than their season average. Fremantle’s kick-to-handball ratio was 1.88:1.

The Brisbane match was based on an attempt to negate the immediacy of Brisbane which has ripped many teams apart. Fremantle dominated clearances and undisputed possessions, trying to keep the ball tight rather than going to the spread.

Aiming to be defensively absorbent and reduce the kick-to-handball ratio to 1.31:1 to keep it tight, the Dockers limited the effectiveness of the Lions’ ability to gain ground.

Brisbane played the style they wanted on the outside, but their worst clearance difference since 2019 meant much of the transition work had to be on the open ground, rather than a basketball “half-court press”.

Crucially, this is indicative of a Fremantle team and coaching staff who are learning on the fly and are tactically sound and intelligent. They are built on defensive strength and had a dominant third (premiership) quarters to beat the two top teams in the league.

And what about that sign of a really strong team that we’ve talked about a lot in 2022? Premierships are won by deep squads and by the role players improving a team’s floor, as has been the case for the last decade.

Against Melbourne, the Dockers got six goals and four assists from Lachie Schultz and Michael Frederick. Bailey Banfield, Griffin Logue and Frederick scored nine goals against the Lions.

Both attacking bouts were done with a half play from Matt Taberner.

To top it off, the results of the past two weeks have been for Peel Thunder, beating former powerhouses Subiaco and Claremont with outstanding performances from depth players such as Josh Treacy, Karl Worner, Liam Henry, Lloyd Meek and even the forgotten Joel Hamling, while Sam Sturt is still looking for his best footy.

That Nat Fyfe also looks like a player.

Nat Fyfe

Nat Fyfe (Photo by Carson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

The masses tend to overreact to results because there is a need for immediate thoughts, which favors the lack of wide imagery.

Just as Sydney’s poor few weeks proved to be a blip, as will eventually be the case with Melbourne’s awful fortnight, Fremantle have proven they are one of the best teams in the league by how they can get through a bit of pressure. .

With a style that is adaptable and adaptable to both the opponent and the game situation, few teams are as dangerous as the Dockers in full flight. This week’s game against Hawthorn, expected to take place in wet conditions in Perth, should answer the only question left over them, given their recent tussle in the rain against Gold Coast and Collingwood; but a victory would immediately curb those fears.

Andrew Brayshaw is a Brownlow contender, Brennan Cox and Blake Acres must be seen as at least one contender for the All-Australian squad of 40 and at least one minor striker puts every game on the scoreboard, a feature some teams only have can dream of.

Fremantle supporters are rightly optimistic and are growing in confidence, especially as expectations against the toughest challengers are consistently exceeded.

The game after the farewell will also be troubled: Carlton (away), Port Adelaide, St Kilda (away), Sydney, Richmond (away), Melbourne, Western Bulldogs (away), West Coast and GWS (away).

But any curveball thrown at Fremantle can be handled with confidence, with this playgroup proving its legitimacy beyond a doubt with flexibility and mental toughness.

No need to imagine the Dockers being in the top four after round 14, now that reality has set in.

Freo is watching its competitors from above and is definitely on track to hit those greener pastures in September.