Fremantle Dockers: going backwards to go forwards

16 March 2010

Written by: Matt de Neef

The team south-west of Perth are the second newest team in the competition and are yet to own any AFL silverware. Except for a couple of rising star awards, they have no premierships, no Brownlow medallist and have yet to appear in a grand final.

Since the Dockers’ inception into the AFL in 1995, their best result was a preliminary final appearance in 2006, where they were comprehensively beaten by a classier Sydney outfit.

There is no denying that they are one of the most frustrating teams in the competition. They are a tipping nightmare! For many years now respected football commentators have predicted the Dockers to be genuine top eight material. But they somehow find a way to let their fans down through random insipid performances, particularly away from home.

Why are they so frustrating? It’s a question I don’t think the Dockers themselves can even answer yet. But with a developing list and an optimistic coach, Fremantle will be looking to build a formidable team that will be able to compete with the best in years to come.

2009 review: Fremantle had high expectations going into last season but in reality, their final position was to be expected. They won just six games to finish 14th at the end of the home-and-away season.

In round four, against eventual runners-up St. Kilda, the Dockers failed to fire a shot, going down by 83 points. Even though they were against a quality opposition, the Dockers were extremely disappointing, managing only four goals in 120 minutes of football. But it was in their round 15 match against Adelaide that the Dockers hit rock bottom. They were simply pathetic, kicking only one goal for the entire match. Their final score of 1.7.13 was the lowest score recorded since the introduction of the national competition back in 1987.

But although there were some horrible lowlights, Fremantle can certainly take a few positives away from 2009. Out of the six wins for the year, two of them came against arch-nemesis West Coast. The Dockers love beating the Eagles and to do it twice in one season was a massive confidence booster to players and fans alike.

It was encouraging to see Paul Hasleby make a successful return to AFL football after a knee reconstruction threatened to ruin his career. The 2000 rising star winner finished fifth in the best and fairest and was fairly consistent across the whole year. Hasleby’s best game was in Fremantle’s first victory over the Eagles in round six where he collected 35 possessions and was awarded the Ross Glendenning Medal for best afield.

But the best story to come out of Fremantle’s 2009 season was the emergence of mature-age recruit Greg Broughton. Drafted as a rookie at the age of 22 he was promoted to the senior list during the 2009 season and, after impressive performances in defence, retained his position in the side. Broughton was handed some tough assignments throughout the year but thrived on every challenge. His finest effort came against Geelong in round 12 when he went head-to-head with Steve Johnson and collected 29 possessions.

Player to watch in 2010: Aaron Sandilands is one of the most fascinating players in the AFL and holds the key to Fremantle’s success in years to come. He finally arrived as an AFL player in 2009 and was rewarded with his second successive All-Australian selection and his first best and fairest award. He was outstanding in the ruck, winning 659 hit-outs for the year – the second most in the competition.

Standing at 211cm and weighing in at 123kg, Sandilands is the biggest man to ever grace an AFL field. But for such a big man, his aerobic capacity and general fitness is phenomenal, making him one of the most difficult players in the competition to match up on.

However, it is now time for Sandilands to take that next step. Yes, he wins a hit-out nine times out of ten, but so often he taps the ball into the lap of an opposition player. Whether that’s due to his teammates not being in the correct position or Sandilands hitting the ball to the wrong space is beside the point. The big bloke needs to effectively communicate with his midfielders if he is going to win games of football.

Sandilands also needs to become more dangerous when he is pushed into the forward line. He started to impose himself last season but only managed to kick 13 goals from his 20 games. He needs to double that goal tally to support the Dockers’ leading goal kicker, marquee player and captain in Matthew Pavlich.

At 27, Sandilands is at the peak of his powers and is ready to take the competition by the scruff of the neck.

What to expect in 2010: Dockers fans will be forced to endure another frustrating year. The club will lose more games than it wins, but it must be emphasised that they will have to go backwards to go forwards.

A few years ago, Fremantle’s list was full of mediocre middle-aged players who had been traded from other clubs. The majority of those players have now either been delisted or traded and the recruiters have focused on drafting younger players. In the last three years, Fremantle have used their top draft picks to recruit Rhys Palmer, Stephen Hill and Anthony Morabito. These players all have genuine potential to become stars of the game and expect all three of them to take their games to the next level, barring injury of course.

A massive positive for Fremantle going into this season is their favourable draw. They meet only three of the 2009 finalists twice (Adelaide, St.Kilda and Carlton) and have 12 home games, including one each against Melbourne and Richmond. However, their poor record away from home will continue to be a concern and with a young side on the park, they will struggle to rectify the problem.

Fremantle are heading in the right direction, but they are at the beginning of their rebuilding stage. They are developing a fantastic list, led by an authentic star in Pavlich. Along with Sandilands, he needs to lead this team forward if they want to be a force to reckon with.

Message to all Dockers fans – please be patient. It will be another three or four years before they can even be considered as a finals contender.

Final ladder position: 14th