Fremantle was hit with the news over the weekend that number one ruck man Aaron Sandilands is set to miss at least eight to 12 games for surgery on his hamstring. Losing one of the best ruckmen in recent history will no doubt be a blow to a team looking to crack into the top four but there is a silver lining to be found.
The Dockers were brilliant during their opening game when they defeated rivals West Coast by 28 points in the Derby. After a close first half, the Dockers piled on 11 goals to five in a dominant display highlighted by the increased speed through the middle of the ground.
A team that didn’t feature Sandilands seemed much more streamlined and his absence allowed more frequent rotations throughout the midfield and key position players. The loss of their premier big man meant that the majority of ruck work was handled by former Crows player Jonathon Griffin and veteran utility Kepler Bradley.
Despite losing the hitouts 47 to 35, both Bradley and Griffin played a vital role in the win and gave key midfielders Michael Barlow, Nathan Fyfe, Danyle Pearce and David Mundy excellent service all around the field. The addition of much more agile rucking options added to the already noticeable improvement in the Dockers’ playing style this year.
Ross Lyon enters his second season as Fremantle coach with one of the best young midfields in the competition. Most experts have tipped Fremantle to make the eight with some including Neil Cordy even predicting a top four finish. The brigade of Fyfe, Barlow, Chris Mayne and Nick Suban as well the inclusion of former Port Adelaide player Danyle Pearce, and the improvement of his namesake Clancee, have added another dimension to Lyon’s game plan.
Despite holding a nine-point lead at half time, the fancied Eagles were unable to handle Fremantle’s blistering pace and pinpoint delivery. If a premiership favourite like West Coast can’t contain the Freo youngsters from, the other 16 sides are going to face an uphill battle. The added pressure of facing Fremantle at Patersons Stadium in front of the raucous home crowd will be tough to overcome.
If we take a look at the Dockers’ fixture this season, it is another factor that could see them launching up the ladder in 2013. 12 games at home, including three against last year’s bottom four, dramatically turns the odds in their favour with Patersons becoming an almost impenetrable force in recent years.
The biggest element of their draw is the fact that they only play one top eight side from 2012 twice and luckily for them, it is their cross-town rivals whom they trounced on the weekend. History shows that the fixture plays a massive role in the final positions on the ladder and Fremantle has definitely received a positive fixture when it comes to finals aspirations.
Although a solitary game does not tell the complete story when it comes to form, there is no doubting that Fremantle has the skill and coaching expertise to go deep into September. The Dockers’ current form could be traced back to the Elimination Final last year when they shocked Geelong to run away with their first finals win in Melbourne. The belief they took from defeating the reigning premiers would have motivated the entire squad from the captain Matthew Pavlich to even the newest recruits and has gotten them off to the perfect start this year.
The battle for those vital top four spots will be incredibly intense as there are a number of sides with the potential to break into the major finals spots. Fremantle, along with buzz teams Richmond and Carlton, could surprise the football world if everything clicks.
The Dockers have a relatively difficult first half of the season, having to travel five times and playing dominant teams in Hawthorn, Sydney and Collingwood, but things get easier after the mid-season breae. Nine of their last 11 games are against bottom eight sides from last year and a returning Sandilands could be the difference maker against teams with dwindling ruck stocks.
Before you lock away Sydney, Hawthorn, West Coast or Collingwood as premiers, don’t forget about Ross and his young Dockers who are hungry to clinch that elusive maiden flag.