The year to date
It is hard to overlook the obvious outlook on Fremantle in 2015. After 14 rounds of the 2015 season, the Dockers sit alone at the top of the ladder, two games clear of second-placed West Coast having piled on 12 wins from 13 matches.
Fremantle’s form at times has been exhilarating at home, winning all bar one of their games at Domain Stadium by an average of 28 points. However, five of their seven home victories have been by 30 points or less. Their early season wins especially were typified by blowing opponents off the park with a devastating burst of power inside the first 20 minutes of a match, before taking the foot off the pedal in the last quarter.
Fremantle has taken on and won five of six matches against fellow 2014 finalists, with its most impressive result a 73-point demolition of North Melbourne in round eight.
At the forefront of the Dockers’ terrific first half of the season is Nathan Fyfe, last year’s ineligible runner-up in the Brownlow Medal. In 2015, Fyfe has gone to a spectacular new level and is now arguably the best player in the land. Fyfe is averaging 31.2 disposals per game (a career-high, up from 26.9 last year), while leading the league in total disposals, clearances and contested possessions per game. In addition, he is also ranked second for effective disposals, fifth for contested marks and fourth for inside 50s overall.
Lachie Neale is another Docker who has stepped up this season, averaging 27.2 disposals, almost seven clearances and nearly four tackles per game, while in front of goal livewire forward Michael Walters leads the way with 26, closely followed by evergreen skipper Matthew Pavlich with 24.
As a team, the Dockers rank first in total hitouts, while restricting their opponents to the fewest hitouts in comparison: to this end they have to thank Aaron Sandilands, who this season has twice broken the individual league hitouts record. As a result the Dockers average 61.2 hitouts per game compared to their opponent’s average of just 30.4, a massive 30.8 differential.
Fremantle also has statistically the meanest defence in the AFL, conceding just 63.2 points per game, a vast improvement on last year’s average of 73.1 points conceded per game.
Until the last few weeks, this section for Fremantle would have been as sparse as the hairs on Rodney Eade’s head, but some worrying trends have crept into their form of late.
Up until round eight, the Dockers were averaging a healthy 97 points per game. However, the last four games have seen the Dockers post meagre tallies of 68, 70, 53, 80 and 84 with three narrow wins, a below par performance for three-quarters at home against the bottom-placed Lions, and the shock defeat to Richmond at Domain Stadium.
The round 10 loss to the Tigers may just have exposed one of the Dockers’ weaknesses, given a real strength for Fremantle up until that point of the season had been their ability to put sides to the sword early on. However, quite tellingly, the Tigers found a way to counter this in spectacular fashion, kicking eight goals of their own in the first 20 minutes on their way to a shock 27-point win.
In the first eight rounds, the Dockers averaged 30 points in first quarters, however, this average has dropped from rounds nine-14 to just 17 points, highlighting the drop off in Freo’s peak form.
Losing key rebounding defender Michael Johnson for an extended period with a serious hamstring injury will continue to hurt the Dockers as the season progresses, as will the prolonged absence of tagger Ryan Crowley. Disappointingly for some, Hayden Ballantyne has yet to find his best form in 2015 having booted just ten goals in 11 matches, a far cry from his 49 goals in 20 games in 2014.
Michael Barlow is another Docker who has seemingly taken a backward step this season. The 27-year-old is averaging a career-low 22.6 disposals per game, well below his average of 26.6 last season. Additionally, his tacking numbers have fallen from 5.1 per game to 4.1, and his contested possession rate has fallen to single figures (8.5) for the first time in his career.
Where to from here?
Having an unexpected struggle to overhaul Brisbane at home, the Dockers’ next encounter is a trip to Launceston for a match up with the reigning premiers Hawthorn in round 15. Overall, Fremantle still has four matches left at Domain Stadium including the much anticipated return bout with the second-placed Eagles, but they have also yet to play bottom six sides in Carlton, St. Kilda and Melbourne – all games which the Dockers at their best should win with relative comfort.
As in 2014, the Dockers will finish the home and away season with a clash against Port Adelaide: however, given the form slump of the Power, the prospect of this trip to the Adelaide Oval does not seem quite as daunting as it did at the beginning of the season.
Simply put, a top two spot is a seemingly a given, therefore earning the Dockers two home finals. With this advantage, it would make for a very disappointed Ross Lyon if Fremantle failed to reach the MCG on grand final day.
Ladder prediction: 1st