This side has been the regular season benchmark for so much of the last 10 years but has struggled come September. Their coach will have them well prepared and the top end talent is there, but whether the second tier can rise to the challenge before them remains to be seen.
Fremantle – 7th
B: Garrick Ibbotson, Alex Pearce, Lee Spurr
HB: Cam Sutcliffe, Michael Johnson, Tom Sheridan
C: Michael Barlow, Nat Fyfe, Stephen Hill
HF: Harley Bennell, Matt Taberner, Hayden Crozier
F: Michael Walters, Matthew Pavlich, Hayden Ballantine
Foll: Aaron Sandilands, David Mundy, Lachie Neale
INT: Zac Clarke, Danyle Pearce, Lachlan Weller, Chris Mayne
Pavlich has been a modern day marvel and deserves to reach the 350 game milestone, but conversely does not deserve to ride off into the sunset as the #1 focal point. Taberner has shown signs of promise and as a key position player has been given time to develop, but the Dockers will be looking to him to establish himself as a permanent part of this side in 2016.
Walters stands alongside the very best small forwards in the competition, a lethal combination of speed, skill and strength and should break through the 50 goal barrier for the first time in 2016. Ballantyne mixes flashes of brilliance with stupidity and is well past his best, but remains a threat when his body allows him to be. Just two years removed from a 49 goal season but already with a pre-season hamstring injury, he looks poised to ride the fine line between game changer and frustration.
Bennell figures to push into the midfield as he gains fitness but will play a role across half forward early in the season, and Fremantle will expect him to deliver on his elite talent and potential and put behind him his past troubles.
The forward line remains the biggest question mark for this side but if the gameplan returns to what it was in the first 10 rounds of 2015, Fremantle may be given the opportunity to score and attack and place less pressure on their backline.
Forward line – 6/10
As with every team coached by Ross Lyon, the backline is the strength. Despite the retirement of Luke McPharlin, the Dockers will be confident in their system and the continued development of Alex Pearce to remain among the most miserly teams in the AFL. Johnson’s persistent injury issues will be managed, which means that unfortunately Zac Dawson and Alex Silvagni may be turned too more often than Fremantle would like.
Spurr and Ibbotson are two of the more understated mid-sized backmen in the game, very rarely beaten and durable. Sutcliffe and Sheridan have both established themselves in this solid back six and while consistent rather than outstanding, they provide discipline if not any flair or attacking prowess.
In four seasons under Lyon, the Dockers have ranked first and second in least points conceded; while this game style and formula has seen them come up short time and time again in finals footy, it is a recipe for success during the season as they are hardly ever out of the contest.
Backline rating – 8/10
Fyfe was the best player in the competition in 2015, playing at an amazing level and he enters 2016 as one of the two best players in the game by some margin. Despite an injury ravaged off-season, he figured in the first NAB Challenge game and while he might lack the fitness base of some other midfielders he should be able to ease into the season splitting time between the middle and half forward. Heaven help the competition if Fyfe ever learns to kick at an elite level, because his game is faultless otherwise.
New skipper Mundy is not far behind his teammate, ranking 12th in contested possessions and 9th in clearances as he played possibly best ever season in 2015 – a remarkable effort given he will soon turn 31. Neale had a breakout season in 2015 in that he ranked among the league leaders in most statistical categories, although his disposal efficiency is an area in which he must improve to continue his ascent towards being a quality AFL midfielder. Barlow looked like the game had passed him by in 2015, but early signs are that he is primed for a huge 2016 and will likely return to a more permanent midfield role with Fyfe’s interrupted pre-season.
Sandilands is the tallest ruck man in the competition and uses that to his advantage more often than not, contributing to Fremantle leading the league in clearances. He remains arguably the Dockers most important player, as Clarke is drifting through an underwhelming career. Sandilands will miss Round 1 after a mindless indiscretion in the NAB Challenge, and Dockers fans will be praying he stays on the park as the season progresses.
Midfield rating – 7/10
They play West Coast and the Western Bulldogs twice, with a very tough first month featuring dates with these foes as well as 2015 preliminary finalist North Melbourne. Fremantle play in Launceston, Canberra, Gold Coast, Darwin and Brisbane and even the most ardent haters would agree this is a dud hand.
They have just 5 six-day breaks which is a favorable result, but with the minimum number of MCG games (one); the aforementioned travelling itinerary and one of the AFL’s oldest lists this is a tough draw for a side likely to be fighting for a finals spot.
Fixture rating – 5/10
Ross Lyon has done everything but win a premiership. If the ball bounces towards Stephen Milne rather than away from him in the famous 2011 Grand Final, history will judge him differently. But it didn’t, and it doesn’t. Lyon’s inability or refusal to promote an attacking style of football has seen his sides come up short time and time again come finals time, and he will be best served returning to the relatively attacking style of early 2015.
In Bennell and Fyfe he has two of the more explosive, talented midfielders in the AFL and two players who are just as comfortable in the forward line, so he should use this talent in the most effective manner. Additionally, the generational shift should see the likes of Weller, Connor Blakely, Michael Apeness and Alex Pearce play ahead of Nick Suban, Matt De Boer, Silvagni and Dawson. Failure to introduce this youth will place more pressure on the list over the next 12-24 months as Pavlich, Sandilands, Johnson and Mundy ride off into the sunset.
Coaching rating – 7/10
Fremantle are too well drilled and structured to drop too far, and may well have made last season’s Grand Final had Fyfe not broken down early in the preliminary final. In Fyfe, Mundy, Walters, Bennell and Pavlich they match top-end talent with most other teams but the labor-intensive nature of their game style makes it taxing for the league’s oldest list.
We can expect consistency, dourness and commitment to the purple cause but whether that translates to a top 4 berth and legitimate shot at the premiership this club craves remains to be seen. History tells us they will win enough games to figure in finals, but that may be as far as they go with their 2016 list makeup.
Predicted finish – 7th