The AFL season thus far has been a mix of the obvious – yes, Melbourne are a VERY good team again – and the surprising.
The early form from the likes of St Kilda, Carlton and Hawthorn has raised some eyebrows across the league – but perhaps nothing more so than the Fremantle Dockers, who lie second on the table after five rounds.
So far the Dockers’ schedule has not been ultra-tough, with the Crows, Saints, Eagles, Giants and Bombers on the menu.
The team’s thumping of Essendon at Docklands on Easter Sunday carries a warning, since the Bombers’ defence was leaky, to say the least.
But as a signpost of where the Dockers could get to, it was an extremely positive outing for Justin Longmuir’s men.
The hunting of the ball, the numbers around the contest, and the turnover-driven brand of football that some have compared at stages to the all-conquering Demons was all highly encouraging.
And the intriguing thing for Freo fans is that this is all taking place following the off-season departure of Adam Cerra to Carlton, and without the presence of the Purple Haze’s famous number seven.
Nat Fyfe is struggling with a back injury, and the suggestion is that it will be close to the mid-season break before the dual Brownlow medallist is back on the park.
For the moment, that doesn’t seem to be the barrier to week-to-week success it would have appeared like before this season.
There are a number of reasons for this, but the main one is the rise and rise of Andrew Brayshaw. At 22, the midfielder is absolutely starring for the Dockers.
No doubt the absence of Fyfe is giving him more opportunities to shine, but his confidence, his accuracy of disposal, his ability to go in and get the ball and his vision to set up attacks is vital for his side.
He’s not only leading the way for the Dockers, but at this early stage of the season Brayshaw is clearly one of the most productive players in the AFL as a whole. In fact, he is leading the AFL Coaches Association Champion Player award by three votes ahead of Melbourne’s Christian Petracca.
So, this is all very exciting for Fremantle, and with the prospect of getting Fyfe back in a month or so, everything seems to be coming up purple.
One of the clear wins for the Dockers is the success of two key signings in the trade window.
Former Cat Jordan Clark is having a solid start off the half-back line, while Will Brodie’s move from the Suns has been great for both him and Freo, reminding us all why he was a top-10 pick a few years back.
Then there are dynamic young players like Michael Frederick (22 games) and Nathan O’Driscoll (four games) who are improving this Dockers outfit.
The next month of football sees Freo face Carlton, Geelong, North Melbourne, Gold Coast and Collingwood, and if they can win even three of those five it sets up the possibility of remaining ensconced in the top eight.
Dockers need to go on with it after solid start
But before Dockers fans start planning for September, a quick read of recent history shows it’s a little early to be making calls.
We must remember that this is a very young Fremantle side, and there is potential for improvement and finals challenges not just for 2022 but going forward.
The issue is that this is not the first time Fremantle has started well in recent years.
In fact, including this season, the Dockers have been in positive territory (3-2 or better) after five rounds eight times in the last 10 years.
Of those eight years, Fremantle has gone on to make finals on only three occasions — the last time it happened was in 2015.
Prior to 2022, the team began four of the last five seasons at 3-2 after five rounds, and missed the finals each of those years.
It’s not a pronounced drop-off — like, say, the Gold Coast Suns post round four most years — but for whatever reason the Dockers have not been able to get to the 11-win mark. The closest they have got recently is 10 wins last year.
If Sean Darcy can stay healthy in the ruck; if Brayshaw can maintain something like this level of form; if Fyfe can come back and play like we know he can; and if the Dockers can keep up this gamestyle and give the likes of Matt Taberner better regular delivery up forward, they are solid chances to make the eight.
But don’t bank on it just yet.
Source: AFL NEWS ABC