Fremantle’s Garrick Ibbotson will miss the season opener against Brisbane at the Gabba next month after injuring an ankle.

Ibbotson faces up to two months on the sidelines after treading on a sprinkler at a local park last week, damaging ligaments.

The setback continues a frustrating injury run for Fremantle, who surged into the finals last season and are top-four contenders in 2011.

Young midfielder Anthony Morabito will miss the entire season after having a knee reconstruction while a foot injury will keep defender Roger Hayden out for the first half of the year.

With Michael Barlow (broken leg) and Hayden Ballantyne (foot) still recovering from injuries sustained last season and Stephen Hill eased through training since Christmas because of soreness, the Dockers will start the season with several key players unavailable and with others having interrupted preparations.

Ibbotson has developed into an important player for Fremantle since cementing his place in 2008.

The 22-year-old has played 61 matches and was added to the lead-ership group in December.

With positions up for grabs, coach Mark Harvey would have preferred to see more players putting up their hands during Sunday night’s NAB Cup matches. But the Dockers lost both of their games against Hawthorn and West Coast after giving their fringe players opportunities to impress.

However, on a positive note, the Dockers’ long-standing campaign to get more travel relief has received an early victory with the AFL changing their schedule for NAB Challenge games.

The defeats on Sunday forced Fremantle on to the practice-match circuit where games are traditionally played at non-AFL venues to allow fans who don’t normally get to see matches to witness their heroes up close.

In the league’s NAB Challenge schedule released in December, just one WA venue was listed – Bun-bury on March 5.

Harvey immediately turned his focus to travel after Sunday night’s games, saying the club didn’t want to fly too far for their last practice match because the Dockers had to play Brisbane at the Gabba in round one.

And the AFL gave them some hope yesterday when spokesman Patrick Keane said there was a strong chance Fremantle would get to host a game in the last week of the NAB Challenge.

Fremantle have this weekend off as the first round of the NAB Cup continues but will play Port Adelaide the following week at Thebarton Oval in Adelaide.

The Eagles will play their next NAB Cup match at home, but they won’t know their opponents until after this weekend’s games.

They will either face the winner from the pool comprising Sydney, the Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney on Sunday, February 27, or one of the two wild-card qualifiers the previous day.

Wild-cards will be awarded to the two best-performed losers from the round-robin competition.

Meanwhile, Hawthorn youngster Matt Suckling can accept a $900 fine for making contact with field umpire Sam Hay during the match against Fremantle.

He risks being fined $1200 if he challenges the case at the tribunal.

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