Foxsports.com.au’s 2011 AFL premiership season preview with expert Gerard Healy: Fremantle
Foxsports.com.au continues its countdown to the AFL premiership season by previewing Fremantle, the team Brownlow Medal winner Gerard Healy predicts will finish seventh this year.
Room for improvement: The Dockers were the big improvers of 2010, so it’s reasonable to expect them to plateau this season. In fact, that would be a good result, because the Purple Haze has been cruelled by injury in the lead-up to round one. With Michael Barlow (leg), Roger Hayden (foot), Garrick Ibbotson (ankle), Anthony Morabito (knee), Byron Shammer (hip) and promising recruit Tendai Mzungu (knee) facing lengthy lay-offs, the pressure will be on superstars Matthew Pavlich and Aaron Sandilands to carry the Dockers in the first couple of months. For Freo to improve on last year’s one finals victory, silky-skilled wingman Stephen Hill needs to become a consistent match-winner and youngsters Matt De Boer, Dylan Roberton and Nat Fyfe have to find another level.
Game breaker: Matthew Pavlich. Where would the Dockers be without Pavlich? He’s their skipper, talisman and only genuine marking target up forward. Pavlich booted a team-high 61 goals in between extended stints in the midfield last year and, while he was unable to secure seventh All-Australian nod, remains Freo’s most important player.
Rising star: Stephen Hill. Dockers fans know what they’re going to get from Pavlich and Sandilands, but Hill is the wildcard. His pace and exquisite left-footed kicking make him a devastating player in prospect, but he needs to learn how to deal with close attention. North Melbourne pest Brady Rawlings proved that weakness in round 19 last year. If he can overcome the hard tag, Hill will rise into the AFL’s elite bracket.
Key arrival: Jack Anthony. The former Collingwood sharp-shooter is a strange unit, but could become a handy foil for Pavlich if he can find his niche in the Dockers’ attacking setup. He booted 80 goals – and just 36 behinds – in his 43 games for the Pies, including a match-winning major in a final against the Crows in 2009. His pre-season, though, has been underwhelming.
Coach factor: Mark Harvey started year at short odds to be the first coach sacked in 2010, but ended the season looking like a genius after guiding the Dockers into the second week of the finals series. Harvey transformed Freo into a combative outfit last year, but his greatest achievement was getting his side perform away from their Subiaco fortress. They won games in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne (against Carlton and Essendon) on their way to a sixth-place finish. Harvey’s challenge will be dealing with the added expectation out west this in 2011.
Stats for sure: How about that Dockers forward line? What a star-studded six they’ve got. There’s Pav and Hayden Ballantyne and Paul Haselby was there last year as the third highest goalkicker. Oh, and Michael Johnson was in the top five and Michael Barlow kicked 15. OK, so we’re using sarcasm to prove a point here. Fremantle don’t have a who’s who of attacking options but they work well together. In 2010, the Dockers scored a goal 28.6 per cent of the time they got in inside 50. That’s the second best in the league.
Gerard Healy says: Essentially there is no reason Freo should slide. However, their history shows they as a club are incapable of backing up after a finals campaign. That shouldn’t impact at all on this group of players but that’s what history says. Perhaps they get too comfortable with themselves. Time will tell if this group is better than those who have come before them in handling minor success. They’ve been robbed of a bookend in Chris Tarrant, he’s a huge loss. But they’ve got good young players and topliners in Matthew Pavlich and Aaron Sandilands. It’s time for their second-year players to mature if they are to be a force individually and collectively..
The Adjudicator says: Believe it or not I went to Perth during my break from this job. Yeah, I lobbed at the airport and thought I had been transported by Bill and Ted to some bogus adventureland from the 1980s. I loved it. Everyone was wearing the same short shorts and footwear as me. What I didn’t like was the casualty list at Dockers HQ. I thought I had stepped onto the set of ER and was waiting for George Clooney to come by. There were bodies everywhere and ice packs draped over injured purple people. It’s not a good sign and might be an indication of what’s to come for Fremantle this season – pain.
Fox Sports Supercoach
Banker: Aaron Sandilands. The biggest man in AFL history is also a giant of the Supercoach caper. He also comes with a hefty price tag of $554,700, but averaged 114 points per outing in 2010 despite nursing a foot injury in the latter stages of the season. Pick him as your first ruckman and just relax.
Darkhorse: Nathan Fyfe ($353,100) was recruited as a mobile marking forward but at AFL level has become a talented ball-winner high up the ground. He averaged 73 Supercoach points in 2010, his debut year, and should be better again in 2011.