Fremantle coach Mark Harvey has challenged his players to lift around captain Matthew Pavlich rather than buying into criticism surrounding the star forward’s current form.

Pavlich has played predominantly as a midfielder this season with Fremantle hit by injuries to key on-ballers, and Harvey said he did not have to justify how he used the club’s all-time leading goal-kicker.

Harvey said Pavlich was not carrying an injury and had been playing his role for the side, and it was now up to his teammates to lift following three losses in the last four games.

“Some of the players should be playing better around him; that actually compliments what he does,” Harvey said from Fremantle Oval on Wednesday morning.

“He actually played the majority of the game forward after half-time last week (against St Kilda).

“I’m not here to justify why Matthew Pavlich plays on-ball; in fact he wants to get on-ball as much as he can, particularly when the team needs momentum or we have to change momentum. That’s what a captain does.”

Pavlich made a brilliant start to the year, and was sitting fifth in the AFLCA Champion Player of the Year Award after four games with 21 votes.

He has since registered just two votes in the last five games (against Port Adelaide in round nine), with no Fremantle player among the votes in a 46-point loss to St Kilda last weekend.

Harvey defended his skipper, and said the only fault in Pavlich’s current output was his disposal efficiency.

“Apart from that I think he’s been physically playing the role for us. I think he’s contributing from a leadership point of view,” the coach said.

“I think he’s playing quite well but there’s a difference of opinion out there in the public domain and perhaps the media domain.

“I don’t get caught up in all that opinion of how’s he going, I know how he’s going.”

Last Saturday’s loss to the Saints left Fremantle in eighth spot and Harvey conceded it had been a bad month of football for the club.

By contrast, this week’s opponent Hawthorn has hit form, winning its last four matches since a round six bye.

Harvey said Fremantle would look to play its own game on the MCG while paying attention to the chip-kick style the Hawks have employed to work through zone and press defences.

“They’re playing well, playing really well in fact,” Harvey said of Hawthorn.

“They’ve changed a little bit of how they’re playing and sides have had problems controlling that.

“I think everyone is trying to beat down things like the press and the zones and so they’re looking at a different way to do it.

“It’s an interesting concept and we’ll see. The test of time will tell you whether it’s right.”

Harvey said Fremantle could select a debutant for Sunday’s match, with rookie Ben Bucovaz impressing in the WAFL in a new half-back role.

The coach confirmed that Roger Hayden, who is returning from a serious foot injury, would join Michael Barlow in the WAFL reserves to play a half of football, while Nat Fyfe has been cleared of a shoulder injury.

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