Next challenge: Hawthorn
The next challenge to present itself for the Fremantle Dockers comes in the form of a powerful Hawthorn unit, led by its inspirational skipper Luke Hodge and the brilliant Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin.
The Hawks go deep, with Sam Mitchell playing as well as he ever has at the age of 28, and stars like Cyril Rioli and Shaun Burgoyne well capable of winning games off of their own boots.
What has really revitalised the 2008 AFL Premiers is the development of its third to fourth year players.
Liam Shiels, Shane Savage and Matt Suckling have all been tremendous this year, giving Hawthorn a different dimension and a renewed enthusiasm.
But Fremantle match up well against Alastair Clarkson’s men, as proven by the round 11 encounter at the MCG earlier this season.
On that occasion, Freo outplayed the Hawks for three quarters, only to fall away badly and be overrun in the final term for a 22-point defeat.
Lance Franklin didn’t play in that match, meaning the Hawks will be far more potent on Saturday night.
Before that, it was Fremantle who sent Hawthorn packing from the 2010 AFL Finals with an easy 30 point win at Subiaco Oval.
Another important factor is that Fremantle plays at Patersons Stadium for the second week in a row.
The club has been victorious in the second leg on the past six occasions when it has played two games consecutively at home.
Stopping Buddy is a key to beating Hawthorn, but the man who usually gets the big forward won’t be there for Freo.
Luke McPharlin has been sensational in the heart of defence this season and he has a great record against Frankiln, but his one-game suspension for the hit on Eagle Josh Kennedy means he’ll be watching this one from the sidelines.
The good news for Fremantle is that Antoni Grover and Alex Silvagni are also in good touch and either of them are capable of taking on Buddy.
Don’t be surprised if Peter Faulks gets an AFL debut either, after he was named as an emergency for the Derby.
The former Sydney Swan has been a brick wall in defence for WAFL club Peel Thunder and he could play if Mark Harvey wants to stick to the same three-defensive-talls structure.
If Hawthorn has a barometer, it comes in the form of its fearless general Hodge.
Putting the clamps on the 2008 Norm Smith Medallist is a must for Fremantle, and expect that job to go to Adam McPhee.
McPhee has been playing as a defensive forward since returning from injury in round 17, but his shutdown job on Hodge in last year’s Elimination Final won’t be forgotten by the Freo coaching staff.
Granted, Hodge was struggling with a knee problem, but the Hawks’ skipper has performed well under duress throughout his career and McPhee’s effort in keeping him to 13 disposals was significant.
Another plus for Fremantle, especially considering Jon Griffin is under a cloud, is that Hawthorn does not possess a dominant ruck brigade.
Max Bailey and David Hale are capable, but neither will take control of the stoppages.
The onus is on Fremantle’s midfield to win the clearances and provide their forwards with more opportunities than what Franklin gets.
That’s where Michael Barlow’s presence could be important. The 23-year-old hasn’t played against the Hawks before, so he could be an x-factor come Saturday night.
Patience is vital against Hawthorn’s precise short-kicking game plan, which will try and deny Fremantle getting its hands on the ball.
The Hawks have employed the tactic this season in an effort to get through a zone or forward press.
Collingwood showed the football world how to dismantle the tactic in round 15 this year – with its disciplined structures and relentless pressure undoing the Hawks.
Fremantle will have to be on top of its game in both those areas if it is to beat Hawthorn on Saturday night at Patersons Stadium.