Boom or bust: the way forward for Fremantle
From 2000 to 2007, a total of 29 key forwards were taken in the first 20 picks of the annual AFL national draft.
Two of them – Nick Riewoldt and Buddy Franklin – are superstars.
Another six, including West Coast’s Josh Kennedy and Hawthorn’s Jarryd Roughead, are very good players.
A further four, such as Essendon’s Scott Gumbleton, could be considered to be in the “jury’s out” category. They may yet fulfil their potential.
And the remaining 17, to various degrees and for a variety of reasons (including injury), are what US sports fans might describe as “busts.”
These include Andrew McDougall (West Coast) and Laurence Angwin (Adelaide), taken at No. 5 and No. 7 respectively in the 2000 draft.
The above statistics reflect the eternal uncertainty of the entire drafting process. They also show the kind of challenge Fremantle would face in snaring its key forward of the future via November’s national draft.
After an injury-ruined season in which Chris Mayne (25 goals so far) leads the race to be the Dockers’ leading goal-kicker, Fremantle coach Mark Harvey this week flagged an unsurprising desire to find another key forward for 2012.
But given the Dockers’ first pick is likely to be at No. 16 – new team Greater Western Sydney has picks eight of the first 15 selections – Fremantle is going to have to pull one out of the hat if it addresses that need through the draft.
In a draft class that is said to light-on for key position types, the highest rated big forward, Victorian Jonathon Patton, won’t last nearly that long.
At least two of the teams that may pick before the Dockers (Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs) are likely eyeing more key forward options and Port Adelaide and Brisbane would also join that list if John Butcher and Mitch Clark decided to head elsewhere.
Terry Wallace knows a thing or two about key forwards and first round draft picks.
Wallace, was Richmond coach when the Tigers infamously took small midfielder Richard Tambling ahead of Franklin with the No. 4 pick of the 2004 draft.
He was also in charge at Punt Road when Richmond found Coleman medallist Jack Riewoldt at No. 13 in 2006 – a handy piece of business that, for obvious reasons, gets overshadowed by the Franklin incident.
“It’s a bit like going to a yearling sale – you can spend $1 million and that won’t necessarily get you to the Melbourne Cup but you can often find something pretty good for $10,000,” Wallace said.
“The thing about key forwards is that it’s very rarely a quick fix. Player like Jack Riewoldt and (Melbourne’s) Jack Watts come into the league and then their bodies need time to develop.
“The best key position players in junior footy tend to play forward of centre and they tend to get picked first in the draft.
“On the other hand, the key-sized guys who aren’t as advanced as juniors might play in defence. They normally aren’t so highly regarded and that’s why a pretty big percentage of the league’s best key defenders will have come with late picks or through the rookie list. (West Coast’s) Darren Glass is the exception to that.
“Those top picks don’t always work out and sometimes you get a diamond in the rough. But, in a compromised draft like this one, with the pick the Dockers are going to have, it’s not going to be easy to find a key forward.”
Wallace, who now bills himself as The List Manager and is “studying the science” of building a premiership team, says he finds Fremantle’s list “intriguing.”
The Dockers, according to Wallace, have two main options – add a key forward and others who can contribute straight away and challenge for a premiership in the next two couple of years; or re-tool without bottoming out and recruit players who will be around the help the likes of Nathan Fyfe in five years’ time.
Maybe, he says, they can try to do both.
“You never know unless you are inside the club but my suspicion is that they might try to do a bit of each,” Wallace said.
“Trading for Mitch Clark is definitely something they should be looking at. He’s a guy who is already playing and can help Matthew Pavlich and Aaron Sandilands in the next couple of seasons.
“But he’ll also still be playing in five years when Fyfe and Anthony Morabito have got up around that 100-game mark.”
The issue if Fremantle tries to trade to fill its key forward needs then becomes what the Dockers can offer other teams in return.
It’s been widely tipped that midfielder Rhys Palmer will take his stalled career elsewhere at season’s end.
But the 2008 Rising Star winner would likely be worth more to the Dockers if he goes to Greater Western Sydney for compensation draft picks, than if he goes elsewhere at market rate.
Back-up ruckman Jon Griffin would clearly have some value around the competition but it was only last summer that he returned home to Perth for personal reasons.
Fellow big man Zac Clarke is another who would interest other clubs but his development this season has been more-than encouraging and Harvey clearly has a high opinion of the 21-year-old.
Fremantle has already dismissed the “quickest fix” option of recruiting former Carlton and Brisbane bad boy Brendan Fevola, who is currently enjoying a career renaissance with Casey in the VFL.
And so, if Harvey is true to his word of wanting to play Pavlich across half-back in 2012, the Dockers’ key forward options might look something like this – find one in the draft, find enough currency to trade for someone like Clark or lower the sights and look at a fringe prospect like West Coast’s Callum Wilson.
Or perhaps, they could just stick with what they’ve got.These stocks include the awkward but sometimes effective Kepler Bradley and the versatile Luke McPharlin.
Former St Kilda coach Grant Thomas says Fevola’s problems shouldn’t prevent him returning to the league but rails against the line of thinking that his goal-kicking prowess could be the “saviour” of any side.
“If we’ll accept a drug addict (Ben Cousins) back into the league we ought to accept Fevola with his drinking and gambling issues,” Thomas said.
“But I’ve never been an advocate of teams relying on power forwards who just kick goals. It makes you too predictable and it’s much easier for other teams to stop you in finals.
“What I am an advocate of is going and getting the best available player, rather than getting caught up with getting a key forward or a ruckman.
“At St Kilda we took Nick Riewoldt and Justin Koschitze with the first two picks in 2000. But it was because they were the best two players available, not because they were key position players.
“Key forwards don’t grow on trees and you don’t find them under rocks. But I’d hate to think Fremantle would put itself in the position of giving up draft picks to try and get one.”
Top-20 key forward draftees 2000 to 2007
Hits: Nick Riewoldt (No.1, 2000), Justin Koschitzke (No.2, 2000), Jarryd Roughead (No.2, 2004), Buddy Franklin (No.5, 2004), Josh Kennedy (No.4, 2005), Paddy Ryder (No.7, 2005), Mitch Clark (No.9, 2005), Jack Riewoldt (No.13, 2006)
Misses: Luke Livingston (No.4, 2000), Andrew McDougall (No.5, 2000), Laurence Angwin (No.7, 2000), Tim Walsh (No.4, 2002), Kepler Bradley (No.6, 2003), Ryan Murphy (No.12, 2003), Fergus Watts (No.14, 2003), Billy Morrison (No.17, 2003) Llane Spaanderman (No.18. 2003), Adam Pattison (No.16, 2004), Ryan Willits (No.19, 2004), Beau Dowler (No.6, 2005), Mitch Thorp (No.6, 2006), Andrejs Everitt (No.11 2006), James Sellar (No.14, 2006), Robbie Tarrant (No.15, 2007), Tony Notte (No.20, 2007).
Jury is out – Jay Schulz (No.12, 2002), Scott Gumbleton (No.2, 2006) Lachlan Hansen (No.3, 2006); Lachlan Henderson (No.8, 2007)