Draw assessment 
Ten interstate trips aside, Fremantle’s draw is very favourable. West Coast is the only top-eight team from last season that Ross Lyon’s men face twice, but they get just one chance against each of Greater Western Sydney and Gold Coast. Adding to the burden of a heavy travel schedule will be five six-day breaks, with four of those coming ahead of road trips.

Pivotal match 
Fremantle went 0-6 in Melbourne last season, losing to Richmond, Hawthorn, Melbourne, St Kilda, North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs. It makes the team’s round-four match against the Saints crucial as Lyon seeks to reverse that trend. There will also be a big Friday night build-up for Fremantle to counter as the former St Kilda boss faces his old club for the first time.

Injury list 
Key onballers Michael Barlow (leg) and David Mundy (ankle) haven’t played this pre-season as they return from long-term injuries, but they remain in the mix for round one. Anthony Morabito (knee) is another who could start the year slowly after an interrupted summer. Aaron Sandilands (calf) and Michael Johnson (ankle) should play round one, despite injuries late in the NAB Cup, but draftee Lachie Neale (ankle) is expected to miss the season opener against Geelong.

Track specialist 
Hayden Ballantyne has spoken often this pre-season about his goal to move into the midfield, and the feisty small forward has backed that up on the training track. The 24-year-old has enjoyed his first full pre-season at the club working closely with stoppage coach Mark Stone. He was a regular in the midfield during the NAB Cup and should carry that role into the regular season.

Dream Team special 
Nat Fyfe (FWD/MID, $486,600) will be a very popular choice after an outstanding 2011 season that saw him average 98 points. The classy 20-year-old has been Fremantle’s primary midfield ball-winner this pre-season, pointing to an expanded onball role in 2012. He is expensive, but should only improve in his third season.

Draftee watch 
Of the five new players to arrive via the 2011 NAB AFL Draft, Lachie Neale (No. 58 overall) appears the most likely to play senior football in his debut season. The midfielder stands just 177cm, but he is strongly built and was impressive in Fremantle’s early NAB Cup games before suffering an ankle injury. Has played senior football with SANFL club Glenelg and should push for early games with Fremantle as a small forward before moving into the midfield.

Needs a big year 
Nick Suban has the skill and football brain to be a top-level player, but he has battled injuries – including a broken leg last year – and hasn’t built the fitness base necessary to play consistent football. The 21-year-old was dropped late in the NAB Cup and will have to fight to earn a spot across half-back early this season, with Paul Duffield, Tendai Mzungu, Garrick Ibbotson ahead of him.

Best and fairest tip 
Nat Fyfe nearly won the 2011 Doig Medal, and probably would have if it he’d played the final match of the season instead of missing with a shoulder injury. As it turned out, Matthew Pavlich won the count by three votes, but the skipper could struggle to hold out his young teammate this year. A contested ball gun and a strong tackler, Fyfe will be a key to Freo’s midfield this season.

Fremantle will have a good year if… 
…Its first-choice midfielders – including Sandilands – can stay fit and get on top in contested ball and clearances. Without its best players in the middle, Fremantle was routinely beaten in these indicators last season. The squad lacks proven midfield depth and can’t afford to be without Mundy, Barlow and Fyfe in 2012.  

The big issues
The main concern at Fremantle is the lack of game-time for key clearance players Mundy, Barlow and Sandilands this pre-season. How quickly they can reach their best will have a major bearing on Fremantle’s season. As well as Barlow, Anthony Morabito and Stephen Hill had difficult 2011 seasons, and it will be interesting to note how they bounce back. New coach Lyon, and his influence at the success-starved club, will be a constant topic in 2012. A strong start under the Grand Final coach would see Fremantle join this year’s premiership fancies.

BEST 22
FB: 
Paul Duffield,  Zac Dawson, Alex Silvagni
HB: Greg Broughton, Luke McPharlin, Tendai Mzungu
C: Anthony Morabito, Michael Barlow, Stephen Hill
HF: Hayden Ballantyne, Matthew Pavlich, Ryan Crowley
FF: Matt de Boer, Kepler Bradley, Chris Mayne
FOLL: Aaron Sandilands, David Mundy, Nat Fyfe
I/C: Garrick Ibbotson, Michael Johnson, Nick Lower
Sub: Nick Suban

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