Where Freo is going wrong
1. Their engine room is short on match fitness
On first glance, Fremantle’s list looks pretty healthy. Nat Fyfe (shoulder) is the only significant out besides Anthony Morabito (knee), who is working his way back through the WAFL and should be available after the bye. But interrupted pre-seasons to the likes of David Mundy, Michael Barlow and Aaron Sandilands means the bulk of Fremantle’s engine room is struggling to get traction. Mundy and Barlow are battling to run games out and lack the pace needed to launch the counter-attacks that are so crucial to Ross Lyon’s game plan. Sandilands is not right either and will probably make way for Jonathon Griffin every now and again in order to keep from overburdening himself.
2. They’re sorely lacking midfield depth
With Fyfe gone and Mundy and Barlow fading, the Dockers don’t have the cattle to win the clearances. In fact, they haven’t been on the right side of the ledger since a loss to Carlton in round five. Fremantle’s second-tier ball winners are too small, too wasteful or too one-sided to affect the contest. As a result their defensive set-ups let them down when they don’t have the ball, and when they do their disposal going forward invariably turns it back over. Lyon is being forced to throw Matthew Pavlich into the fray to stem the bleeding; a vicious cycle that then robs Fremantle of their best (and only true) key forward.
3. They need key forwards badly
With Pavlich in the midfield, Fremantle’s forward-line is a mix of smalls and makeshift talls who aren’t getting the job done. Zac Clarke might be a solid option in time but he’s nowhere near ready to be the go-to tall and was eaten alive by Darren Glass on the weekend. Kepler Bradley is iffy even when fit, Chris Mayne plays like a tall but lacks real size, Luke McPharlin is too valuable to the backline and Michael Johnson’s form is too good to mess with. No wonder the club is throwing the chequebook at Travis Cloke. The Collingwood big man is the type of forward Fremantle needs, one who will lurk inside 50, crash packs and wrestle his way to a mark when the ball is (frequently) dropped on his head.
4. Ballantyne to the midfield isn’t working
Lyon made it clear from day dot that he wants to turn the Mayor of Mandurah into a midfielder but so far it seems more trouble than it’s worth. Ballantyne is one of the best game-breakers at Lyon’s disposal and he is being wasted in the middle, where he is easily tagged to the point of no influence and his biggest deficiency – disposal by foot – is being exposed. Lyon is also trying to curb the niggle out of Ballantyne’s game and that could be a mistake too. Ballantyne is emotional to a fault but when his blood rises he can lift his teammates and rattle the opposition like few others.
5. Lyon’s game plan has been unlocked
West Coast gave the league the blueprint for shutting down Fremantle in the Western Derby, squeezing their ball-users into bombing it out of defence and collecting the turnovers on the half-back line. Fremantle started the season with one of the stingiest defences in the league but in the past two weeks they’ve given up 28 goals (-14 difference) and 131 inside-50s (-64 difference), meaning they’re just not getting the ball into positive territory. The problem is exacerbated by their clearance woes because once a side gets a run on, Fremantle are never going to keep up.
6. Their confidence is just about shot
The players talked a lot about ‘buying in’ to Lyon’s methodology early in the season but after a disappointing last month (their two wins, over Gold Coast and Port, were unconvincing) the body language is starting to tell. The Dockers get a raw deal in Perth, playing to a demanding and increasingly impatient fanbase while constantly being compared to their up-the-road rivals. With a tough run ahead (Adelaide, Richmond, Essendon and Collingwood) the scrutiny is not going to ease up. Two or three more big losses and the wheels could come off completely.