Vendetta Sports Media’s coverage of the AFL continues with a look at the up and coming Fremantle Dockers. Fremantle’s long rebuild is finally bearing fruit, but can the Dockers break into the top eight and play finals for the first time since 2016?

For all of our previous team previews, click here.

Fremantle’s home guernsey

Season 2020

12th: 7 wins, 10 losses, 93.7%

Given that the club had lost talent of the calibre of Lachie Neale, Ed Langdon and Brad Hill over the previous offseason, nobody expected a young and inexperienced Dockers team to win too many matches, though the performances in a four game losing streak to start the season were still somewhat disappointing. After that run, though, rookie coach Justin Longmuir had his young chargers playing free flowing, attractive football, winning seven and losing six games over the rest of the campaign.

Unusually for a young side, the Dockers were competitive even in games they eventually lost, with a losing margin of only 22 points in those matches, even taking the scalps of eventual finals combatants St Kilda and Collingwood along the way.

Fremantle enjoyed breakout campaigns from a host of youngsters, most notable among them Andrew Brayshaw, Matt Taberner, Adam Cerra and All Australian defender Luke Ryan. Eventual Rising Star winner (AFL’s equivalent of Rookie of the Year) Caleb Serong performed from the moment he took to the park.

Key Ins: Heath Chapman, Nathan O’Driscoll, Joel Western, Josh Treacy, Brandon Walker (all draft)

Key outs: Jesse Hogan (Giants), Isaiah Butters, Brandon Matera, Cam McCarthy, Jarvis Pina, Hugh Dixon (all released)

Fremantle’s off season was quiet in one sense – they continued to concentrate on building through the draft, eschewing to opportunity to take on established talent. The outgoings, though, were far more interesting.

The Dockers – perhaps emboldened by the emergence of Taberner – released expensively recruited and uber talented but troubled key forwards Jesse Hogan and Cam McCarthy, as well as small forward-cum-midfielder Brandon Matera. In the case of Hogan and McCarthy, this can reasonably be tagged as addition by subtraction. For all of their obvious talents, the off field habits of both young men saw them well and truly wear out their welcome in Fremantle.

Despite the presence of Taberner, the Dockers forward line remains a concern, ranking 16th in scoring in 2020. Only the mercurial Michael Walters is established as a forward of any prominence. If Taberner proves to be a one season wonder, the Dockers simply won’t put enough points on the board. It won’t be for a lack of service, however.

Fremantle’s midfield has for so long relied on courageous captain David Mundy and the irrepressible dual Brownlow winner Nat Fyfe. Last season, the clubs raft of talented youngsters started to make their mark. Though Mundy is near the end of his career, Fyfe conceivably has three to four more years of elite football left in him. Watching him show the way for the maturing Brayshaw, Cerra and Serong is a delight. It likely won’t be this season, but Fremantle have the core of an elite midfield growing up before their eyes. If the talented but seemingly out of favour Connor Blakely can force his way back into coach Longmuir’s plans, he’ll give the team an instant boost.

Defensively, the Dockers depth is enviable. Despite missing key men Alex Pearce and Joel Hamling for the entire campaign, the Dockers still had the 5th best defense in the AFL. With those two healthy once more, converted forward Brennan Cox – who found a new lease on life as a key defender – will likely be forced out of the first team. Given Pearce’s long injury history, though, that depth may come in very handy. Luke Ryan, former Tiger Reece Conca and emerging youngster Griffin Logue round out a formidable defensive unit.

Prediction: 13th

All things being equal, the Dockers will be a better side in 2021, so why will they finish lower than in 2020? Because 2020 doesn’t equal 2021.

Firstly, due to COVID restrictions the Dockers got to play an unusual amount of games at home in 2020. Secondly, it’s arguable that their slow start to 2020 meant that some sides took the Dockers a little too lightly late in the season – that won’t happen this time around. Finally, there is some serious regression potential in this side. Matt Taberner has flattered to deceive prior to 2020; Hamling and Pearce haven’t played footy on over 12 months; Mundy will surely slow down somewhat this year and the rest of that young midfield – Fyfe the obvious exception – will experience the fluctuations on form that practically all youngsters experience.

Overall, Fremantle is a team on the rise. The 2021 season is a year (or two) too soon for the young Dockers, though.