Can the Dockers continue to thrive with uncertain times ahead?

DESPITE two significant losses to its forward line, Fremantle is thriving in the early stages of the NAB AFLW season.

It's come as the club has made a concerted approach to change its line-up, having just scraped into the top six last year before losing its elimination final to Melbourne.

Last year, Fremantle used just 24 players across its nine matches and one final, the fewest of any side.

AFLW Match Highlights: Fremantle v GWS

04:52 Jan 16. 2022. 6:58 PM

The Dockers and Giants clash in round two of the NAB AFL Women's Competition

Over the off-season, the Dockers lost Evie Gooch (West Coast), Leah Mascall (retirement), Katie-Jayne Grieve, Tarnee Tester, Jess Trend and Alex Williams (delisted).

But the biggest blows which had people wondering about its competitiveness in 2022 were dangerous forwards Sabreena Duffy (work commitments) and Ashley Sharp (pregnancy) moving to the inactive list.

Into the 21 have come defender Jess Low, winger Airlie Runnalls, mid-forward Dana East and speedy goalsneak Makaela Tuhakaraina, all of whom were drafted last year.

It was some canny selecting by the Dockers, with only Tuhakaraina coming into the squad as an 18-year-old. East is a year older and the other two in their early 20s.

East has brought some class and a deft touch to the midfield and forward line, while Runnalls has an apt surname, adding some depth to the wing, using the footy well and working efficiently with Steph Cain and Ebony Antonio.

But it's been the inclusion of senior pair Aine Tighe and Ann McMahon to the forward line that has, thus far, arguably had the most impact for Fremantle.

While replacing the speedy Sharp and clever Duffy with identical players is near-impossible, Tighe has been a strong marking target, especially in the absence of Roxy Roux (conditioning), bringing the ball to the deck for her smaller teammates if she doesn’t take the grab.

McMahon's pressure inside 50 has been most notable, helping the Dockers to lock the ball inside their attacking zone and creating scoring chances for her teammates.

Fremantle's faith in the pair has been rewarded, after they were injured for their first two years on an AFLW list (Tighe with knee issues, McMahon the victim of a horror workplace accident as a police officer, tearing an ACL and breaking her opposite leg).

McMahon earns her fairytale finish

00:46 Jan 16. 2022. 6:49 PM

Luckless Docker Ann McMahon is surrounded by teammates after earning a special goal in the last

Matilda Sergeant (22 years old) and Sarah Verrier (19) have taken notable steps forward in their development this year, playing with greater confidence and composure in defence.

Half-forward Gabby O'Sullivan is playing greater midfield time to good effect, averaging 14.0 disposals and 3.5 clearances (up from 9.1 and 0.4 in 2021), and is third overall for her team in total disposals behind usual suspects Kiara Bowers and Hayley Miller.

Her change in role and strong form could also have had a knock-on effect for usual best-21 player Jasmin Stewart, who has been an emergency for the past two weeks.

Fremantle's first two rounds

Statistic

2021

2022

Disposals

201.1

193.0

Marks

38.5

37.5

Tackles

65.7

79.5

Hitouts

18.3

30.5

Clearances

21.5

31.0

Contested possessions

107.1

95.0

Goals

5.3

6.5

The impact of Tighe is stark when looking at hitouts – with the Dockers previously relying on key forwards Roux and Gemma Houghton to pinch-hit in the ruck – but primary ruck Mim Strom has also had a strong start to the year, averaging 18.5 hitouts and 7.5 disposals, up from 11.2 and 6.9 last year.

It should be noted the Dockers have so far played West Coast and GWS, two sides who did not make finals in 2021, but at this stage, they're in a good spot to challenge the top teams once again.

What is looming as a difficult challenge for both Fremantle and fellow West Australian club West Coast is Thursday night’s decision by the WA State Government to delay the lifting of the hard border, initially scheduled for February 5.

2022 FIXTURE Every match, every round

Both clubs came to Melbourne last Saturday – the Dockers staying in Southbank, the Eagles in South Yarra – for what was originally planned to be a 3.5-week stint, upon which they’d return to an open border. 

As it stands, there has been no announcement yet as to what will happen to the two clubs, with players, coaches and staff alike having jobs outside of football.

If the Dockers continue with their form in difficult circumstances, it will be a tremendous achievement.

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