Dropping anchor: The new breed of Dockers chasing premiership glory

SINCE the AFLW began, the names Antonio, Bowers and Houghton have been synonymous with Fremantle. But now, with player turnover and an unexpected injury toll, it is a new breed of Dockers who must step up and take charge in season seven. 

Since 2020, Fremantle's list has steadily become younger, but still managed to pile on the experience. This culminated in 11 debutants in season six, the most in the competition. 

Fremantle list profile 2020-2022 

This season, the Dockers are a different prospect. Gemma Houghton now wears teal. Kara Antonio looks unlikely to spend many minutes on the park, if at all, and wife Ebony has now suffered a PCL injury which puts her on the sidelines for 8-10 weeks. 

So, it is younger players who must step up. Amy Franklin, who has all the attributes to replace Houghton's exciting, running key forward role. Dana East, who proved in her debut season this year that she has the makings of a great midfielder, tough with quick hands. Sarah Verrier, with her ultra-consistent, dour intercepting, who has played every game since making her debut.  

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This emerging group has been essential in maintaining the side's development as they push for Fremantle's first premiership – women's or men's. 

"I feel like there's always been someone waiting to step up in different roles. Like Airlie (Runnalls) on the wing, and Gemma Houghton, Amy Franklin's similar to her," East told womens.afl.  

Dana East celebrates a goal during the qualifying final between Fremantle and North Melbourne at Arden Street Oval on March 19, 2022. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

"I feel like we've trained so well as a group that if someone were to leave, then someone could easily just slide into their spot and do the same." 

For Franklin, Houghton's move to Port Adelaide has opened the ideal hole in Fremantle's forward line for the teenager to establish herself, but it was also the mentoring senior players were able to provide that has been equally important. 

"I learned a lot off (Houghton) last year and so I'm excited to see what this season has in store for me," Franklin said. 

"I think it's just been like a door that's open for me and I really want to grab it, because I think that happening has opened some opportunity for me."  

Franklin goes back-to-back on debut

01:01 Feb 1. 2022. 7:46 PM

Docker Amy Franklin has kicked her first two AFLW goals in quick succession to give her side some much-needed reward for their effort

It's a similar story for East, who has been under the wing of three talented, but different midfielders in her time at the Dockers, and that balance has allowed her to grow her own game. 

"I've got Hayley (Miller), Gabby (O'Sullivan) and 'Turbo' (Kiara Bowers) … They're really good role models for me," East said. 

"Everyone's just feeling more comfortable in their role. Especially myself, like I felt a bit uncomfortable going straight into the midfield with the big guns. But I feel like we've all got a great relationship and we know what role to have.  

Dana East hits the AFLW 

Verrier has settled in alongside vice-captain Ange Stannett and 2021 All-Australian Janelle Cuthbertson down back after playing forward in her first season. 

"I just want to keep improving my footy. I just don't want to be comfortable, knowing that I'm going to get picked. I want to be working for my spot," Verrier said. 

Verrier's move to defence 

The trio is well supported by fellow emerging players like Roxy Roux, Mim Strom, Jess Low and Mikayla Hyde, each of whom have played key roles for the club in recent seasons. Not to mention new draftee Megan Kauffman, plucked from the amateurs and already making an impact, kicking all of Fremantle's goals through the last fortnight of practice matches. 

"I feel like the young ones especially have stepped out this pre-season," East noted. 

Because of coach Trent Cooper's willingness to blood young players and back them in, Fremantle is well set up to hit season seven hard, even without some of the famous inaugural names from the club out on the park.