For all those pundits expecting Fremantle to crash and burn this season, coach Ross Lyon has a stern message – think again.
The Dockers’ AFL premiership window appeared to have slammed shut following last year’s preliminary final loss to Hawthorn.
The sight of skipper Matthew Pavlich crying in the change-rooms after that defeat seemed to sum up Fremantle’s plight – for all the hard work, Fremantle’s era of success would close without any silverware.
Defender Luke McPharlin was the first to announce his retirement, and Pavlich was set to follow suit.
If Fremantle were to remain a serious flag threat, they needed to lure a key forward their way so they could match the scoring firepower of the competition’s best sides.
GWS forward Cam McCarthy was the man they wanted, and the 20-year-old was keen to join the Dockers.
But the Giants’ refusal to trade him left Fremantle with a major pickle – how could they compete for a flag without a power key forward capable of kicking a big bag of goals?
The answer came in two parts.
The first piece of the puzzle fell into place when Fremantle snared former Gold Coast bad boy Harley Bennell via a trade.
Fremantle sent picks 16 and 35 to the Suns in exchange for Bennell and pick No.22 – an absolute bargain given Bennell’s talent.
Bennell’s off-field record means the trade is a risk. But it has the potential to reap big rewards.
The arrival of Bennell will add extra firepower in Fremantle’s midfield.
But more significantly, it will allow Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe to spend more time up forward this season.
Fyfe has established himself as one of the competition’s finest marks, while he’s arguably the best one-on-one talent in the league.
If he can fix up his wonky kicking on goal, Fyfe has the potential to nail 40-plus majors for the Dockers this season.
But Fremantle still needed an out-and-out power forward to complement their list.
That problem was solved when Pavlich decided to play on for one final season.
At 34 years of age and with 335 games behind him, Pavlich’s body is only just holding on.
But his presence provides Fremantle with a proven target in attack, allowing goalsneaks Hayden Ballanyne and Michael Walters to feast off the crumbs.
And the shift of captaincy to David Mundy will lighten the load on Pavlich’s shoulders.
Lyon remains bullish about what his team can achieve – not only in 2016, but for the next five years.
“We’ve been consistent – four years finals in a row, three years top four in a row. So we can’t see ourselves falling off a cliff,” Lyon says.
“McPharlin’s gone out the door, but we see real growth in a lot of our players.
“Our best players are Fyfe, Stephen Hill, Michael Walters – they’re all 24 and in the peak of their careers.
“So we see real growth.”
Fremantle crashed through the 100-point barrier in five of their opening eight matches last season to set up their maiden minor premiership.
But they only managed to reach triple figures one more time after that as their scoring potency dramatically dropped.
Fremantle are renowned for their stingy defence, but they’ll need to improve their attack by about two goals per game if they are to match the likes of West Coast and Hawthorn.
Lyon has his eye on the long-term future after re-signing with the Dockers until 2020.
The 49-year-old says there’ll be no excuses if he doesn’t win a flag during that time-frame, and it could come as early as 2016 if the Dockers receive a slice of luck on the injury front.
Coach: Ross Lyon
Captain: David Mundy
Last five years: 11-6-2-6-3
Key five: Nat Fyfe, Michael Walters, Aaron Sandilands, David Mundy, Michael Johnson
One to watch: Matt Taberner – With Matthew Pavlich at the very tail-end of his career, Taberner shapes as a key cog in Fremantle’s forward set-up this season and beyond. At 199cm and 95kg, Taberner has all the makings to become a successful key forward. But the 22-year-old’s return of 23 goals from 28 games has been underwhelming to date. Can he live up to the hype?
Ins: Harley Balic (Sandringham U18), Harley Bennell (Gold Coast), Sam Collins (Box Hill, VFL), Ethan Hughes (rookie elevation), Ryan Nyhuis (NT Thunder, NEAFL), Darcy Tucker (North Ballarat U18), Matthew Uebergang (Redland, NEAFL), Shane Yarran (Subiaco, WAFL)
Outs: Jacob Ballard (delisted), Ryan Crowley (Essendon), Paul Duffield (retired), Max Duffy (delisted), Luke McPharlin (retired), Craig Moller (delisted), Colin Sylvia (delisted), Tom Vandeleur (delisted).
B: Lee Spurr, Zac Dawson, Cameron Sutcliffe
HB: Garrick Ibbotson, Michael Johnson, Nick Suban
C: Stephen Hill, David Mundy, Harley Bennell
HF: Michael Barlow, Matt Taberner, Michael Walters
F: Hayden Ballantyne, Matthew Pavlich, Chris Mayne
R: Aaron Sandilands, Nat Fyfe, Lachie Neale
I: Tendai Mzungu, Danyle Pearce, Jonathon Griffin, Alex Pearce
Predicted finish: 2nd
Betting (William Hill)
To win the flag: $10
To make the top eight: $1.33