Fremantle coach Ross Lyon has mastered the art of deflection – and West Coast’s midfielders were firmly in his sights this week.
The Dockers boast one of the hottest on-ball brigades in the competition, and the team will start as hot favourites in Sunday’s western derby against the Eagles.
Nat Fyfe is the favourite to win this year’s Brownlow medal, while fellow Dockers David Mundy, Stephen Hill, Michael Barlow, and ruckman Aaron Sandilands are established stars.
In contrast, West Coast’s midfield have been criticised in recent years for their lack of leg speed.
Many experts predict Fremantle’s star-studded midfield will be too much to overcome for West Coast this week.
But Lyon deflected talk about his own team’s strengths by highlighting the powers of West Coast’s ball winners.
“Everyone’s speaking about our mids and West Coast’s forwards,” Lyon said.
“But I think what gets lost a little bit is West Coast’s midfield.
“There was a reason they were premiership favourites a few years ago.
“We understand Scott Selwood’s not there.
“But Matt Priddis is a Brownlow medallist. Nic Nat is a star of the comp. Sharrod Wellingham is a premiership player brought over specifically, and he’s up and going now.
“You’ve got Chris Masten. Luke Shuey. And Andrew Gaff is a star into his fifth year. And they’re running Shannon Hurn and Brad Sheppard through there.
“If your midfield stays intact you’re every chance to deliver, and that’s how I see the Eagles.
“That’s where it’s going to be won and lost.”
The Dockers have won 14 of the past 18 derbies, including the last five.
But Eagles coach Adam Simpson said past results were irrelevant.
With Selwood and Mark Hutchings nursing injuries, wingman Matt Rosa may again be relied upon to take up a tagging role.
Rosa was superb in restricting Carlton superstar Chris Judd last week, and he’s in line to tag either Fyfe or Hill on Sunday.
Fremantle are unbeaten this season after posting impressive wins over Port Adelaide and Geelong.
But they know they’ll face a big task halting West Coast forward Josh Kennedy, who booted 10 goals in last week’s 69-point demolition of Carlton.
Lyon said Luke McPharlin was likely to get the job on Kennedy, who has kicked just 17 goals in nine games against Fremantle.
The Dockers recalled Hayden Crozier to replace suspended goalsneak Hayden Ballantyne, with the club confident ruckman Zac Clarke will be able to shake off a knee injury.
West Coast duo Josh Hill and Sam Butler return at the expense of Simon Tunbridge (ankle) and Jamie Bennell (omitted).