Is Fremantle (Very Quietly) Building An AFL Powerhouse?

No Cerra, no worries.

Well not quite, but those who have moved Fremantle down a couple of rungs in terms of squad potential based on the young gun’s departure need to reassess.

To explore just where this club is at, we must first acknowledge their departing star and his impact on the team.

Adam Cerra ranked 14th in the league for inside 50s and club-wise was 1stfor goal assists, 3rd for metres gained, 4th for disposals and 6th for clearances, all on a per-game basis.

It’s why Peter Bell demanded for and subsequently received pick 6 in this year’s upcoming draft to help bridge the gap between the loss of a potential star and the creation of another.

The Dockers also added pick 19 as part of a package to take on Will Brodie, as well as finally landing Jordan Clark from the Cats after two years of trying to help him breakout of a young footballer’s Alcatraz.

Despite losing a player who has the potential to be a top-10 player in the league, Fremantle won the trade period and should still be treated as a potential threat going forward.

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A couple of months ago, we unpacked the Dockers’ midfield and labeled it as arguably, the best young group in the competition. Cerra leaving puts a dent in it, but it opens up extremely appealing opportunities.

Much of the sentiment remains the same, Sean Darcy’s the best young ruckman in the competition, Andy Brayshaw is the heart-and-soul of the group, Caleb Serong is extremely impressive and Nat Fyfe and David Mundy aren’t slowing down.

Will Brodie is a fascinating prospect who divides opinion to the point where many have written him off. A former pick 9 who never received regular opportunities for the Suns in his five seasons, there was something clearly off for the coaching staff to not persist with a prolific midfielder.

The culture Justin Longmuir has built at Fremantle is a strong one, and bringing in a 23-year-old with upside who simply needs confidence is hardly a bad call.

On their part, the Dockers were ranked 7th clearances and 17th for tackles. They worked hard in the middle, but to really make the most of their ruckman, they’ll want to force more pressure and keep the ball close.

They’re small sample sizes, but as a big-bodied midfielder, this is where Brodie thrives, averaging 21.6 disposals, 5.5 tackles and 4.8 clearances in 8 games in 2019.

Strengthening the midfield is the real secret to Fremantle’s success going forward, and they’ve been smart in the way they’ve approached it.

Given we spent time talking about Cerra, Jordan Clark needs to be on the agenda as a player that is a far closer replacement than many may think.

The 21-year-old has only played 29 games, 18 of those coming in his first season, and is perhaps best known for his speed and his rebound ability.

In the backend of his debut season, he was flipped onto a wing and indeed, we’ve mainly seen Clark either on a wing or in attack since 2019.

Cerra’s strength were his midfield and defensive versatility, his ability to get the ball forward and set up teammates, while also maintaining tackling integrity in trying to shut down the opposition.

In Clark’s 25 full games, he has finished with at least 4 tackles 11 times. In a six-game stretch in 2019 upon moving higher up the ground, he averaged 17.8 disposals, 4.8 marks, 3.2 inside 50s and a well above-average 415.7 metres gained a match.

The 2018 pick 15 can easily slot into a similar role on the wing and use his speed to carve up the opposition, while maintaining the flexibility and versatility that Cerra left lacking.

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Defensively, the Dockers have had to scramble to fill gaps for two seasons which has developed individuals but left a lot of untapped group potential.

Brennan Cox has become a pillar and his return to fitness will be appreciated, having become a strong spoiler of the ball who operates with a loss percentage of around 25%, better than all his teammates.

Griffin Logue is clearly better as a third-tall, where his underrated ability at ground level to pressure opponents for such a big player was better unlocked in the final stages of the season, while Alex Pearce is typically the main man.

The two key players for the Dockers come in the form of above average interceptors and ball-users in a team that ranked 17th for intercepts and 16th for metres gained.

Hayden Young is already among the competition’s elite intercept marks, averaging 2.4 a game, and is the player most likely to start counter-attacks, while Luke Ryan has spent time playing above his weight.

If Fremantle have any luck with injuries out back this season, we will see their players deployed in more familiar roles. That could turn this group into a top-five defence.

While much has been made that the club’s forward-line is of great concern, the argument seemingly ignores what they do have and how they’ve set up their approach for this draft.

Retaining Rory Lobb, contrary to popular belief, was more cream on top rather than a necessity. 2021 was the first time we’ve seen him resemble as any sort of a consistent threat offensively, but the fact he stays means there’s less focus on his teammates.

Matt Taberner is a warrior and extremely underrated as a focal point, while Josh Treacy immediately looked good as a centre half-forward with a huge work rate.

The smalls at their feet are great and will use another off-season to gel. Liam Henry, Sam Switkowski, Lachie Schulz and Travis Colyer aren’t star names, but their rotation through the midfield, goal sense and pressure is really good.

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Crucially, Fremantle enters the draft with picks 6, 8 and 19.

It will be of no surprise to know that Fremantle are interested in the draft’s most dangerous key forward, Jye Amiss, while Jacob van Rooyen looks to have potential as a versatile key position player around the late first round.

If, as suspected, the club wants to keep strengthening the midfield and create a connection with attack, there are highly-skilled players such as Arlo Draper, Josh Rachele and Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera, while the smooth Matthew Johnson would help fill in the Cerra gap.

Needless to say, the Dockers have given themselves the best opportunity to add to the burgeoning talent that exists within the squad in a nice draft.

Under Justin Longmuir Fremantle have taken steps to improve their consistency while giving plenty of opportunities to young players who deserve it.

Along with a strong culture, these are positive signs for a club looking to take a leap forward in the near future and gives supporters great confidence in the playing group and new recruits.

2022 might be a middling year to gel a little more with so many players back from injury, but Fremantle are the sort of team that can jump right into contention when they’re ready, rather than a slow build.

When Cerra left, many had concerns.

When Fremantle leap into top-four contention within the next two seasons, those concerns will have been for nothing.

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Dem Panopoulos

Dem is a lover of sport with a keen eye for analytics. A passion for statistics that defies logic given his MyCricket numbers, you can see and hear him share his thoughts and views on Twitter @dempanopoulos

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