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How the mighty have fallen (Dockers)

There is a very rare phenomenon (well we don’t think it’s happened before) which is the theme of this week’s TipBetPro feature article – both the NRL and AFL minor premiers from 2015 sit bottom of their respective tables. For any NRL fans out there – we’ve taken a look at the fall from grace of the Roosters. But here – we’ll be taking a look at the reasons behind the spectacular collapse of Fremantle.

In 2015 Fremantle lost just 5 games on their way to their first minor premiership … following 5 rounds of 2016 the Dockers have already lost 5 games. The fall has been so sudden that Freo are paying more to beat Adelaide this week ($9) than they were to win the flag at the start of the season ($8). So what are the reasons? Game Style

The Dockers have built their success in recent seasons on a frugal defence that proved capable of stifling the opposition into submission. However, in 2016 Fremantle have attempted to adopt a more attacking game-style in a bid to combat their issues against more attacking sides like Hawthorn. Unfortunately for Fremantle fans, the Dockers poor skills has seen them fail to move the ball efficiently into their forward line with their disposal efficiency 2nd only to Port Adelaide as worst in the league. Thus, although the Dockers forward line is more open than previous seasons, it barely helps when they have got the ball inside forward 50 less than any other team. Furthermore, once Fremantle does get the ball inside forward 50, it doesn’t help that their goal-kicking accuracy is rated 2nd worst in the AFL behind only Carlton. So despite a more attacking game style, Fremantle are ranked 16th for attack.

Conversely, their defence, hampered by the retirement of Luke McPharlin, turnovers up the field and not having the same protective structure as previous seasons, has leaked over 100 points per game – 5th worst in the league.

So, only 5 rounds in, but the change in game style has thus far got a big cross! Injuries

Make no mistake, despite all the “injuries are no excuse” comments we often hear in the media – injuries are an excuse and year on year are the single biggest reason for teams under-performing expectations. The Dockers have had a shocker when it comes to injuries to key players. David Mundy (skipper and ranked 3rd most important Docker by TipBetPro) has played just 2 games, Aaron Sandilands (ranked 2nd) has also played just 2, Harley Bennell (ranked 8th) has yet to take the field and now Nat Fyfe (ranked 1st) and Michael Johnson (ranked 6th) are also out of action for an extended period. You just can’t take that talent out of a team and expect it to compete at the same level as previous seasons. Player Decline

It would be fair to say that the senior players left behind have not stepped up to cover the injuries discussed above. Over the first 6 rounds, the Dockers have had several players that have been unable to perform to their 2015 standards with the main culprits being:

  • Danyle Pearce – TipBetPro ranking down 7% in 2016

  • Matthew Pavlich – down 6%

  • Michael Barlow – down 4%

  • Chris Mayne – down 3%

  • Stephen Hill – down 3%

In fact, of the Dockers top 12 players – only Michael Walters and Lachie Neale have shown any improvement in 2016. Statistically, based on TipBetPro player rankings, if the Freo 2015 finals side was playing the Freo side named to line-up this round, the 2015 version is a whopping 37 points superior based purely on TipBetPro player rankings and forgetting any extra scale-up for team form (which would likely send the margin up above 50 points). Was the writing on the wall? Despite being on top of the ladder throughout 2015, Fremantle were never once ranked the best side by the TipBetPro model and the 2nd half of the season saw a significant drop-off in performance. From the time that the Dockers copped an absolute belting from Hawthorn in Round 15, through to losing 3 of the last 4 regular season games, there was significant doubts on Freo’s capabilities to make an impact on finals irrespective of finishing as the Minor Premier. After just surviving a heavily under-manned Sydney largely on the back of the Swans inaccurate kicking for goal, Freo succumbed at home to Hawthorn (albeit in a competitive performance) to end their season at the Preliminary Final stage. Given the Dockers sharp decline towards the end of 2015, and that their 2015 list was, at the time, the oldest list in the history of the AFL – there was some hint that Freo would drop away in 2016 (although I don’t think anyone expected it to be this dramatic) What does the future hold? The Dockers 2016 season is shot with long-term injuries to key players leaving them with a list not capable of playing finals football. However, this may be a blessing for Freo who now have the opportunity to play some of their youngsters with more regularity and give them greater roles. If Freo are ever to get back into flag contention, they will need some gun youngsters to compliment the likes of stars such as Fyfe, Sandilands, Mundy and Hill.

Freo have an issue with key position players at both ends of the ground where there remains an over-reliance on veterans Matthew Pavlich and Michael Johnson (both seemingly headed towards retirement). However, the Dockers midfield talent is rich and if they can somehow develop quickly or trade-in a key position forward and back then we can see the Dockers flag window opening back up within 2 to 3 seasons.

I hope you’ve enjoyed are look into the Freo Dockers this week, should you want any analysis carried out for next weeks feature article, let us know and we’ll be sure to give it a go!

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