Longmuir’s first year as Fremantle’s head coach was a rousing success, which is weird way to sum up a club’s progression from 13th to 12th on the ladder. But it’s true. 2020 was all about implementing a new gameplan with a young list, which amounted to basically tearing down all of the negative footy that Ross Lyon favoured and rebuilding the club ethos to value possession retention and effective ball movement. No easy task.
The raw numbers show a genuine evolution from a dour, scrappy side into a team that understands that how you dispose of it is just as important as how you win it. While Fremantle ranked 7th for disposals in both 2019 and 2020, they balanced their style by dropping from 2nd to 6th in contested possession but rising from 10th to 6th in uncontested footy.
This is where Longmuir’s Collingwood apprenticeship reveals itself. Fremantle went from the 17th ranked side in marks to the 6th, a massive jump (especially with a young and mostly inherited list) as the new system focused on retaining the footy after working so hard to win it. This was also evident through their sharp increase in disposal efficiency from 15th to 2nd. While a flawed stat in many ways, it shows that they either a) started hitting more targets, or b) started trying to hit easier targets. Most likely both are true to some extent, and both are excellent KPI’s for Longmuir’s new gameplan. Big ticks all round.
2021 is an exciting year for Fremantle fans who gracefully accepted their club’s rebuild last season. Investing another year into a young and talented midfield group, led by veterans Fyfe and Mundy both in the guts and up forward, will fast-track Freo’s long-term development. And Longmuir finally having access to a defensive spine with Pearce, Hamling and Logue all set to return after injury-ruined 2020 seasons will be a huge boost for their fortunes in the short-term. Heave-ho.
Hogan [trades, free agency]
Butters, Carter, Dixon, Matera, McCarthy, North, O’Reilly, Pina [delisted]
2021 is essentially just an extension of 2020 in terms of both personnel and the club’s goals.
Fremantle continued to cut away the rotting flesh from their list, wiping away the botched recruitments of forwards Hogan, McCarthy and Matera like a lewd etch-a-sketch drawing. A fresh start. Like it never happened.
But it seems that they learned from the long and painful history of comically poor trading by committing to the rebuild and reloading at the draft, rather than importing the tainted scraps from rival clubs. It’s also a sign of confidence in their current investments, and after seeing what a young midfield core of Serong, Brayshaw and Cerra was capable of last year, why wouldn’t you be? How can you be anything but optimistic after seeing Luke Ryan and the historically much-maligned Taberner acknowledged for their break-out seasons with All-Australian consideration?
#14 Heath Chapman – D – 92 avg from 8 games in WAFL Colts
Chapman joins a deep crop of key defenders at Fremantle, but it’s his versatility that kept him in the frame at pick 14. He played as a lockdown defender in his bottom-age year before excelling as an interceptor in the WAFL Colts in 2020, and his precise kicking combined with his elite endurance means he has potential to play further up the ground. Heath has been prominent in Freo’s match sim so far this pre-season, having “shone with (his) contested marking” as much as he’s “stood out with his tackling, spoils and smothering” too. Looks destined for exposure amidst Fremantle’s continued rebuild in 2021.
#27 Nathan O’Driscoll – M – 55 avg from 5 games in WAFL
Teams didn’t know exactly where to rate O’Driscoll heading into the draft. His lack of continuity – partly due to injury, partly due to playing across multiple grades and partly due to playing a myriad of roles – highlighted his potential but undercut recruiters’ ability to accurately peg his current capabilities. O’Driscoll is more workhorse than show pony, proving in 2020 that he could mix it with the big boys with plenty of CBA’s in Perth’s League side. He lands at a club with a deep midfield – at least in terms of young talent – so he might have to bide his time and focus on improvement in 2021.
#50 Brandon Walker – D – 73 avg from 10 games in WAFL Colts
Secured with the nifty NGA access, Walker could have easily gone a round earlier based on pre-draft projections. Quick, composed and athletic, Fremantle will be looking at him as an heir to Stephen Hill’s line-breaking off half-back – although probably in a couple of years time.
#54 Joel Western – M – 85 avg from 7 games in WAFL Colts
Currently known as “that kid that owns the 20m sprint record” after his blistering AFL Combine heats, Western has been a fast riser internally at Fremantle this pre-season. A midfielder in the WAFL Colts where he took home all kinds of individual accolades, he’ll likely start out across half forward (or even a wing with his elite endurance/speed combination) in the AFL. It’s early days, but this looks like it could be another NGA steal for the Dockers and a DFS bargain for us in fantasyland.
Rookie #7 Joel Treacy – F
Fremantle’s key forward cupboard was scarily bare following the departures of Hogan and McCarthy, so they went out and grabbed a ready-made replacement, at least from a physique perspective. Treacy is 194cm and 94kg and apparently very hard to move in 1-on-1’s, which naturally makes him an elite contested mark for an 18 year old. If Taberner and/or Sturt can’t get going after interrupted pre-seasons, look out for Treacy to storm into senior calculations.
Besides having Collingwood’s gameplan transplanted into the purple machine (which I’ve already talked about enough), the most intriguing part of Fremantle’s 2020 season for DFS was their unique midfield rotations.
Most clubs split up their CBA’s one of two ways. They either pick 4 inside midfielders and smash them with rotations through the bench (think Melbourne, Western Bulldogs) or they go with a larger pool and rotate the part-timers through a half-forward flank (think Geelong, Essendon, Brisbane, etc). Fremantle does it completely uniquely by combining the two – they pick a larger, designated group of midfielders and rotate them heavily through the pine.
This is why you see guys like Brayshaw (75% TOG), Mundy (71%), Serong (70%), Tucker (70%) and even Blakely (59%) with critically low game-time still racking up the fantasy numbers on their day. They might spend more time on the bench, sure. But when they’re on the field, it’s full tilt, and it’s what allows them to play Longmuir’s aerobically-demanding brand of footy for an entire game.
What did this mean for DFS? Basically, you never knew which Fremantle midfielders were going to go off. They might get unlucky with the rotation timings – they could be sitting on the bench when the Dockers have the momentum and racking up the easy pill, or on the field where they’re chasing tail for 10 minutes straight. So it was always best to consider the Dockers midfield as one “unit” in positive match-ups in DFS, and rotating combinations of their ball-winners through your line-ups. When stacking Fremantle MID’s for instance, you might have a few line-ups of Brayshaw/Mundy/Cerra, a few of Serong/Mundy/Cerra, a few of Brayshaw/Serong/Acres, and so on.
Above is an example from industry heavyweight “Rwhelan09″ from back in Round 8. His exposures to all the Fremantle midfielders (don’t mind my dodgy Paint highlighting skills there) are significantly above the field, with Brayshaw’s hot form and FWD status elevating him above the others in the 23%-46% ownership bracket. Over 150 line-ups, Rwhelan was able to expose himself to the optimal combination of those, with Walters (100, still playing midfield at the time), Brayshaw (102) and Serong (98) the secret sauce on the night. The result? Rwhelan spends the night sipping champagne and dining on caviar after taking away the top 3 spots on the slate (and 6th for good measure). And yes, all 4 of those line-ups had the Brayshaw/Walters/Serong combination.
This is despite owning 23% of Tucker – almost double the field – who finished with a big ol’ 0 after tearing his hamstring early doors. But because he exposed himself indiscriminately to the best combination of Freo’s midfielders, Rwhelan was able to wear the dead line-ups by hitting the top of the leaderboard hard – and that’s where the money is.
This is why I’ll be keeping a very close eye on the Dockers’ midfield structure in 2021 – especially with a return to 20-minute quarters and a deceivingly significant drop in rotations from 90 to 75. You should too.
5 IN FOCUS
1. Hayden Young
The second-year Docker already showed what he can do in his debut season, chaining (adjusted) scores of 96 and 73 together off a back flank before an ankle injury sustained against St Kilda the week after ended his season prematurely. Based on his pre-season, we should be expecting plenty of the same in 2021. Teammate Luke Ryan was forthcoming in his praise for the rebounder, saying “Hayden’s looking really good. He’s a lot fitter, a lot stronger. Even now, when he takes kick ins or does his running off half back, his leg just looks unbelievable at the moment. It’s exciting for us”. The significance of the casual kick-ins mention hasn’t been lost on the AFL fantasy community.
In Longmuir’s system and with a full pre-season under his belt, Young looks primed for a return to the realm of his junior numbers where he averaged 22 touches, 4 marks, 3 tackles and 88 AF.
2. Caleb Serong
It’s hard for midfielders taken in the first 10 picks at the draft to exceed expectations, but that’s exactly what Serong did on his way to a Rising Star campaign. Eased into the senior side slowly (just 62% TOG in his first 4 games), Serong hit his straps and finished off the year with figures of 74% CBA presence in his 73% TOG (implying a full-time inside role) for a hefty 94-point adjusted averaged in the last 10 rounds of the season.
In his second year in the system and with a clean run at it this pre-season, you’d have to think those KPI’s improve or at least hold for Serong, right? Luke Ryan seems to think so, revealing that “Caleb Serong’s looking pretty good at the moment, I think. He’s dominating clearances. He’s looking like he’s taken his game to another level again” and that’s pretty much all I need to hear. With 4 (adjusted) scores over 115 in his debut season, Serong simply needs to be part of your GPP player pools on Fremantle-friendly DFS slates for the upside alone.
3. Adam Cerra
Unlike Serong, Cerra wasn’t so comfortable in his position on Fremantle’s midfield totem pole, spending time across half-back and on a wing in addition to his inside work. Honestly, his KPI’s were a mess, and the inconsistent role bred inconsistent output – Cerra’s 4 (adjusted) scores over 110 AF last year was counterbalanced by 6 scores south of 70.
Therein lies Cerra’s DFS upside in 2021. Fremantle’s midfield coach Josh Carr was bullish on his inside prospects this year, confirming that “at this stage his role will be minutes inside as a midfielder and being one of our starting mids every week. We rate him really highly as an inside midfielder.” during a late-January interview. No more jumping between positions, no more fighting for scraps on a wing. Hit him hard in DFS to start the season, and keep doing so until his price adjusts.
4. Sean Darcy
The Dockers have put in all their chips on Darcy in the ruck and it’s time for the big unit to return some dividends. He burst onto the AFL scene in his debut 2017 season with 8 excellent games at a clip of 84 AF, but his body has let him down since with almost as many games missed through injury (28) as he’s played (33) in that stretch.
Unfortunately, another pre-season has been marred by injury for the sizable ruckman, missing a month of crucial training with a knee injury that required 2 weeks in a leg brace. Not good.
If Darcy can’t stay on the park and provide us with DFS value that way (he averaged 89 over the last 3 rounds of 2020), then we can turn our attention to opposition rucks – they were 11 points better off in games against Freo without Darcy last season.
5. Luke Ryan
The silver lining to Fremantle’s key defender crisis was the ascension of Luke Ryan as an All-Australian defender, who posted a career-high average of 88 AF even with a move to a lockdown role. A big part of this was his continued excellence in the intercept game despite the positional change, dethroning McGovern as the league leader after finishing 2nd behind him in 2019.
Ryan has always scaled with the marks statistic over his career, averaging a monster 122 AF when racking up double-digit mark numbers, and 105 with even a modest 7+ to his name. So there’s huge upside if you accept the following logic; with elite lockdown defenders in Pearce and Hamling fit, we can expect a return to a dedicated intercept marking role for Ryan in 2021. Prioritise him in DEF-friendly match-ups (especially against teams like Adelaide, Collingwood and Richmond, whose defensive schemes allow a ton of easy marks to defenders).
- Picking the last defender for Fremantle’s best 22 was hard. Cox and Duman both stood up when required during an injury crisis last year, but leaves them too tall overall. Stephen Hill would be a walk up start if he could be trusted to walk – his calves are still troubling him this pre-season. Conca gets the nod early doors because he can play both rebounding and lockdown modes, but be aware that so much can change here.
- Brayshaw was super consistent in 2020, and uncharacteristically so based on his surname and much-maligned brother. Filled a hybrid role for the Dockers last year, but if that ever gets a reliable inside slant, go hard on him in DFS. Averaged 102 with 35%+ CBA presence last year compared to 79 without.
- Tucker was humming along before a serious hamstring injury last year, but the Dockers love what he gives them in terms of size, aggression and defensive work at CBA’s. Throw him into that mid-price midfield group if he’s over the soft tissue problems.
- Fremantle started the year with Mundy and Fyfe both playing hybrid M/F roles but finished the year with differing stances on how to manage the veterans during an aggressive rebuild. Over the last 5 rounds Fyfe attended just 55% of CBA’s and rested forward, while Mundy had a full-time inside job with a CBA presence of 74% that matched his modest 70% TOG. And it worked, with Fyfe averaging 96 and Mundy ticking over at 92 AF in the second half of the year. Who knows what effect the 20-minute quarters and reduced interchanges has on that thinking though, so I’ll be tracking their early-season rotations for further DFS clues.
- The Dockers have already confirmed that Walters will be playing as a permanent forward in 2021, just as he finished last season (where he averaged 64% CBA presence in the first half of the year compared to just 6% in the second). He was 30 points worse off after the swap so I don’t have a lot of interest in Son Son in DFS this year.
- Liam Henry has reportedly come back not only fitter and stronger, but with vastly improved endurance. He’ll dwarf last year’s 43-point average if he’s fit and firing.
- Fremantle let their wingmen run around for longer than their bulls, which is why we saw a few big games out of Brayshaw and Cerra even when they didn’t get CBA’s. Acres and Aish are the likely starters in those roles and I’ll be targeting them in soft match-ups when the price is right.
Thanks to Morts at DFS Australia for his all awesome tools, plus websites such as FanFooty, DT Talk/The Traders, Footywire, AFL Tables, Draft Central, AFL Ratings, Daily Fantasy Rankings, @Baked_Beams on Twitter and DT Live for their various stats and references.