The Way-Too-Early 2013 Preview: Fremantle


After finishing 6th in 2010, Fremantle would’ve expected to push for a top four placing the following year. A horrid run with injuries and disappointing results, including seven straight losses to end the season, instead left the Dockers in 11th place at the end of 2011. In the dark of the night, and no doubt after some sort of Ocean’s 11 and The Italian Job marathon, the powers that be at Fremantle decided to snatch out of contract coach Ross Lyon from St Kilda’s unexpecting hands. It was a genuine “oh snap!” moment that nobody saw coming.

Lyon came over to the Western side of the country with the promise of installing the defensive and accountability based approach to football he had implemented at St Kilda. Reaction was mixed. Some thought departed coach Mark Harvey had been treated poorly, while common complaints about the “boring” style of Lyon led teams abounded. Others pointed to St Kilda’s enviable win/loss ratio and stated the end justifies the means, while some took St Kilda’s failure to win any of their Grand Final appearances as some sort of football karma, evidence that you couldn’t win the flag with such “negative” football. Everyone has an opinion when it comes to Ross Lyon, and he might just be the single most divisive individual in the entire league.

After a slow start under Lyon in 2012, Fremantle rampaged home, finishing the home and away season with eight wins from their last nine outings, bulldozing a more fancied Geelong at the G in their elimination face off, before finally coming unstuck against the Crows the following week. Over that period, the Dockers showed that they could match it with anyone.

2012 Key Statistics

Fremantle 2012 Offensive
Average per Game Competition Rank
Disposals 353.9 11th
Contested Possessions 145.6 5th
Clearances 36.8 12th
Inside 50s 49.1 12th
Marks Inside 50 11.1 11th
Hitouts 44.9 2nd
Goals 13 12th


Fremantle 2012 Defensive
Average per Game Competition Rank
Points Against 76.86 2nd
Inside 50s Conceded 46.8 2nd
Marks Inside 50 Conceded 8.5 1st
Tackles 69.4 3rd


Fremantle 2012 Offensive/Defensive Differentials
Total Competition Rank
Inside 50s Opponent Differential(Total Inside 50s minus Total Inside 50s conceded) 55 10th
Marks Inside 50 Opponent Differential(Total Marks Inside 50 minus Total Marks Inside 50 conceded) 8.5 1st

What are they great at?

Say what you will about Ross Lyon, the man produces results defensively.

Fremantle Defensive Averages and Competition Rankings
Points Against Tackles Inside 50s Conceded Marks Inside 50 Conceded
2011 97.95 (9th) 72.9 (2nd) 52.3 (9th) 11.6 (10th)
2012 76.86 (2nd) 69.4 (3rd) 46.8 (2nd) 8.5 (1st)

The Dockers saw vast improvements in nearly every major defensive category under their newly appointed coach, ranking among the top two in points against, inside 50s conceded and marks inside 50 conceded per game. Make no mistake, Fremantle make their opponents work for everything.

What are they good at?

Another trait of Lyon led teams is hardness at the footy, and this was no different in 2012. The Dockers improved from being the 9th best contested possession side in 2011 to the 5th best in 2012.

What do they need to improve?

There are a couple of key areas Fremantle need to address if they are to become one of the truly elite teams in 2013, and unsurprisingly, they relate to their offensive output.

On the back of real life giant Aaron Sandilands, Fremantle trailed only their stately rivals the Eagles in hit-outs. The problem is the Dockers gained no real advantage from this dominance, finishing a paltry 12th for clearances. There appears to be a serious disconnect between Sandilands and his teammates in the middle.

The Dockers are below average in the major offensive categories, ranking 12th in both inside 50s and goals per game, and 11th for marks inside 50. It isn’t as if they are without the cattle up there either. Matthew Pavlich has been among the competitions best forwards for a long time, and finished a solitary goal behind Jack Riewoldt for the Coleman Medal last season. The Dockers captain also finished 7th for marks inside 50.  Christopher Mayne is a more than capable second option, kicking 39 goals, and Hayden ‘I’m about as popular as Polio and am legally forbidden from stepping foot in Geelong’ Ballantyne added 31 as well. The problem isn’t a lack of ability from those up front, which means the problem probably stems from the midfield.

The first problem is delivery from the midfield. Put simply, Fremantle have to put the ball in the path of their capable forwards more often. It’s no coincidence their inside 50s, marks inside 50s, and goals rankings are all bunched together, because they are all interrelated. Of course, even more important than getting the ball forward is getting the ball forward efficiently. Bombing the ball inside the forward arc will lead to problems against any good side, who will simply swarm the forward targets, overwhelm them with sheer numbers, then run the ball out and probably shove down your throat at the other end (Sydney is exceptional at this).

The second problem is goals from midfielders. The Dockers don’t get many. Not one midfielder came close to averaging a goal a game in 2012. Stephen Hill, a prime goal kicking candidate from the midfield given his game breaking speed and sublime foot skills, could only manage 10 goals for the entire season. The very best teams routinely get goals from their midfielders, and this is something Fremantle must add to their bow.

What are they bad at?

I really can’t stress enough how bad they are at taking advantage of their advantage in the ruck.


Giant Advantage?

No really listen, this Sandilands thing is almost inexplicable.

Fremantle Hitouts and Clearances in 2012
Games Avg Hitouts Avg Clearances
With Sandilands 14 50.28 36.85
Without Sandilands 10 38.9 36.6

Fremantle receive a significant boost in hitouts won when Sandilands plays, but nearly no improvement in their clearance numbers. It isn’t a new thing either:

Fremantle Hitouts and Clearances in 2011
Games Avg Hitouts Avg Clearances
With Sandilands 13 42.69 35.38
Without Sandilands 9 39.77 38.77

It can’t be attributed to injury either, as it is a similar story when Sandilands plays the majority of the year and makes the All-Australian team.

Fremantle Hitouts and Clearances in 2010
Games Avg Hitouts Avg Clearances
With Sandilands 21 41.62 34.66
Without Sandilands 3 23.33 32

The good news, or bad news depending on who you support, is that the Dockers began to turn around their clearance issues toward the end of last year. They won the clearance battle in five of their last six games with Sandilands in the ruck. Turning their hitout advantage into a clearance advantage is a must if they are going to seriously challenge.


Will Ryan Crowley murder someone?

The Fremantle tagger has taken over the recently departed and now on-television-as-some-sort-of-weird-look-what-we-can-get-away-with-joke Cameron Ling as chief tagger in the land. Alongside shampoo, he is the only known irritant to Gary Ablett Jnr. I actually think Ablett hate watches Fremantle games whenever possible, just so he can hate watch Crowley.

*Ablett watching Crowley tag Judd at home with friends*

Ablett: This is rubbish! He is manhandling him.

Friend 1: It’s Juddy, he can handle the attention

Friend 2: Appears he handles it better than others…

*Friend 1 and 2 snigger at their sly dig. Ablett, eyes unmoved from the television, indicates with his hand toward Brownlow hanging from his neck*

Friend 2: It’s just a joke man…

Friend 1: You should probably stop wearing that in the shower.

Ablett: He keeps holding him behind play! Blow the whistle umpy!

Friend 2: Nothing in that.


Friend 1 and 2: ……………..

Ablett: He just pulled a knife out on Judd!

Friend 1: ….. what are you talking about Gaz?

Ablett: I know what I saw! The umpire wasn’t paying attention; Crowley pulled out a knife and threatened Judd with it.

Friend 2: This joke is worse than mine from before.

Ablett: I’m not joking! Give me the remote, I’ll rewind it. There was definitely something shiny in his hand.

Friend 1: You are insane.

Friend 2: He is right you know, you gotta relax Gaz. You’ll lose your hair.

*Ablett, eyes unmoved from the television, again indicates toward the Brownlow hanging from his neck*

Will Hayden Ballantyne be murdered?

I get the impression Ballantyne would actually enjoy the knowledge that he goaded someone into attempted murder. It would be like a badge of pride.

Anthony Morabito

Spare a thought for Morabito, who recently underwent a third knee reconstruction in as many years. It’s disappointing for him, Fremantle, and football fans in general. Morabito has enormous talent, and hopefully we’ll see it again sooner rather than later.


With another pre-season and more familiarity between coach and players, it isn’t inconceivable to think the problems that plagued Fremantle out of the gate last year might be in rear view mirror. Their defensive nature alone may be enough to ensure a top eight placing in 2013, indeed finals should, and I imagine would, be the bare minimum expectation, and if there is any offensive improvement then chances are Fremantle will be fighting it out for one of those coveted top four spots.

The midfield is where the improvement has to come. Whatever they’ve been doing at stoppages over the past few years has been mediocre at best, which is terrible given their strength in hitouts. Injury has hampered most of the Dockers key midfielders over the past few years, so keeping Sandilands, Mundy, Barlow, Fyfe and Hill healthy at the same time should led to improvement based on continuity and familiarity alone. Those same players have to directly impact the scoreboard more as well, as last year they offered scant support in this regard to Pavlich and company. If they can do this, without dropping too much defensively, then a top four finish is very achievable.

About Adam Ritchie

My name is Adam. I started watching football with two fellow parapsychologists in an abandoned firehouse. When we’re not watching footy, we’re running our own pest control business. What do you mean I stole that from Ghostbusters?


  1. Peter Schumacher says

    I have found all of these commentaries insightful and interesting and marvel at your knowledge and depth of analysis.

  2. Wonder how the Dockers stats would have looked for their last half of the season. They took that long to come to terms with Lyon’s approach and start to believe in themselves.
    I think this is one team where the stats cannot be interpreted literally. Pavlich, Ballantyne and Mayne make an effective forward line. Mundy, Fyfe, Hill are the nucleus of an elite midfield. Barlow is a workhorse like Priddis and similarly can’t kick.
    The backline is short a tall backman, and is very dependent on McPharlin. They pinch hit McPhee at CHB but have lost him now.
    My reading is that the defensive stats look good because Lyon typically pushed his midfield deep. When they ran it out the forwards were often caught 2:1.
    My reading is that like my Eagles they could be a Top 4 side in 2013 if their older players bodies hold out – Pavlich, McPharlin and Sandilands. History says that the plane travel takes 50 games off WA players – so its a big if.

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