FREMANTLE’S forward line was an underrated weapon in the first half of the season, with the Dockers’ key talls complemented by a group of fast, exciting pressure smalls that gave them multiple avenues to goal.
Three games out from a breakthrough finals series, however, and it has become a pressing issue that needs attention if the Dockers are going to make an impact this September.
While a lack of firepower from their key forwards has been an obvious shortcoming in recent weeks, a drop off in pressure at ground level since the mid-season bye is just as concerning.
With those issues combined, the Dockers have been left with an attacking game that has been bottom four since the round 14 bye for overall scoring and the important measure of scores from turnovers.
Starting with firepower in attack, the Dockers rank No.18 in the AFL this season for goals by their top two goalkickers combined, with Rory Lobb (30) and Lachie Schultz (25) leading the way.
Coach Justin Longmuir conceded the club needed to address Matt Taberner’s cold run of form, which has seen him kick just three goals across his past four games, going goalless against Melbourne last Friday night.
A stint in the WAFL has even been raised as an option for the 115-game forward, who led the Dockers with 37 goals last season but has just 21 from 12 games this season.
The Dockers’ increasingly careful ball movement in recent weeks has not helped Taberner and Lobb, with Longmuir lamenting the unpredictability now evident among his players, who are getting caught between moving the ball fast or slow.
Fremantle champion Matthew Pavlich this week described the ball movement as becoming “robotic”.
“You can see the players are almost thinking about it too much,” Pavlich told SEN WA.
“Whether it’s the wet weather conditions or they’re trying to be a bit too robotic with the way they build the ball up to their forwards, it’s just making the likes of Lobb and Taberner’s life really challenging.”
At ground level, Fremantle’s forwards have prided themselves on their pressure this season, and the group excelled up to the round 14 bye.
The Dockers ranked top four from rounds one to 13 for forward 50 tackles (11.1 a game) and forward 50 pressure points (149.9). If there was a half chance to apply pressure to an opponent with the ball, the Dockers applied it.
While contenders have been lifting their pressure, the Dockers have been slipping.
They have gone from the No.4 team before the bye for both forward-half turnovers and scores from forward-half turnovers, to rank bottom four in both indicators from rounds 15-20.
As a result, the scores from overall turnovers have dried up from 50.3 points a game before the bye to 38.3 points a game since.
Longmuir acknowledged the pressure from his forwards was not at the same level as earlier in the season, but said it was an issue for the team all over the ground.
The key player in Fremantle’s pressure game in the first half of the season was Sam Switkowski, who hasn’t played since the round 14 bye.
The small forward has recorded 52.4 pressure points per game this season, which ranks No.2 of all general forwards behind Melbourne’s Alex Neal-Bullen. His 40.2 forward half pressure points per game ranks No.2 in the competition behind Adelaide’s Sam Berry.
Offensively, Switkowski was just as important for the Dockers before suffering a back injury, recording 2.0 score assists per game this season, which ranks No.1 in the competition.
The small forward’s importance has been laid bare in his absence, but the Dockers expect him to be available in time for the round 22 Western Derby. They will be hoping it is just in time to help the forward line become a weapon again.
Top two goalkickers combined for each side
105: GEEL Jeremy Cameron (54) and Tom Hawkins (51)
98: CARL Charlie Curnow (59) and Harry McKay (39)
81: SYD Lance Franklin (41) and Isaac Heeney (40)
78: RICH Tom Lynch (43) and Jack Riewoldt (35)
77: GC Mabior Chol (43) and Levi Casboult (34)
76: BRI Charlie Cameron (44) and Joe Daniher (32)
74: MELB Bayley Fritsch (43) and Kysaiah Pickett (31)
74: WBD Aaron Naughton (44) and Cody Weightman (30)
74: HAW Luke Breust (37) and Mitch Lewis (37)
74: STK Max King (46) and Tim Membrey (28)
71: ESS Peter Wright (47) and Jake Stringer (24)
66: COLL Brody Mihocek (34) and Jack Ginnivan (32)
64: ADEL Taylor Walker (42) and Darcy Fogarty (22)
61: GWS Toby Greene (35) and Jesse Hogan (26)
59: NM Cam Zurhaar (30) and Nick Larkey (29)
58: WCE Jack Darling (29) and Josh Kennedy (29)
58: PA Todd Marshall (39) and Mitch Georgiades (19)
55: FREM Rory Lobb (30) and Lachie Schultz (25)