One of Fremantle’s pre-season mantras has been to make themselves harder to play against. How long is it going to take to add that they also need to make themselves easier to play alongside?
Two examples from Saturday’s 50-point loss to Port Adelaide: a couple of minutes into the third quarter, David Mundy makes an uncharacteristic decision and skill error.
He goes short to Brandon Matera midfield and Port’s Justin Westhoff finds a way to spoil the ball. Turnover.
Jared Polec fetches the spill and fires a handball to Riley Bonner.
Bonner by hand to Westhoff, Westhoff by hand to Jack Watts, Watts by hand to Steven Motlop, who gives to Chad Wingard, who flicks the ball to Todd Marshall, who kicks the goal from the line.
Once the turnover happened, Port Adelaide’s ball use made it impossible for the Dockers to defend.
Second example: later in the term, Nathan Wilson executes a brilliant kick-in after a point and finds Bailey Banfield inside the centre square.
Banfield’s handball isn’t perfect but is good enough for Hayden Ballantyne to fetch.
He hits Cam Sutcliffe by hand streaming goalwards with Nat Fyfe isolated one-on-one ahead of him inside the attacking 50m. It’s a shot on goal waiting to happen. Somehow the Dockers make a hash of it.
Sutcliffe’s kick isn’t great but is made harder by Fyfe not coming towards him, placing a Port defender between the ball and its target.
Fyfe’s movement wasn’t great, but his options weren’t helped by Matt Taberner dragging his opponent Tom Clurey into the vicinity as he ran back towards goal.
There is a contest, a turnover and no score.
There is no one thing that matters absolutely in the AFL.
Everything matters. The thing you value less than others becomes a competitive disadvantage that other teams use to beat you.
The goal you stop has an arithmetic value of six points on the scoreboard, but equally the one you should kick but fail to has an arithmetic value of at least minus six points, minus 12 if the opposition kick a goal off the turnover.
When Marshall goaled at the start of the third it was Port’s ninth and their seventh from a Dockers turnover.
Fremantle had kicked one off Port turnovers by the same stage. The difference in scores off turnover was 37 points.
The margin in the game at that point was 28 points.
A difference of that magnitude in any area of an AFL game will be the competitive advantage that decides the game.
There is evidence that the Dockers have started to realise their inadequacies with ball in hand. Last year, beset by a plague of turnovers inside their defensive 50m, they elevated Luke Ryan into their team and recruited Wilson at the end of the season. Over summer, realising they fumbled too often, they went to the Perth Wildcats for help in skill and ball-handling drills.
e saw very early evidence of the benefits of this in the JLT Community Series.
But other evidence suggests they continue to tolerate routine skill errors, particularly by foot.
Bradley Hill was a runaway winner in the club’s best and fairest last year when his disposal in the back half of the season was average, to put it nicely.
Danyle Pearce, soon to turn 32 and 255 games into a very good AFL career, is another who gets on the nerves of Fremantle supporters who believe he misses targets that he should hit far too often.
Dockers fans lament the absence of a potent forward, but is it actually realistic to expect an attack to score heavily receiving the service the forwards get from players kicking it to them?
In short, Fremantle need to finish their work better.
Otherwise most decent opponents will finish them off as Port did on Saturday.