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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Fremantle Dockers get a kick out of vast improvement in accuracy by foot

If football’s version of Dr Frankenstein was to piece together a player suited to the modern game, Nat Fyfe could easily be his prototype.
Size, strength and athleticism — the Fremantle captain has them in spades.
You can also throw in his attributes of courage, leadership, football smarts and uncanny ability to win the ball in contests.
But if there has been one minor knock on Fyfe throughout the first nine years of a glittering AFL career, it’s his kicking.
The flaw was most brutally exposed on the biggest stage of all in tricky conditions during the opening stages of the 2013 grand final defeat to Hawthorn and, as Champion Data statistics sourced by The West Australian this week detail, remains an issue that requires attention.
However, Fyfe hasn’t become one of the AFL’s modern greats by sitting on his hands.
The critically aware 26-year-old works fanatically on his craft and has committed to an extracurricular kicking program with a small group of younger teammates this year in a bid to sharpen his foot skills.
The player-driven program runs separately to full-team training sessions under the eyes of Fremantle development coach Marc Webb, the former Subiaco champion.
And it has played a role in the Dockers dramatically improving their kicking game and ball movement this year.
Much to coach Ross Lyon’s dismay, Fremantle were ranked 18th — last in the competition — by Champion Data in overall kick rating and field kick rating in 2017.
They were ranked 18th moving the ball inside 50m from defensive-50 chains and 16th from defensive-midfield chains.
This season, the Dockers rank fifth in both kick ratings, 11th for inside-50s from defensive-50 chains and fifth from defensive-midfield chains.
“Their ball movement has been horrific for a fair few years,” one Champion Data analyst told The West Australian.
“This year it has improved significantly from where they’ve come from.”
The cleaner and quicker transition into dangerous attacking areas has been vital in Fremantle boosting their scoring this season, particularly at home.
They average 75.8 points a game, up from 73.0 last season.
That number rockets up to 85.6 a game at Optus Stadium.
The Dockers had won six games up to their mid-season bye and are well-placed to eclipse last year’s overall tally of eight ahead of Sunday’s home game against lowly Brisbane.
Fyfe, who wins a remarkable 57 per cent of his possessions in contests, has been honing his technique in the Webb-run kicking program alongside emerging talents Connor Blakely, Ed Langdon and Ethan Hughes, among others.
The skipper still ranks below average across the competition for kick rating this season.
But his -1.1 per cent rating is at a career-best level and is a marked improvement on his past three seasons, including his 2015 Brownlow Medal-winning campaign.
Hughes’ sample size in just one match at AFL level this year is too small to consider, while Blakely (-2.3 per cent) has advanced since his first full season at the top level in 2016.
Langdon has played every game this season and is one of the most improved players at the club.
His +0.6 per cent kick rating is far better than the -9.5 per cent when he first broke into the senior team in the second half of 2016.
The addition of Nathan Wilson (+1.8) and emergence of Luke Ryan (+3.9) across half-back, as well as better output from experienced campaigners David Mundy (+4.1), Stephen Hill (+3.0) and Michael Walters (+3.3), among others, have greatly contributed to the Dockers’ improved ball use.
Fremantle’s extra-curricular kicking program is part of a wider focus on skills as the rebuilding Dockers continue to seek rapid development across the board.
It involves players practising their kicking action up to an extra 600 times a week — usually with smaller footballs or tennis balls — and is designed specifically to improve the mechanics of the kicking motion.
The players believe the keys to making the program successful are focus and repetition.
“You kick the footy all your life, but you can never kick it enough,” Blakely said.
“We’ve got a little club going and you’re always asking each other how you went after the game.
“It was something that we all wanted to improve because you can always be a better kick than what you are.”