Latest News

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Lachie Neale hole is bigger than you think in Fremantle’s midfield

Trading Lachie Neale to Brisbane was a case of short-term pain for long-term gain at Fremantle in both list balance and team performance.
But that doesn’t mean replacing him will be easy, particularly this season.
The Dockers wanted to keep Neale but ended up granting his trade request in order to get the necessary draft picks to bring key forward Jesse Hogan across from Melbourne.
They filled a position they had needed to address for years by doing so, and with midfielders like Andrew Brayshaw and Adam Cerra coming through the ranks they would bet on someone stepping up to replace Neale’s output by the time they’re back in contention.
That’s all great long-term, but a look at the numbers suggests the hole left by Neale in the midfield is going to take some serious filling.
The fact Neale racked up a lot of possessions wasn’t a secret, but his 331 contested touches ended up being 11.1 per cent of his team’s total for the year in the statistical category, according to HPN Footy.
Only two other players in the league collected a larger share of their team’s contested touches last season - Patrick Cripps (13 per cent) and Tom Mitchell (11.3 per cent). You can imagine what would happen if you took Cripps out of Carlton’s midfield and in Mitchell’s case at Hawthorn, we’re about to find out.
The other big contested ball winners at the Dockers are no surprise - Nat Fyfe sat at 8.1 per cent, and David Mundy at 7.7 per cent. Things drop off quite steeply after that.
Contested possessions aren’t everything but somebody needs to win the ball in tight, and Fremantle have shown that they’re not at a stage where they can rely on just using the ball well enough to pick their way through their opponents. Fyfe is a beast around the contest and will hopefully get another full season out of his body, so his production will lift in Neale’s absence, but Mundy’s not getting any younger.
Bailey Banfield will be part of the answer, you would expect. He contributed 4.2 per cent of Freo’s contested possessions last season and averages 6.3 a game. The Claremont product did a lot of run-with roles in his first season, so may need to be released to hunt in tight a bit more.
Connor Blakely ranks elite for contested ball over his career, per AFL Stats Pro, but has been really effective at half-back in recent seasons. Moving him to a more permanent on-ball roll will be robbing Peter to pay Paul a bit, but sometimes Paul needs to be paid.
Then there’s the natural progression of Brayshaw (5.6 contested possessions per game) and Cerra (5.4) - added together they still wouldn’t have equalled Neale’s output last year, but it’s a wait and see in 2019.
Ross Lyon is a fan of Allan Jeans’ three phases concept of footy: the ball is in dispute, we have the ball, or they have the ball.
When you lose a bloke who contributes so heavily to the first of those phases, it’s going to take a fair bit of work to fix the deficit, and in a year where the pressure will really start to ramp up he’ll need to find a solution early.


1. Lachie Neale - 11.1%
2. Nat Fyfe - 8.1%
3. David Mundy - 7.7%
4. Michael Walters - 5.3%
5. Bailey Banfield - 4.2%
6. Ed Langdon - 4.1%
7. Adam Cerra - 3.8%
8. Alex Pearce - 3.5%
9. Luke Ryan - 3.3%
10. Andrew Brayshaw - 3.2%