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Saturday, April 6, 2019

Mark Duffield: Attack is Fremantle Dockers captain Nat Fyfe’s best form of defence

Ross Lyon would call this “fingernail-deep analysis” but I reckon it’s also stating the bleeding obvious.
If Nat Fyfe wants to shut the critics up about his defensive efforts, he needs to push forward harder and score, not push back more.
It has been quite amusing to read the reaction in recent days after comments from first Mick Malthouse and then Paul Roos over Fyfe’s defensive work rate. I have no doubt they both make a valid point.
AFL premiership coaches tend to know what they are talking about.
But for Fremantle, attack is the best form of defence when it comes to Fyfe. If he takes his goal output from under one per game — which is where he has been since 2014 — to close to two goals per match, no one is going to be complaining too much about his defensive effort.
The players we compare Fyfe to most are Dustin Martin and Patrick Dangerfield.
Martin hasn’t laid a tackle this year. Dangerfield has the same number of tackles (seven) as Fyfe, and needed 22 matches to amass the same number of rebound possessions from defensive 50 as Fyfe managed in 15 games last year.
Remember that moment on Thursday night when Danger surged out of the middle and kicked a goal against Adelaide? We see him do that a fair bit, don’t we? How often do we see him use that blistering pace to mow down a dangerous opponent? Nowhere near as often.
Most great players are great offensive weapons. The big difference between Fyfe and the other two right now is they score more.
Dangerfield kicked 69 goals in the 2017 and 2018 seasons, one more than Martin. Fyfe managed just 28.
The following is simplistic, but true.
If Fyfe had kicked two goals a game in every game last year, the Dockers would have beaten West Coast in round six and been less than a kick shy of Collingwood in round 23.
If he had kicked two goals last Sunday against Gold Coast, the Dockers would be 2-0 this year, not 1-1.
If Jesse Hogan turns into everything the Dockers dream he could be and kicks 60 goals this year, but nothing else changes about Fremantle’s attack, the Dockers might climb a couple of rungs on the ladder and that is about it.
But if Hogan kicks 40-odd and Cam McCarthy, Fyfe, Michael Walters and Matt Taberner all manage tallies in the 30s, the Dockers WILL play finals.
Neither Collingwood nor West Coast had a 50-goal forward last year. But Collingwood had six players kick 25 or more, the Eagles five.
Hogan’s presence in attack should make things easier for Fyfe to go forward and score.
Instead of going deep, trying to get a mismatch and taking a contested mark, Fyfe can let Hogan draw the defence’s focus and then come up at the ball carrier on a lead. Contested marks might be spectacular, but goals that are the result of a lead, mark and kick, happen way more often.
Anyone who saw Fyfe’s first half against North Melbourne in round one knows he is an absolute force of nature midfield. He is the best midfield aerialist we have seen since Anthony Koutoufides and a contested-ball clearance monster.
But he often attacks like a blunt object, bludgeoning the ball forward. The number of goals he kicks reflects that. It is time the Dockers “sharpened” their greatest attacking weapon.
Two goals a game from Fyfe and similar tallies from Hogan, McCarthy, Taberner and Walters will have the Dockers gracing the September stage for the first time since 2015.