This is the best-trained team of 2022. Here’s why they’re a dark horse of September

After about a month and a half of anonymous football, this was a good week for a reminder, both for them and for anyone else: Fremantle are very, very good.

Seemingly destined to fall into that frustrating fifth-to-seventh range for the finals, which is still an outstanding improvement after six straight years of missing all eight, the Dockers’ win over the Western Bulldogs suddenly gives them more than a sneaky chance. to reach the top. four

However, no matter where they end up, they will be very difficult for either side to beat. Provided, of course, that it is a dry day.

It’s hard to get an idea of ​​what Freo does so well without seeing them live. If they come to his neighborhood anytime in the next few years, it’s worth heading to the place to see them do it. The Bulldogs won’t be the only team given a football lesson.

During recent losses to Melbourne, Carlton and Sydney, as well as a disappointing draw with Richmond, the Dockers’ style of ball movement made a notable change. They played more, attacked through the corridor much more daringly and tried to take games from the back of the head instead of the death-by-a-thousand-cut routine that proved so damaging to the Demons and Geelong in famous early-season victories. .

At Marvel Stadium, free from the wet conditions that hampered them last week, the Dockers’ trusty old method had returned: precise onside kicks, slingshot footy from the loose ball, and beautifully weighted passes to forward targets when they’re inside. from the 50s

Freo had 18 marks inside 50 for the game, his most of the season by far. The use of the ball was rarely exquisite, and rarer still since that all-important final kick.

From 50-for-50 for the game, that meant the Dockers were getting a good shot on goal for more than a third of their innings. That level of efficiency is just ridiculous, especially for a team as famous for its defense as this one.

Without a doubt, the Bulldogs’ defense, and just as importantly, their pressure on the ball carrier, is and was below par. But distinguishing a perfectly reasonable performance from a perfectly reasonable team was absolutely outstanding on Freo’s part.

The Dogs’ off-ball strategy is notably vulnerable to teams with elite kicking skills — think Sydney a few weeks ago or Brisbane the week before. They protect the space in front of the ball, but leave more room than most sides, almost daring the opposition to risk a chip pass.

Their infamous move of going 50 feet off the mark each time reflects their entire focus: They’re happy to give a team a side pass or gain incremental ground, because they’re confident they’ll eventually be able to force a long kick down the line, which is can safely neutralize. Then, from a rim throw-in, his famous contested ball strength kicks in to win it back.

The problem against Freo was that the Dockers simply refused to lose that risky kick. As such, that long kick down the line was rarely needed: when you’re hitting targets at 83 per cent efficiency for the match, an absurd number considering his kick mark ratio of 241-147, it would be a waste to throw it. . the boot.

The Dockers posted a season-high 140 points at Marvel Stadium, again with 130 against Melbourne, the only time they came close. 129 of them went unchallenged, as Freo continuously moved the ball with laser precision 15 meters forward, then 20 meters forward, until they met on the verge of 50.

One only has to look at the Dockers’ list of brand leaders to see how this game was played: Luke Ryan had 15, Heath Chapman 11, Jordan Clark 10, Brennan Cox 9. Then at the other end: Matt Taberner’s 8 in just half-and-change before a calf injury, and seven from Rory Lobb, who could hardly have done more to justify the Dogs’ desire to have him on the books next year.

From the latter duo, the good thing about the underrated Dockers duo is that when they’re in full flight, they drive into space better than most. Comparing them to the Bulldogs’ tall trio of Aaron Naughton, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Josh Bruce was a fascinating contrast: The home team expected and demanded that the ball sit on their heads so often that on the few occasions a Dog ran. on the ground looking to take an advantage, they kicked straight into a Dockers defender with the striker caught flat-footed.

Otherwise, it was just long, desperate bombs to outnumber, especially in the final period when the Dockers closed with the match under their control.

That, of course, is what got the Dockers off the ground against Melbourne in the wet last week: pressured and harassed from the moment they won the ball, they couldn’t get the ball into enough space, nor into the hands of their best users. . The result was Hail Marys of panic that the Dees’ defense delighted.

What was just as impressive were the Dockers’ efforts against the Bulldogs’ vaunted midfield brigade, and it’s here rather than their known strengths that makes this Freo team a true September dark horse.

Against Carlton at Marvel Stadium earlier in the season, the Dockers were at the end of a fearsome hideout. The punt count was 44-30 in favor of the Blues – 14-5 from direct snap – and the result was the kind of territory domination that not even Freo’s defense can handle.

With 64 inside 50 down to just 40, a 31-point Blues victory was probably the best they could have hoped for. What was noticeable against the Bulldogs was how much Freo had learned from it.

The Bulldogs still won the punt count 36-29 and 15-10 from center, not exactly like the Blues, but a count that usually results in a Red, White, and Blue victory. Contested possessions were also 133-104 in Dogs fashion: remember when that was seen as the catalyst for victory almost every time?

There was, of course, a key reason the Dogs were so unrestrained on contested ball: An underrated but critical part of the Dockers’ setup is their desire for midfielders to hold space. The Bulldogs often have two, even three, players vying for the ball at the bottom of the pack; it is rare to see Fremantle having more than one at a time.

Whether it’s Caleb Serong, Andrew Brayshaw, Will Brodie or anyone else, the rest fan out around them, a handball’s length away: Further out are Blake Acres, Nathan O’Driscoll and any number from their litany. enthusiastic media. have the ball in their hands.

It works both ways: When the Dogs won it, which was most of the time, the setup prevented the contest from spilling over, with the Dockers closing ranks and forcing that hopeful long ball that is manna from heaven for purple. back six.

But when Freo won it, and with eight clearances, nobody did it more than Serong, they suddenly had options open everywhere. It was usually a backwards handball to Hayden Young, Chapman, or Ryan, who proceeded to signal a pass. But at other times, when they sensed an opportunity, Brodie or Brayshaw would push it forward, through pressure from the Dogs.

Caleb Serong and Andrew Brayshaw of the Dockers celebrate.

Caleb Serong and Andrew Brayshaw of the Dockers celebrate. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Usually that would end up at the hands of David Mundy, who, in the closing weeks of his career, remains the top 50 kicker in the game. Not surprisingly, the Dockers’ forwards had plenty of options.

Also off the ball, the Dockers are expertly coached, and this is where Justin Longmuir’s genius becomes even clearer. Not only is it a perfectly set up web defense behind the ball, leaving no room inside the 50 with each midfielder doing his part to run and support, but things instantly open up the moment they regain possession.

Every time the Dockers intercepted, whether it was with a Ryan tag or just from ground level, their first thought was to move wide, in contrast to the last few weeks, when they looked to attack the running back more. This return to the old values ​​seems to suit them much better, opening up further spaces for their exceptional kicking abilities.

Of course, all of this could have been in vain if Freo hadn’t been ruthless in front of goal. But especially in the game setup in the first half, the Dockers kicked everything that came their way.

Front and center of it all was Lobb, who has rarely been seen as more crucial to the way Freo gets things done. With Taberner now prone to injury, Jye Amiss a few years away and Griffin Logue an admirable but limited auxiliary asset on offense, Lobb is the closest thing this team has to a spearhead.

There’s no question that the Dockers’ hopes for a flag in 2023, 2024 or 2025 will have a lot to do with whether he stays or, as expected, goes to the Bulldogs. His game on Saturday was as good as you could get from a tall striker in modern football.

Leading from the back, Lobb was too quick for Dogs rookie Sam Darcy and too long for Zaine Cordy when the switch was made. His first three marks set up fiendishly difficult set shots: the first kicking from just outside the 50, the second also off the wrong flank for a right foot.

He made everyone look easy. When she got a fourth down during the third quarter, she was kicking them like Carey.

Thereafter, a couple of misses prevented a big purse, and will likely cost him top honors on the field, but he will only have grown in Luke Beveridge’s estimation before a possible reunion next year.

When all is said and done, there were two plays that confirmed the Dockers would not be challenged and exemplified the impact they can have in this final series, top four or none.

The first came midway through the third period, moments after a Josh Bruce goal cut the margin to 19 points. It seemed to be in play. But the Dockers would win the center clearance and force it wide to Nathan O’Driscoll, heavily hounded by a multiple All Australian on Jack Macrae.

Did the Dockers panic, like the Dogs had all day? No. He got the footy under his arm, burned through Macrae with great speed, jumped to 50 with two rebounds and sent a magnificent punt straight through the big sticks, grabbing the jumper as he did so.

It’s been a while since a foot injury cost him his place on this Freo team; but back for his first AFL game since Round 8, freshman Docker’s electric pace and outside career make him a huge asset to this team.

The second came soon after, with the Dogs again challenging. The Dockers outscored their opponents from a stoppage, a rarity for much of the day, and the ball found its way to Caleb Serong on the flurry.

His kick was, I’m not lying, the best of the season. On the run, with the dogs all around him, the pass from him to a Blake Acres he was carrying was unbeatable. Slower, taller, or shorter, and Ed Richards could have screwed up; later, and the Bulldog would have probably run over Acres.

Not just any team can make a kick like that look so easy. But Freo is not just any team.

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