The days tick by, the AFL season edges closer, and the Mongrel Season Previews are gathering steam.

Teams are now back at training, working off the post-Christmas break turkey and beer, and as we work through January, our sights slowly turn toward footy.

Over the final stages of 2021, I was slowly compiling questions relating to each team to include in our season previews. There were so many questions in need of addressing.. When I finally sat down and started the previews, it quickly became apparent these were going to be huge.

So, the way this is going to work is that the first five questions are available for free for each team, to whet your appetite and the next lot – between 10-15 – are for our members.

So, it’s a ploy to get people to join the site?

Ummmm, yeah, kind of, but it is also about providing value for those who support what we do here and enjoy the content – those who are already onboard. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I am aiming to provide the most comprehensive team previews out there, so if you like sinking your teeth into articles with a bit of meat on the bone, that’s what you’re getting here. No flippantly thrown together article with a stupid prediction at the end – I’ll leave that to those with restrictions on word counts and pressure to make space for gambling ads. We’re diving deep.

So, without further ado, here are The Big Questions about the Fremantle Dockers in 2022.

 

IS 2022 THE BREAKOUT SEASON FOR HAYDEN YOUNG?

Injury has not been kind to Hayden Young through his first couple of seasons in the league.

After five games in his debut season, the potential star managed just eight in 2021, hampered by a serious hamstring injury that completely ruined his season. It was another frustrating blow for Freo, who seem to have the carpet pulled out from under them by injury them every time they start to find their feet.

What we have been able to glean from watching Young in his limited games is that he is capable of playing an all-round style across half-back. One week, he has 20 touches, the next ten marks, the next eight tackles. Working primarily from the defensive fifty, he adds a touch of class to a team that often finds itself pushing hard forward on hard work and scrapping. That’s not a bad thing, but a nice balance between toughness and finesse is what puts the opposition back on their heels, and Young has shown glimpses of that finesse.

To be completely honest, I did not expect too much from Young once he returned from his hamstring injury in Round 19  last season. Surprisingly, I was right… for a week. After such a long layoff, I wondered whether Young would spend the remainder of the season getting some much-needed experience under his belt but adding little else. He did get that experience, but the level of his play from Round 20 onwards really gave me pause. He did not look like a bloke that had missed 15 weeks of footy. He looked settled, composed, and yes – he looked skilful.

This is not a knock on Freo – they have built a list brimming with young talent ready to take them to the next level, but over the last few seasons, the teething problems and turnover has meant that their game style has turned out to be messy. Sometimes effective, yes, but oftentimes it was a mess. They were good in the contest, but lacked classy ball users to capitalise on the hard stuff.

Players like Hayden Young help with the clean up of that mess.

As with so many Fremantle players, staying healthy is the key for Young. There is no doubt in my mind that he will soon establish himself as a mainstay in the Freo lineup – injury is the only thing that has prevented that thus far – and when he does, I would not be at all surprised to see the team use him as their preferred option for rebounding out of defence.

Given that, what could we be in store for if Young gets a solid run of games under his belt?

He is a 20-disposal per game half-back. He has it written all over him. Should Justin Longmuir prefer a bit of his class going forward, a move to the wing here and there would not be a bad one. His intercept work is solid and he looks like a player willing to take on responsibility. Some need it thrust upon them – I reckon Young is the sort of player that will just take it as his own at the first opportunity.

Add 6+ intercepts and 5+ rebound 50s to his 20 touches in 2022, and Fremantle will have another of their young stars joining the likes of Brayshaw, Darcy and Serong as building blocks for the future. We have been robbed of seeing what Young can do at the elite level thus far. His body has betrayed him early in his career. If he gets right, and things start to click for him, physically, we may be in for something special in 2022.

 

WHAT ARE THE 2022 CEILINGS FOR ANDREW BRAYSHAW AND CALEB SERONG?

They’re high. And the more I think about it, these two blokes may even smash through them this season.

Brayshaw has nine games with 30+ disposals. Eight of them came in 2021. He has made the leap many were expecting and is poised to become the number one man in the Fremantle midfield. I am not proclaiming Nat Fyfe is dead by any means, but he does have the torch in his hands, and within the next couple of years, he will hand it over. Brayshaw is most likely be the one to take it.

The Dockers were 5-3 in games where Brayshaw notched 30+ touches, and his ability to be composed and hit targets make him Freo’s most important midfielder at the moment. Fyfe is a monster, but his disposal… well, it fell off a cliff a little in 2021. Mundy is class and he has polish when he has the ball in hand, but he is 137 years old. As important as he is, Brayshaw is more important going forward. And then we come to Serong….

People, this bloke is a mongrel! And I mean that in the best possible way. He will play hard, accountable footy, he will crack in and win his own ball, and when the Dockers need something special, Serong is usually the one ready to provide it. His goal in the dying stages of Freo’s epic win over crosstown rival, West Coast, was as good as it gets. It was built on as much guts and determination as it was ability to finish, and in many ways, it summed up the type of player he is. Knocked down, he was the one who recovered. He was the one who made the play, and he was the one that kept on with the play to finish it while others around him watched. That, my friends, is a young man showing you the way.

Looking at their ceilings, you get the feeling that Brayshaw is poised for a run at an All-Australian berth. If not in 2022, then by 2023, for sure. His 28.4 disposals per game were +8.52 on his 2020 output, and with an increased tank and a fantastic young ruckman to gel with, the sky is the limit for him. His re-signing with Fremantle last season was possibly their biggest win in many years, list-wise.

Serong made a similar leap, but is a couple of years behind Brayshaw. He played all games and was +6.0 on his 2020 numbers in terms of disposals. With his clearance work improving (+1.39 per game) and his contested game and tackling ability also on the rise, Serong looks to be rounding into a wonderful young midfielder.

Initially, it was going to be the trio of Brayshaw, Serong, and Cerra, style complementing each other, that lifted the Dockers back into the finals frame, but can Brayshaw and Serong do it without the third piece to their puzzle? Can someone else fit the bill?

Fremantle’s 2022 ceiling should largely reflect that of Brayshaw and Serong. Both those guys should be knocking on the door of being rated amongst the league’s very best onballers by the time 2022 comes to a close. Brayshaw may already have a foot firmly wedged in that door.

If they’re able to do that, Freo may have a foot wedged in the door leading back to finals.

 

IS THE ACQUISITION OF CLARK AND THE LOSS OF CERRA A BIG DOWNGRADE?

On paper, it looks pretty significant, but could this simply be a difference in systems and opportunity, rather than a difference in actual ability? Cerra was a gun for Freo, but Clark wasn’t really afforded the same opportunity at Geelong. I’ll lay it out for you.

Jordan Clark was not given much leeway at Geelong. As part of a powerful, contending team, he learnt the hard way that spots in the senior team were not gifted, but earned.

I’m not sure Adam Cerra was afforded any form of tough love at Fremantle, and we’re about to find out which approach works best. Cerra never once had his position at Fremantle threatened – poor games, or quiet games, at least, were tolerated because they were looking at long term plans with him. Freo were nurturing Cerra to be a 250-game player.

Geelong were looking to win a flag.

The difference between the way these two youngsters were allowed to undertake their AFL apprenticeships was stark. I suppose this comes down to what Clark learnt at Geelong, and how he applies that to his new home. Does he work as hard, or harder than Cerra ever did? Is there a sense of desperation about him due to the fact he knows what it is like to have the rug pulled from under you when you have a poor outing? Or does that make him jumpy? A little too eager to remain involved when doing the team thing is called for?

Clark played just 11 games in 2021, after managing three in 2020. During that time, Cerra compiled 35 games. Whilst Cerra’s 23 touches per game in 2021 were good, Clark never really got the chance to get his feet under him. He was thrown around in different roles, and spent four of his 11 games sitting on the bench as a medical sub – statless in three of them – which drove down his averages.

Of the games Clark did play, he averaged 15 touches, which is not earth-shattering, but for a lot of the contests he was not played in the middle.

Do Freo give Clark the opportunities he was denied at Geelong? Does he now reap the benefits of the harsh Geelong system that sacrificed the development of their kids in the so-far unsuccessful pursuit of a premiership? Or were the Cats right to keep Clark out of the rotation? Is he just not as good as some thought he was?

2022 will provide many answers, and it will be a little harsh to judge Clark on his results from his first season with a new team, however, the opportunity to thrive will be offered. There will be nothing restricting him if he does the work and is good enough.

The real question is – is he good enough?

The other question is – did Freo do Cerra a disservice by not being harsher on him when he didn’t perform?

We’ll have some answers by about Round Ten.

 

IS MATT TABERNER AN ALL-AUSTRALIAN FORWARD IN WAITING?

I’m a Taberner believer.

Back in 2020, it was criminal that his name was not in the conversation around the AA team. He was doing very similar things to Charlie Dixon at Port Adelaide, but there were crickets when possible Freo AA selections were discussed.

To make the AA team, there needs to be some dominant performances – Tabs has a career-high of five goals – just once. He has kicked four on six occasions, but he needs a couple of those “sit up and take notice” outings, such as Dixon had in 2020. The Port ladder position, and the six-goal haul from Dixon hurt Tabs’ chances, but as someone who watched all games, he was more consistent than Dixon.

Taberner had over ten disposals per game and 1.81 goals.

Dixon had under ten disposals per game and 1.89 goals.

Yet when the team was announced, it was Dixon getting the nod.

Whilst Taberner’s contested marking wasn’t at the same level in 2021, he did elevate his goals per game to a clear career-high 2.3 per game. On average, that put him equal ninth in the league, but he can be better than that. With better delivery, we could potentially see Tabs slot around 2.5 to 2.8 goals per game. Numbers like that would see him right in contention for the Coleman Medal.

But what if he doesn’t get great delivery?

The great thing about Taberner is that he makes a bit of his own luck. He works hard up the field and thinks nothing of venturing to the wing as a “get out of jail” target. These players are some of the most valuable in the league, releasing the pressure on the defence as they search for a target to penetrate the rolling defences of their opposition. Players like Taberner, Luke Jackson and Max Gawn at Melbourne, and Aaron Naughton often present in such a way that the ball is drawn to them, and they attack it in the air as though they know they have to mark it to pull their team out of trouble. Taberner has been this guy for Freo, often targeted when the defence are looking for a way to break through.

However, it is within the forward fifty that we need to see Tabs starting clunking the ball a little more. He did it in 2020 – he is highly capable – but Fremantle, at times, have been really messy going inside 50. Fyfe had a bad season by boot, and many of the outside players just continually missed targets or failed to kick to their teammates’ preferred position. It was almost as though they were secretly working against their forwards and it must have been frustrating as hell to lead to.

With Taberner controlling the air, the Dockers will be a serious threat. Playing closer to goal and averaging around 2.5 contested marks a game, he will provide a reliable target (at least in terms of marking) in the attacking area. What happens from there… well, he was inaccurate at one stage, but from what I have seen over the past couple of years, his goal kicking has improved.

When he starts rolling in 2022, Fremantle supporters should start making some noise about his AA credentials. Not just the squad of 40 again – been there, done that – but as a key forward in the final team. He’s 28-years-old. He e is in his prime. His time is right now, and he needs to make people take notice.

 

WHAT DO THE DOCKERS DO WITH NAT FYFE?

I’m going to ask for a little leniency here, as I may ramble… he says as part of an seven-thousand word season preview for one damn team.

Is playing Nat Fyfe across half-forward when he is not on-ball the answer? And if that is your answer, what are you basing it on?

People seem to be under the impression that Fyfe going forward will result in goals, however, recent history has proven quite the opposite, and I haven’t even begun to factor in his recent bouts of inaccuracy

Over at Richmond, there is a prevailing school of thought that Dustin Martin will go forward in the back portion of his career and be a success. I agree.

There is also that perception of Dangerfield at Geelong pulling it off. Again, I agree.

But with Fyfe… I am just not so sure. Dusty and Danger have runs on the board in this regard. Fyfe does not. He has great hands and will win the footy, but his kicking for goal (somewhat vital when you are a forward target, right?) has been lacking. He has only averaged over a goal per game twice in his career. In contrast, Danger and Dusty have done it a combined 20 times. You cannot just expect him to go forward and immediately play as the role of goal kicker when he has not been able to successfully pull it off to date.

So, what are the other options, then?

Here’s where the leniency comes in – could Fyfe at half-back grant Fremantle a vast amount of riches? He’d be a solid intercepting option, provide great run out of defence, and if given cover by fellow defenders, would be able to freelance up the ground to wreak havoc through the midfield. His presence could also free up Hayden Young to work up the ground on occasion.

I know I am dealing with pretty hefty hypothetical situations at the moment, but in a world where Fyfe going forward seems to be the consensus when he is not playing in the middle, I am looking more at prolonging his career, giving him the chance to find plenty of the footy without sacrificing his body too much, and being able to pick off errant kicks inside fifty using those beautiful hands of his.

In 2021, we saw both Jack Ziebell and Dyson Heppell – respected club captains – make the move to half-back. No disrespect intended to those blokes, but Fyfe is a level or two above. He has the capacity to be the best player on the park irrespective of the position he is in. Whilst Fyfe will no doubt play some big midfield minutes, dismissing him as a potential defensive option when he has so many of the attributes at his disposal, and advocating for him to be forward when the main weapon of that position has been somewhat lacking seems a little… short-sighted.

Anyway, even if I am way off base here, I think it is worth considering as the rigours of the midfield continue to take their toll on him.

 

And that’s it for non-members. The next 15 questions are for those members who support us. I want these to be the biggest season previews you’ll read and am determined to give value for money. Some sites will give you lip service about your team – I will be diving deep. The Mongrel does the work… always. Want to join us?

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