This is the best trained team of 2022. That’s why I’m a dark horse of September

After about a month and a half of anonymous football, this was a good week to remember, for themselves as well as anyone else: Fremantles are very, very good.

Seemingly destined to fall into that frustrating fifth-to-seventh gap for the Finals – still a tremendous improvement after six consecutive eight years – the Dockers win over the Western Bulldogs suddenly offered them more than just a chance for the game. top four.

No matter where they go, however, it will be very hard to beat for any team around. Provided, of course, it is a dry day.

It’s hard to get an idea of ​​what Freo does so well without watching them live. If they come to your neighborhood anytime in the next few years, it’s worth going ashore to see them done. The Bulldogs won’t be the only team they give a soccer lesson to.

During recent losses to Melbourne, Carlton and Sydney, as well as a disappointing draw with Richmond, the Dockers’ ball movement style made a notable change. They played more, attacked through the corridor with much more courage and attempted to take matches by the scruff rather than death by a thousand routine cuts that proved so damaging to the Demons and Geelong in the famous early season wins. .

At Marvel Stadium, freed from the wet conditions that hampered them last week, the old reliable Dockers method is back: precise short kicks, turnover slingshot, and well-thought-out passes for forward targets when they are within 50.

Freo scored 18 out of 50 points for the game, the highest for the season by far. Playing the ball was rarely exquisite, and rarer still from that all-important final kick.

From 50 to 50 for the match, that meant the Dockers were getting a good shot on goal from over a third of their revenue. That level of efficiency is simply ridiculous, especially for a team as renowned for its defense as this one.

To be sure, the Bulldogs’ defensive – and equally important, their pressure on the ball carrier – is and was substandard. But for Freo it was absolutely exceptional to choose a perfectly reasonable performance from a perfectly reasonable team.

The Dogs off the ball strategy is notably vulnerable to teams with elite football skills – think Sydney a few weeks ago, or Brisbane the week before. They defend the space in front of the ball, but leave more empty spaces than most teams, almost challenging opponents to take the risk of a chip pass.

Their infamous move of going back 15 meters from the mark on each occasion reflects their entire approach: they are happy to give a team a side pass, or to incrementally gain from the bottom, because they are confident that they will eventually be able to force a long kick up the line, which can be safely countered. Then, from a throw-in, their famous contested ball strength comes into play to win it back.

The problem against Freo was that the Dockers simply refused to miss that risky kick. As such, that long kick on the line was rarely needed – when you’re hitting goals with 83% efficiency for the match, an absurd number considering their ratio of 241-147, it would be a waste to throw it out on the boat.

The Dockers scored 140 points at Marvel Stadium, again, the high of the season, with 130 against Melbourne the only time they came close. 129 of these were unchallenged, as Freo continually moved the ball with laser precision 15 meters forward, then 20 meters forward, until he was on the edge of 50.

You just need to look at the list of Dockers brand leaders to know how this game was played: Luke Ryan was 15, Heath Chapman 11, Jordan Clark 10, Brennan Cox 9. Then, on the other side: 8 from Matt Taberner 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 put him in the books next year.

About the latter duo, the great thing about the underrated Dockers duo is that, when in full flight, they fly into space better than most. Comparing them to the trio of Bulldogs in Aaron Naughton, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Josh Bruce was a fascinating contrast: the home team expected, and demanded, the ball to be put on the head so often that on the few occasions a dog traced back to. land trying to get an advantage, they kicked directly at a Dockers defender with the attacker caught off guard.

Otherwise, it was just long and desperate bombs outnumbered, especially in the latter period when the Dockers got stuck with the game in their custody.

This, of course, is what led the Dockers to free themselves against Melbourne in the wet last week: under pressure and harassed from the moment they won the ball, they were unable to get the ball into sufficient space, nor in the hands of their best users. The result was a panicked Ave Maria that the defense of the Goddesses feasted on.

What was equally impressive was the Dockers’ efforts against the much-vaunted Bulldogs midfield brigade – and it is here more than in their known strengths that make this Freo outfit a true September black horse.

Against Carlton at Marvel Stadium earlier in the season, the Dockers were at the end of a fearsome hiding from the guts. The count of remittances was 44-30 in favor of the Blues – 14-5 straight from the center – and the result was the kind of domination of the territory that not even Freo’s defense can cope with.

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

The Bulldogs still won the throw-in tally 36-29 and 15-10 from center – not quite the walloping of the Blues, but a tally that usually leads to a red, white and blue win. Even the disputed possessions were 133-104 in the manner of the Dogs: remember when he was seen as the catalyst for victory on almost every occasion?

There was, of course, a key reason why the Dogs were so rampant in the contested ball: an underrated but critical part of the Dockers setting is their desire to have room for midfielders. Bulldogs will regularly have two, even three, players pushing for the ball at the bottom of the pack – it’s rare to see Fremantle having more than one at a time.

Whether it’s Caleb Serong, Andrew Brayshaw, Will Brodie or someone else, the others flock around him, at handball distance: further out are Blake Acres, Nathan O’Driscoll and any number of their litany of passionate midfielders have the ball in their hands.

It works both ways: when the Dogs won it, more often than not, the set-up prevented any spread from the match, with the Dockers closing ranks and forcing forward that long and hopeful ball that is a godsend for the viola back six

But when Freo won – and with eight clearances, no one did more than Serong – they suddenly had options open everywhere. Usually, it was a backward handover for Hayden Young, or Chapman, or Ryan, who proceeded to locate a passage. But other times, when they sensed an opening, Brodie or Brayshaw would push it forward, through the dog press.

Dockers' Caleb Serong and Andrew Brayshaw celebrate.

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

It would usually end up in the hands of David Mundy, who, in the final weeks of his career, is still the best football within 50 of the game. No wonder the Dockers forwards were spoiled for choice.

Even without the ball, the Dockers are trained by experts – and this is where Justin Longmuir’s genius becomes even clearer. Not only is it a perfectly set up net defense behind the ball, leaving no room within the 50s with every midfielder doing their part to run back and support, but things open up immediately the moment they regain possession.

Whenever the Dockers intercepted, with a Ryan sign or just from the ground, their first thought was to move outside, as opposed to the last few weeks, when they tried to attack the corridor more. This return to old values ​​seems to suit them much better, opening up more distant spaces for their exceptional kicking skills to exploit.

Of course, all this could have been useless if Freo hadn’t been ruthless in front of goal. But especially in setting up the game in the first half, the Dockers kicked everything that happened to them.

At the center of it all was Lobb, who rarely seemed more crucial to the way Freo approaches things. With Taberner now prone to injuries, Jye Amiss just a few years away, and Griffin Logue an admirable but limited stop-gap in attack, Lobb is the closest thing to a spearhead of this team.

There is no doubt that the Dockers’ hopes of a flag in 2023, 2024 or 2025 will have a lot to do with it staying or, as expected, going to the Bulldogs. His match on Saturday was the best that could be seen from a tall striker in modern football.

Stepping away from the deep, Lobb was too quick for Dogs rookie Sam Darcy and too long in the arm for Zaine Cordy when the switch was made. His first three points have all set diabolically difficult set shots: the first just kicks off 50, the second also on the wrong band for a right foot.

It made them all look easy. When a fourth chance came during the third quarter, she was kicking them like Carey.

A couple of mistakes thereafter have prevented a big bag and will likely cost him man of the match honors, but he will only have grown in Luke Beveridge’s esteem before a possible union next year.

There were, in the end, two plays that confirmed the Dockers were not to be challenged and exemplified the impact they can have in this series of finals, top four or not.

The former came midway through the third term, moments after a Josh Bruce goal had brought the margin back to 19 points. She seemed to have left. But the Dockers would have won the midfield, and would have forced Nathan O’Driscoll out of the way, hotly pursued by an All Australian multiple in Jack Macrae.

Did the Docker panic like the Dogs had done all day? no he He slipped his foot under his arm, burned Macrae with pure rhythm, jumped to 50 with two rebounds and threw a gorgeous drop punt right through the big sticks, grabbing the jumper as he did it.

It’s been a while since a foot injury cost him his place in this team from Freo; But back for his first AFL game since round eight, Docker’s electric pace and first-year outside running make him a huge asset to this team.

The second came shortly after, with the Dogs challenging again. The Dockers overtook their rivals by a hiatus, a rarity for much of the day, and the ball came to Caleb Serong at the blast.

His football was, not a lie, the best of the season. On the run, with Dogs all around him, his passage to Blake Acres in office could not be improved upon. Any slower, higher or lower, and Ed Richards would have been able to spoil; later, and the Bulldog would probably have run over Acres.

Not just any team can make football like this look so easy. But the Freos are not just any team.