FREMANTLE entered its fourth AFL Women’s campaign with little fanfare despite a six-win season in 2019, but backed it up with an unblemished 6-0 run to deliver what would have been a second straight preliminary final appearance. Having undergone a heavy list turnover in the wake of West Coast’s introduction to the league, the Dockers proved their resilience and shrewd list management skills to finish as the competition’s first ever undefeated side. With coach Trent Cooper adjudged the AFL Coaches Association Coach of the Year, and four stars named in the All-Australian squad, there is plenty to dissect out of the highs and lows of Fremantle’s season.
RECORD: 1st (B), 6-0 (1-0 finals), 154.7%
R1: defeated Geelong by 16 points
R2: defeated West Coast by 45 points
R3: defeated Collingwood by 3 points
R4: defeated St Kilda by 1 points
R5: defeated Brisbane by 18 points
R6: defeated Western Bulldogs by 15 points
SF: defeated Gold Coast by 70 points
While the 6-0 regular season record may make Fremantle’s season seem relatively straightforward, there were plenty of talking points to come from each fixture. Geelong provided a test first-up but could not hang with the Dockers for longer than three quarters, while West Coast supplied even less resistance in the maiden AFLW Western Derby. Fremantle’s second real test spawned a somewhat sketchy mid-season run, with Collingwood only just falling short of the sturdy home side, while St Kilda were unlucky not to come away with at least two points in a thriller at Moorabbin. It meant Brisbane had every chance to get up in Round 5’s clash between undefeated teams, but the Dockers duly returned to their best before another barnburner against the Bulldogs and an emphatic finals win against Gold Coast. For all the impressive form, it would have been interesting to see how the Dockers would have fared against the next-best sides among the final four; North Melbourne, Carlton, and Melbourne.
SEASON HIGH: Stamping authority in battle of the conference leaders
There was much hype surrounding the Round 5 fixture between Fremantle and Brisbane, with either side the only two left in the competition to boast undefeated records as leaders in their respective conferences. In the fortnight leading in, the Dockers let Collingwood and St Kilda within a goal of victory, so a big lift was required. At home, the hosts delivered a game-breaking first term with five goals to two to set up an unassailable lead, coasting home by 18 points to keep their perfect record in tact.
SEASON LOW: Being robbed of the opportunity to achieve more
This may seem like somewhat of a cop-out, but it is genuinely difficult to pinpoint any real lowlights among Fremantle’s season given the positives shown by its playing list, and the ultimately unblemished record. The only thing which takes away from it all is that the season was cut short, leaving an asterisk next to the feat of becoming the league’s first ever undefeated side, and the lingering unknown of whether the Dockers would have gone all the way for premiership success. While they were the undeniable flag favourites and already achieved so much, we cannot say for sure that the Dockers would have won it all – unfair is an understatement.
FIVE KEY PERFORMERS:
Kiara Bowers (17.6 disposals, 2.6 marks, 14.1 tackles, 3.7 clearances, 3.6 inside 50s, 4.9 intercept possessions, 323 metres gained)
Voted by her peers as the competition’s most courageous player, the Fremantle vice-captain enjoyed another stellar year as one of the elite midfielders to earn All-Australian squad status. Bower’s effort in leading the competition for tackles – one shy of 100 in total – and her side for disposals, metres gained, contested possessions, intercept possessions, and inside 50s was remarkable, helping her blossom from an underrated workhorse to an bonafide star.
Ebony Antonio (12.1 disposals, 71% efficiency, 3.3 marks, 4.3 tackles, 2.7 inside 50s, 3.4 score involvements, 4 goals)
One of the classiest players in Fremantle’s squad is Antonio, who continued to bring her game-breaking ability to the fore in her fourth AFLW campaign. The foundation Docker was again lively going forward, mixing her time between half-forward and the midfield to good effect across all seven of her side’s games. The 28-year-old hit the scoreboard in four seperate outings, earning All-Australian squad honours in the process.
Sabreena Duffy (8.3 disposals, 1.4 marks, 1.6 tackles, 1 inside 50, 4 score involvements, 12 goals)
In what was a stellar season for the second-year forward, Duffy finished as the competition’s leading goalkicker (12), while also being named in the All-Australian and 22 Under 22 squads – all at just 20 years of age. A live-wire around the big sticks, Duffy may undergo quiet patches, but proved her match-winning ability with three bags of multiple goals across seven games. The most impressive was her 4.4 effort against Brisbane, with all-but two of her 10 disposals registering a score.
Gemma Houghton (11.1 disposals, 3.7 marks, 2.9 tackles, 3.1 inside 50s, 271 metres gained, 4.9 score involvements, 4 goals)
While forwards are sometimes only as good as the service provided from midfield, Houghton shredded the old adage as one the most important players to Fremantle’s structure this year. The 179cm forward target possesses great athleticism, using it to dominate in the air and double back quickly towards goal to match the Docker’s transition style to a t. The 26-year-old may still prove quite raw in her finishing, but has all the makings to continue as a dominant new-age key forward.
Hayley Miller (13.9 disposals, 2.9 marks, 4.1 tackles, 4 clearances, 3.6 inside 50s, 300 metres gained)
The perfect fold for Bowers in the engine room, Miller returned career-best numbers in almost every key stat in her fourth AFLW season as a mainstay through midfield. The 24-year-old has the 171cm frame to suit her inside midfield role, and led Fremantle for clearances and inside 50s to show her ability to keep up with the competition’s best in her vice-captain. With her rate of development on the up, Miller is gaining on the elite group of midfielders.
Kara Antonio (11.4 disposals, 76% efficiency, 3.6 marks, 5.1 tackles, 1.7 rebound 50s, 1.9 inside 50s)
If there is anyone across the whole competition who deserves the ultimate team success, it is Fremantle skipper, Antonio. The 28-year-old inaugural Docker worked tirelessly once again on the outside for her side, making the wing her own in each of Fremantle’s seven games. As an experienced head, Antonio provided great class on the ball to lead her side for disposal efficiency (76 per cent), while returning a terrific back-end to the season.
THE BIG IMPROVER:
Katie-Jayne Grieve (10.6 disposals, 1 mark, 7.3 tackles, 4 clearances, 2.3 inside 50s, 257 metres gained, 2 goals)
One of the quiet achievers among Fremantle’s midfield group is Grieve, who returned a much-improved campaign in her third AFLW season. Another strong body in the engine room, Grieve was an equal-leader for her side for clearances, while finishing second for tackles to Bowers across the entire competition. The 23-year-old is another who looked to be coming into her own in 2020, almost doubling her output in every key stat as a great forward driver.
THE YOUNG TALLS:
Roxanne Roux (6.7 disposals, 2.2 marks, 2 tackles, 5 hitouts, 2.5 inside 50s, 5 goals)
There is just something about Roux, who enjoyed an exciting debut AFLW season having previously staked her claim as an outstanding junior. The high-marking, athletic key forward/ruck showed she has all the tropes to be a real star of the future, earning a Rising Star nomination in Round 2 and missing just one game (rested) to eventually be named in the 2020 22 Under 22 squad.
Mim Strom (7 disposals, 1.4 marks, 3 tackles, 1.6 clearances, 1 inside 50, 16.3 hitouts)
Fremantle’s second pick in last year’s draft, Strom quickly became an integral part of the Docker’s line-up, taking up the primary ruck spot in the wake of injuries and hardly missing a beat across all seven games. A consistent performer, the 184cm tall played her role well throughout the season and impressed with her ability to follow up at ground level after her ruck craft was won and done. Will form a formidable partnership with Roux for years to come.
There is not much to nit-pick from Fremantle’s roaringly successful season, with the Dockers making history in a year unfortunately cut short. With some exciting youngsters, developing prospects standing up, and some hardened leaders through the middle, the Dockers should fare well again after consecutive six-win campaigns. It would have been great to see them compete against the remainder of the final four, but Fremantle’s status as the competition’s benchmark this year cannot be denied.