Ross Lyon’s re-plumbing effort is now entering its third year after finishes of 16th and 14th. Unfortunately for the Dockers, the same issues that inhibit their rise up the ladder are likely to hurt them again in 2018.

The Good

Nat Fyfe is back. The forgotten man in the ‘best player in the AFL’ conversation finished 2017 in ominous form, starred in the International Rules and was clearly BOG in his first pre-season match. The 2015 Brownlow Medalist will join a midfield that is clearly the Dockers’ strongest asset. Lachie Neale, Michael Walters, Connor Blakely, the Hill brothers and top five draft picks Adam Cerra and Andrew Brayshaw could be an elite midfield in time.

We also know that a Ross Lyon-led team will bat above its average defensively, even if there are still some holes to be plugged down back. Joel Hamling has been good since crossing from the Bulldogs and GWS recruit Nathan Wilson will provide some run and dash from half-back.

The Bad

The forward line.

Cam McCarthy was solid in his first season in purple, kicking 25 goals from his 19 games. He’s really a third tall rather than a spearhead, however. That leaves Shane Kersten and Matt Taberner as marking targets, who averaged 1.4 and 1.2 goals per game respectively last year – hardly numbers that will keep opposition defenders up at night.

Small forwards? Michael Walters is a gun, but played a lot in the midfield last year. Hayden Ballantyne is now 30 and hasn’t kicked more than 26 goals in a season since 2014. Brandon Matera has never put a full season together at the Suns so he’s a question mark. Fyfe might need to be the man that greater scoring responsibility rests with, but that robs Peter to pay Paul. A fit and firing Harley Bennell would also help spread the scoring load.

Please Ross. Take an elite key forward prospect at the draft this year!

The Star

We know Nat Fyfe is a gun, but it’s time that Lachie Neale received the respect he deserved. He may not be as flashy as Fyfe, but is an absolute ball big, averaging 34 and 27 disposals over the last two seasons. Turning 25 this year, Neale should be entering the prime of his career and with the skipper likely to spend more time in the forward line, he’s more than capable of leading the Dockers’ midfield.

The Next Big Thing

Connor Blakely took his game to a new level in 2017, and his stocks are set to rise even further in 2018. The 34th pick in the 2014 draft starred in the second Western Derby last year, picking 33 touches and 11 marks in a scintillating performance. At just 21 years old, the future is bright for Blakely, as long as he never calls in sick to go surfing again!

The Final Word

Fremantle’s midfield is capable of matching the better teams in the AFL, but elsewhere on the ground there’s just too many missing parts to see the Dockers improving much in 2018.

Prediction: 16th