How does Nat Fyfe fit back into the Fremantle line-up?



A couple of years ago, I’d say around about 2018 or 2019, people would always say Fremantle were the “Nat Fyfe team”, and that they could never win without him.

That was admittedly very true, as whenever the Dockers captain was on the sidelines, the team lacked the spark that he could provide, and also lacked composure. Fast forward a few years though and Fremantle are 9-3 coming off wins against the Top 2 teams in Melbourne and Brisbane, with no sign of their captain so far.

Because of this impressive start to the season without the 30-year-old, we’ve seen those like former Bulldogs, Eagles, Magpies and Blues coach, Mick Malthouse suggest that the Dockers offload the two-time Brownlow medallist in the upcoming trade period .

While I’ve also talked about this in the past, it’s an irrelevant discussion to be having. Regardless of whether the team plays better or not, you do not trade a dual Brownlow medallist whilst they still have four or five years left in them. So instead, time would be better used discussing how Nat Fyfe fits into Fremantle’s best 22.

In the last few seasons, especially since Justin Longmuir took the helm in 2020, we’ve seen Fyfe play in the forward line a lot more to give young midfielders like Caleb Serong and Andrew Brayshaw a chance to flourish.

While I get this idea, I don’t think moving the Brownlow Medalist of the previous year out of his natural position was a smart idea at all. Would you move Ollie Wines out of the midfield right now, regardless of the circumstance?

Nat Fyfe

Nat Fyfe (Photo by Carson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Fyfe himself sees this as well, stating, “That experiment of playing forward yielded some good results, but it’s officially over. I’m a midfielder and that’s where I’m playing”.

Going back to that point of giving the young midfielders a chance to flourish, Fyfe moving back into the midfield could also give players like Nathan O’Driscoll and Michael Frederick a chance to play with more control and freedom just like Serong and Brayshaw.

I attended Fyfe’s first WAFL match in over a decade at Leederville Oval on Saturday as Peel defeated Subiaco by 6 points, with the star of the show having a big impact on his team’s win with 24 touches and 4 inside 50s.

His accuracy in front of goal was still rather dodgy though, with 2 behinds and completely missing a set shot to win the game with a few minutes to go, although Freo teammate Josh Treacy saved the day. His delivery inside 50 and around the contest was more Fyfe like, which only further strengthens his case to play more central.

So how does this work exactly? Well, I think the big problem here is Fremantle’s new recruit, Will Brodie from Gold Coast. Brodie struggled to get a game a Gold Coast, and most likely would’ve had to work through the WAFL to earn a game at Fremantle, but was brought in to the side as a “like for like” swap for Fyfe at ruck-rover , with both players being of similar caliber.

Brodie was the biggest steal of the 2021 trade period with the 23-year-old being the one of two players to poll Brownlow votes in more than three games (predicted) along with Andrew Brayshaw, whilst also being the current stat leader for the club in contested possessions and clearances with only 69 percent gametime. Well done to Peter Bell and the Football Department at Cockburn for pulling that deal off.

So with his replacement having the season of his life, Nathan Fyfe may need to find another way to fit back it in. If I look at the six midfielders that lined up against Brisbane on Sunday, I wouldn’t really want any of them to move and have to adjust, despite Andrew Brayshaw saying previously the team would work around the captain.

In contradiction to what I just said, I say do whatever it takes to get Fyfe as the man in and around the ruck contest for Saturday’s clash with Hawthorn, which is looking like it will be played in wet weather. A big body player like him would love conditions like this and could really make something out of nothing, with maybe a couple of tackle busts.

When the weather is better though, he may have to spend a bit more time in the forward line, which is why I’d give him another WAFL game or two to try and get him up to scratch and maybe gain some more confidence kicking in front of goal. It also works well that the Dockers have the bye after this week, meaning the coaches will have plenty of time to chop and change the line-up and game plan.

Trying to fit a dual Brownlow medallist into a team that is flying this season is a big problem for Justin Longmuir, but it’s one that I’m sure he’s happy to have.

If I was JL though, I personally would keep in mind what Jonathan Brown said in commentary on Sunday, which was something along the lines of, “It’s not about fitting players in, it’s about what 22 players are going to win you the game you ‘re playing”.

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