FREMANTLE ruckman Sean Darcy took a significant step in his push to be available for the start of the season, joining match simulation training for the first time on Friday as he works back from ankle surgery.
Darcy, whose season was ended after round 18 last season, has so far been restricted to the Dockers' rehab group, but the important big man joined the final 30 minutes of match play at the Dockers' Cockburn training base.
Rather than going head-to-head with Luke Jackson, however, the Dockers took the opportunity to play Jackson as an onballer in a standout burst from the 199cm big man.
Jackson, who had already been prominent as a ruckman through the first two periods, which lasted 10 and 20 minutes respectively, lined up on Neil Erasmus as a ground-level midfielder, laying several chase-down tackles, using his size to mark on the wing, and pushing forward to kick a goal.
The Dockers are preparing for a midfield squeeze in 2024, with dual Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe also among the standouts as he continued his move to a full-time onball role, attending all centre bounces.
The former skipper won multiple clearances around the ground and provided a highlight when he got free in the middle during transition and hit young key forward Jye Amiss on the lead with a pinpoint pass inside 50.
He also took an intercept mark from a clearing kick at half-forward and found key defender Alex Pearce inside 50 for a rare goal from the skipper, who had pushed into attack.
The Dockers' young midfielders were given a chance to shine on Friday, with vice-captain Andrew Brayshaw suffering a head knock during early drills that sidelined him for match practice, with the 24-year-old later emerging to complete a long running session with his head strapped.
Young onballer Matt Johnson took the chance and continued to shine as a centre square midfielder, stacking another impressive session on top of several others this summer.
INS AND OUTS Every club’s full list changes ahead of 2024
Johnson, whose ability to break out of stoppages has improved and he was a standout through the first period in particular, starting all centre bounces and combining with Jackson for a clean clearance out the front.
He lined up alongside Erasmus and Will Brodie at the first centre bounce of the day, opposed to Fyfe, Hayden Young and Caleb Serong, with the combinations changing slightly throughout the session.
Draftee Cooper Simpson put in an eye-catching performance that suggested he will push for early games in 2024, using his speed to step around an opponent and kick a long running goal before rotating on the wing and getting a late centre bounce opportunity.
Amiss provided the highlight of the session when he snapped a brilliant goal from the pocket after several ground-level efforts, while sidekick Josh Treacy was prominent as a lead-up forward and strong in the air.
Half-back Jordan Clark was impressive with his composure and speed in defence, with vice-captain and 2023 All-Australian Serong again bringing his typical tough and productive approach to the midfield.
With a four-day break looming, the Dockers completed a session that lasted more than three hours, with match practice broken into three periods of 10, 20 and 30 minutes, with short breaks halfway through.
FANTASY LATEST Tips, strategy, draft, podcasts, more
Sam Switkowski (hamstring), Brandon Walker (leg) and Luke Ryan (ankle) continued their recovery in the rehab group, alongside Jaeger O'Meara and Sam Sturt, who were held out of the session.