Luke Jackson and Sean Darcy during Fremantle's official team photo day at Cockburn ARC on January 24, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

FREMANTLE coach Justin Longmuir hopes his elite ruck duo can return to the form shown in a month-long winning streak last season when Sean Darcy returns to partner with Luke Jackson on the other side of Gather Round. 

Darcy will travel with the Dockers this week as the club starts a 10-day road trip to South Australia for back-to-back matches against Carlton and Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval, with the 25-year-old expected to return from a knee injury against the Power. 

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While Jackson has thrived as the No.1 ruckman during the Dockers' 3-0 start to the season, Longmuir said he ideally wanted the duo to work in tandem and build the form they produced between rounds eight and 11 last season. 

With Darcy producing dominant performances in the ruck during that stretch before suffering a hamstring injury, Jackson was able to use his versatility to produce excellent form both forward of the ball and as a midfielder.

"Realistically we want to try and get back to using them the same way we used them in the period last year when they were both playing really well in the four games leading into the bye, before Sean got hurt," Longmuir said on Wednesday. 

"I think they were both in almost career-best form in that period. 

Sean Darcy sits on the bench during the match between Collingwood and Fremantle at the MCG in round 18, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

"There's going to be a bit of a transition period for Sean to get his fitness up and be able to cope with high ruck minutes, so they'll probably split the ruck early days. 

"We really like Luke forward of the ball, we really like him in the midfield around the ball and winning the ball at ground level. 

"We've got a bit of work to do, but they'll both be in the team when they're both fit … we'll worry about that next week though."

The Dockers face Carlton at Adelaide Oval on Saturday, with key forwards Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow looming large after a combined nine goals against North Melbourne's under-sized backline last week. 

Longmuir backed impressive young defender Josh Draper to handle the challenge of playing on one of the Blues' big men if required in just his third game, with captain Alex Pearce and the versatile Luke Ryan the Dockers' other lockdown options.

"He (Draper) is in the team to be a key back, and their job is to play on key forwards. Carlton have obviously got a couple of key forwards that are in really good form, getting good supply, and winning the contest," Longmuir said. 

Josh Draper in action during the R3 match between Fremantle and Adelaide at Optus Stadium on March 29, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

"But that's why Drapes is in the team. We'll see how it plays out. We haven't settled on match-ups or structure or anything yet. But there's going to be a lot of things we do right up the field that help Pearcey and Drapes and Luke." 

Longmuir said the key to stopping McKay and Curnow, who have kicked 11 and 10 goals respectively this season, would be winning contests and limiting forward supply after the Blues generated 62 inside 50s last week for their 21 goals.

"The ball lives in their front half and gives them a lot of opportunities. We need to make sure we get it done in the middle of the ground and defend our front half really well," Longmuir said. 


"Then if they do get entries, it's under pressure or entries where we can get back and support. 

"A lot gets made of their forward line, and rightly so, but they're on the end of good supply from their midfield, so we need to get it right there."

After serious injuries to key defenders Brennan Cox (hamstring) and Oscar McDonald (knee) in round one, Longmuir said Heath Chapman would return from a hamstring injury this week and play as a defender in the WAFL rather than on a wing. 

With back-to-back games in Adelaide, the team plans to travel with a squad that only includes the required emergencies this week before flying in reinforcements if required following Peel's WAFL game on Sunday.