A YEAR out of the game caught up with Cam McCarthy last season and Fremantle needs to find more support for the hard-working forward in 2018, assistant coach Anthony Rock says.
McCarthy's first campaign in purple started promisingly, with the former Giant helping to fill the gaping Matthew Pavlich-sized hole in attack.
He averaged nearly 14 disposals and booted 12 goals in the opening eight games, as Freo's youthful outfit turned around a shocking start.
But McCarthy faded as the season wore on and the Dockers hit the skids, before he was omitted for the final round – despite leading the club's goalkicking.
Rock told AFL.com.au fatigue was undeniably a factor in McCarthy's drop-off after he sat out the 2016 campaign due to personal issues.
But overall, the Dockers were pleased with the 22-year-old's output and believe his best is still to come.
"What did he kick, 26.20 (25.19) last year?" Rock said.
"I know that there's been some knockers about his performance, but to have a year off and not be involved in AFL club or environment or (have) that access to the strength and conditioning program and nutrition program and a whole lot of things that are available for AFL players these days, he did a remarkable job.
"We think he's going to be a player of the future.
"Once again, he's a young player still developing his craft and we look forward to 2018 with Cam McCarthy."
Neither 192cm McCarthy or fellow recruit Shane Kersten (191cm) is suited as a traditional crash-and-bash key forward, yet both were thrust into the role last season while the Dockers lacked reliable, or fit, contested-marking targets.
"(McCarthy's) not a natural, tall key forward. He's more that lead-up, workrate (forward) and he needs support of another tall, which we didn't have," Rock said.
"So that puts a lot of onus on him to be that marking option, stand and deliver type, and mark contested.
"But his great strength is that he runs up the ground, runs back and really his work ethic is outstanding.
"There's no doubt that he would have fatigued at the end of last year – and we saw that – but we were prepared to wear that."
With Freo desperate for a boost in firepower, superstar midfielder Nat Fyfe is preparing to play a more "attacking style" this season.
But the jury is out on the Dockers' other tall forward options.
Matt Taberner teased again last year, while strong-marking youngster Brennan Cox was wayward in front of goal and draftee Hugh Dixon is an unknown quantity.
Meanwhile, Fremantle fans are crossing their fingers that injury-ravaged Michael Apeness can finally get a clear run at an AFL career after just seven games in four seasons.
The Dockers have high hopes for former first-round draft pick, and are treating Apeness' return carefully following a season ruined by two knee setbacks.
"He's recovered from his PCL (surgery) and he's been in training periodically and that's once again a management perspective to ensure he can stand up and deliver throughout the season," Rock said.
"If he can get himself to a level that's something we really need in our side, but once again it's a process.
"He's worked really hard to get his body right, to get his weight to an optimum level and he's been going pretty well."
It is unclear whether Apeness will take part in the JLT Community Series, while Rock said it was "possible" banished star Harley Bennell could be available.
The earliest Bennell can return to the club is the week leading up to Fremantle's second and final pre-season clash against West Coast on March 11.
"I think he's training well at Peel," Rock said.
"It's unfortunate for Harley and unfortunate for the club he's acted his way out at this point in time but he can easily act his way back in.
"The ball is in his court."