FREMANTLE has the look of a club on the rise in 2021 after establishing a clear brand last season and building a core of young talent with high-end draft selections.
But the Dockers' round one clash against Melbourne presents the first significant hurdle in the team's move out of a rebuild and into finals contention.
CRYSTAL BALL Our predictions for the 2021 season are in
The past fortnight has seen injuries hit five forwards, with all either locked into the 22 for the start of the season, or firmly in the mix – Rory Lobb, Michael Walters, Michael Frederick, Mitch Crowden and Bailey Banfield.
A sixth, Josh Treacy, this week fronted the WAFL Match Review Panel and was suspended for two weeks, with the late start to that season meaning he is unavailable at AFL level until round five.
It leaves the Dockers with a mountain to climb at the MCG, but it could also muddy observations of whether they are really ready to spike in 2021.
Here are five things the Dockers should look for to know they are on track in their first competitive hit-out of 2021.
Golden Trio holds firm
The chemistry being built by Andrew Brayshaw, Adam Cerra and Caleb Serong has been obvious to see in training and match simulation all summer, especially when the trio combines in the centre square.
They spent a large portion of the off-season training together and now have an opportunity to prove themselves against a midfield including Max Gawn, Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver.
Coach Justin Longmuir told AFL.com.au pre-season that the trio would have opportunities to line up at centre bounces together this season, and their growth in that aspect of the game will be important in the Dockers taking the next step.
Can they become players who carry the midfield early in their careers, rather than classy support acts to champion pair Nat Fyfe and David Mundy?
Freedom for Fyfe
The payoff of Serong, Brayshaw and Cerra carrying the midfield is Fyfe gets the freedom to play wherever he can impact the game most, in a proactive rather than reactive way.
Fremantle will be at their most dangerous in 2021 when Fyfe can dictate where he plays and catch opponents off guard, rather than reacting to the team's needs either midfield or forward.
With injuries in attack and doubt surrounding the fitness of lone key forward Matt Taberner, there is every chance the Dockers' champion midfielder will need to spend periods forward of the ball.
If the Dockers are able to use Fyfe in the way they want, rather than plugging holes, it will be a positive sign for their 2021 prospects. Personnel is a mitigating circumstance on Saturday.
Creative solutions in a decimated forward line
A trait of strong teams is the ability of players to impact the game in a second position.
Using the Dockers' cross-town rivals as an example, Oscar Allen has swung back, forward and rucked this pre-season, defender Liam Duggan is now a midfielder, and Dom Sheed has the smarts to move between the centre square, wing and forward line.
The Dockers will need to call on players to fill the void in attack, with key defender Alex Pearce flagged as a potential tall forward, playing that role in match simulation this week.
Walters is rated by Longmuir as the best decision-maker and ball-user forward of centre in the game, so it is fair to say the injured 30-year-old leaves a significant hole.
Can Mundy move forward and be the classy ball-user inside 50 that Fremantle will need? We'll learn plenty about the Dockers' flexibility on Saturday.
Brennan Cox leads the defence
Longmuir has been firm that Cox is not the tall defender he wants to shift, despite the talented 22-year-old having experience in the role at AFL level.
Saturday will be his chance to repay his coach for the decision to settle him in his preferred position and prove it is the best decision for the team long-term.
Cox has been identified by Fyfe as the Dockers' No.1 defender this pre-season and he has looked like a player with similar traits to West Coast star Jeremy McGovern.
McGovern had played 33 games and was 23 years old entering 2016, which became his first All-Australian season. Cox has played 47 games in his four seasons and will turn 23 in August.
Settling the young gun in defence appears the right move, but it will be intriguing to see if the Dockers hold their nerve on game day if other tall targets aren't working in attack.
Meek and Darcy hold their ground
Sean Darcy's knee injury ruled him out of the Dockers' intraclub matches, the practice match against West Coast and then the AAMI Community Series Derby.
He has done very little in training until recent sessions, but could play as a tall forward and support ruckman to Lloyd Meek, who will make his debut after three seasons on the list.
With Max Gawn looming, this is another area of the ground where personnel and circumstances should be considered when judging the Dockers on Saturday.
Meek will be better for the experience and Darcy will build fitness after another interrupted pre-season.
If the pair can hold ground against the best ruckman in the game it would be a significant positive in the Dockers' quest to move out of the rebuild and into the finals contender many believe they can be in 2021.