1. Can the leaders stand up?
West Coast has played only one game this season with its full complement of four official leaders, and it showed last week. Missing from the leadership group against Geelong were captain Luke Shuey (hamstring) and star forward Josh Kennedy (ankle), with vice-captains Jeremy McGovern and Nic Naitanui leading the team in their absence. While Kennedy returns this week, McGovern (groin) goes out. The promise of premiership captain Shannon Hurn's return was set to boost the on-field leadership, but he will miss one more week before his club record 291st game. Right now at West Coast, leadership is required from more than just those with official titles.
2. Freo's defensive depth
Fremantle's backline depth was tested last year without Alex Pearce and Joel Hamling, leaving Luke Ryan and Brennan Cox to play impressively as key defenders. That depth hasn't been tested without all four, however, and with Ryan out with a calf issue, it is unlikely it could stand up if Cox doesn't play. Cox will likely be a game day decision with an ankle complaint, while Ryan failed a fitness test on Saturday morning. Griffin Logue will likely match up on Kennedy, while the 190cm Tobe Watson is the next defender in with Ryan missing, potentially leaving him with a challenging match-up on young star Oscar Allen. Taylin Duman is on standby for Cox.
3. West Coast's defensive test
The Eagles have their own concerns in defence with Jeremy McGovern (groin) and Tom Barrass (shoulder) to miss. The last time the Eagles played without both McGovern and Barrass was round 15, 2019, with premiership defender Will Schofield leading an undersized backline. This time around, competitive youngster Harry Edwards will come in for his second career game after debuting in 2020 but lasting only minutes before suffering concussion. With both McGovern and Barrass missing, the Eagles will need Edwards to deliver at a high level.
4. Mundy's magical touch
The Dockers veteran is in match-winning form and he will demand attention from the West Coast midfielders. Leading the AFL Coaches Association Award and the AFL.com.au Brownlow Medal Predictor, Mundy ranks equal fifth in the AFL for total score involvements and is the most damaging Docker forward of centre right now with his precision ball use and ability to hit the scoreboard in the past three weeks. In the form he is in, Mundy doesn't need to be allowed time and space to damage his opponents, he'll create it. A tag from the Eagles is being considered and would be justified.
5. Can Simpson get a response?
The Eagles were "embarrassing" against Geelong and "looked weak", Simpson said in a post-match press conference that demanded a response. Will it come on Sunday? The easiest way for the players to rectify their performance against Geelong is to deliver the effort Simpson said could be questioned. Reverse the contested ball differential (-25 against the Cats) and don't let up after one or two good quarters. The Eagles are yet to win more than two quarters in a game this season and will need to if they are to get over Fremantle.
6. Freo's consistent midfield
While Mundy is (finally) earning the plaudits, there is a lot more going right in the Freo engine room. In the last three weeks, four ground-level midfielders have largely shared centre bounce duties after Adam Cerra went down with an ankle injury. Of the 77 centre bounces in the past three weeks, Nat Fyfe (61) has attended the most, followed by Caleb Serong (59), Andrew Brayshaw (45) and Mundy (41). Aside from Cerra (13), who was injured in round five, only Connor Blakely (two) has been injected into the centre square in those three weeks. The mix of senior and emerging stars in the midfield is a winning one around the ground, and the Dockers have won the overall clearances in each of those three games.
7. Oscar's uncertain role
The Eagles will be grateful they experimented with Oscar Allen in defence during the pre-season as a way to help their backmen rotate off the ground during games. The young star has played the role for periods this season, as well as briefly supporting in the ruck if needed and kicking multiple goals in all but one game – including a bag of five against Collingwood a fortnight ago. How Simpson chooses to use him this week, either to support his own defence or expose the Dockers' backline, will be game shaping.
8. The ruck battle
Recent criticism of Nic Naitanui has focused on his lack of marking involvement around the ground and reliance on stoppages to have an impact. Defensive lapses have also been scrutinised when his opponents drift forward. Against the in-form Sean Darcy, who has kicked six goals in his past four games, Naitanui will be tested there, but if he can fire on all cylinders in the centre square and connect better with his midfielders the Eagles will be happy. Naitanui took 13 marks for the season in 2020 and was an All-Australian ruckman and club champion. Whether he can mark around the ground won't decide Sunday's game, but his centre square impact could.
9. Can Longmuir rectify his team defence?
Longmuir was quick to correct the suggestion last Saturday night that his team had defended well in keeping North Melbourne to six goals at Optus Stadium. He was disappointed with the way his team defended and put the responsibility on the whole team, not just the backline. The coach has a strong reputation as a defensive tactician and will be pushing for improvement to protect his backline against the Eagles' tall forwards.
10. Does history matter?
Fremantle has met West Coast once during the regular season since Longmuir took over, losing by 30 points when football returned to Optus Stadium in round seven last season. The coach is obviously keen to end the Dockers' 10-game losing streak in Derbies, but not looking back as a way to motivate his players. Recent history would have played a role in the Eagles being installed as favourites with bookmakers, and the Dockers would be right to feel underestimated. The stage is set for them to make a statement on where they're heading.