FREMANTLE captain Nat Fyfe is targeting a shock early return from his shoulder dislocation when the Dockers take on Collingwood after the round 14 bye.
Fyfe looked destined for an early end to 2021 when his right shoulder dislocated against the Western Bulldogs, but the Dockers are now confident he can play out the season before undergoing surgery.
The dual Brownlow medallist received positive medical advice this week and coach Justin Longmuir confirmed he was only expected to miss Saturday's clash against Gold Coast before returning in round 15.
"We feel like he'll be able to play out the year," Longmuir said on Friday.
"He's got to get some strength back in his shoulder first so we don't put it at further risk of damage, but we're pretty confident he can play out the rest of the year.
"We're hoping he will be right for the Collingwood game. Fingers crossed with that, it will have to improve a fair bit."
Fyfe has previously undergone laterjet surgery on his right shoulder, meaning future dislocations out the back of the socket carry the risk of significant ligament damage, which it is clear Fyfe has escaped.
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The Dockers' injury carnage from their loss to the Bulldogs was not as bad as first thought, with ruckman Sean Darcy a certain starter against the Suns after a hamstring scare.
The team will be without key forward Matt Taberner for the third straight match, however, as he continues to battle ankle ligament damage.
"It clearly hasn't come along as quick as we'd like," Longmuir said.
"He's got no pain but he's lacking a little bit of strength, and really we feel like if we play him we’d be putting him at long-term risk.
"With the bye coming up, that ankle not being 100 per cent right and the risk to his long-term ability to play in the back half of the year, we just thought it was a risk not worth taking."
Fremantle will unleash debutant Joel Western in their forward line at Optus Stadium on Saturday, while fellow Next Generation Academy product Brandon Walker will slot in across half-back in his first senior game.
"He's an incredible athlete … and his ability to take the game on with ball in hand and use his speed in offence will excite our fans," Longmuir said of Walker.
"Clearly both of them aren't the finished product and won't be in their first year, but we think they've both done enough to earn their opportunity."
Veteran midfielder David Mundy will captain the team in the absence of Fyfe, while key defender Alex Pearce will return for his first game since round one after three games back in the WAFL.
Longmuir said Pearce's leadership would be important in an injury-hit backline, as well as his ability to cover 202cm Gold Coast forward Ben King.
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"I'm looking forward to having him back because he's played on the key forwards all of his career," the coach said.
"We'd rather not lose 'Coxy' (Brennan Cox) and still bring 'Pearcey' back in, but he's a good replacement."
Longmuir said veteran midfielder Stephen Hill, who had been set to return in the WAFL this week, had suffered a hamstring setback and was likely to spend another month in rehab.
The coach, who worked closely with Nathan Buckley at Collingwood as an assistant coach between 2017-19, paid tribute to the soon-to-depart Magpies' coach.
"I was a bit shocked. Collingwood and 'Bucks' obviously made a call, but I'm sad to see him out of the coaching ranks," Longmuir said.
"He's a person who taught me a lot in my two years at Collingwood … but I don't think he'll be lost to the industry or lost to coaching for very long."
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