FREMANTLE coach Justin Longmuir admits there's a selection squeeze with the Dockers hoping to welcome back Alex Pearce, Caleb Serong and Darcy Tucker after recent absences.
The Dockers will be forced into one change with recent Glendinning-Allan medallist Lachie Schultz entering into health and safety protocols with Longmuir hinting Bailey Banfield, who was the medical sub in rounds three and four, as his likely replacement.
Schultz joins Nat Fyfe (back) as the only definite absentees from Fremantle's best 22 for Sunday's clash with Essendon at Marvel Stadium, creating "healthy competition for spots" according to Longmuir.
Serong (knee soreness) and Tucker (concussion) joined in main training at Fremantle's Cockburn training base on Thursday morning and appear likely to be available.
The pair's availability will put pressure on newcomers Neil Erasmus and Nathan O'Driscoll, who have both hardly put a foot wrong in recent weeks when given their chances in the side.
O'Driscoll was among Freo's best in the round four win over GWS with 20 disposals and two goals, while Erasmus has collected 18 and 15 possessions in his two games, attending 16 and 14 centre bounces.
"We're going to have think about that (selection) this afternoon," Longmuir said on Thursday morning. "Raz (Erasmus) got his opportunity, performed well. Nathan got his opportunity on the wing and performed really well.
"We're in a good position as a footy club. Competition for spots is healthy. That should drive the improvement around the group. No player should be getting comfortable. That's a good problem to have for match committee."
Pearce, who was a late withdrawal in round four with a right ankle injury sustained in the round three Derby, jogged laps initially on Thursday before joining in main training drills but only using his non-preferred to left foot to kick.
Griffin Logue impressed in Pearce's absence against GWS, with Fremantle preferring to use two talls in defence this season alongside Luke Ryan and Heath Chapman.
The Dockers coach revealed that if Pearce is declared fit, he will be in the side, with one of Logue or Brennan Cox likely to miss out.
"Pearcy has been our captain, so if he's fit, he'll play," Longmuir said. "I think he's a really good match-up for Peter Wright, who is clearly one of the in-form forwards of the comp, especially with his marking.
"We can change it around. We've also got Brennan Cox, who can play on the talls as well. Pearcy is probably our preferred match-up but I think we can get around that if he doesn't play."
On Pearce's status, he added: "Pearcy isn’t over the line yet. He needs to get through training and show us that he's going to be able to play on Essendon's forwards. He's still not 100 percent that he's going to get over the line."
The Dockers are enjoying their best start to a season since 2015, when they won the minor premiership, sitting third with a 3-1 record, earning praise in the football media this week.
Longmuir has long spoken about his young group becoming consistent and reiterated that message to his players this week amid the external hype.
"We need to make sure we control what we can control," Longmuir said. "We keep re-focusing on what matters on our game.
"Our players are really clear on what matters in our game and what we need to keep re-centering to during the week. They need to make sure they keep understanding what matters in their game and what allows them to execute their role.
"We've done a little bit of work in that. The healthy competition for spots plays a role there. It doesn’t allow people to get comfortable.
"We need to make sure we keep putting our brand out each week. That's what I've been most pleased with the last couple of weeks, we've played to win and played our brand."