THE ABSENCE of suspended Fremantle small forward Sam Switkowski is a problem on two fronts for the Dockers over the next fortnight as the team sets about rediscovering the form it had before a recent slump.
Switkowski is among Freo's most important players, both as a classy goalkicker who creates opportunities for himself and others, and a pressure forward who helps lock the ball in the team's forward half.
Forward-half pressure was a key to the Dockers' 7-1 start to the season before back-to-back losses against Gold Coast and Collingwood, with stats showing how crucial Switkowski is to that aspect of their game.
The 25-year-old ranks No.1 at Fremantle and No.2 in the competition, behind only Collingwood's Jamie Elliott, for forward-half pressure points per game (40.5).
His overall pressure points per game (52.9) ranks third at Fremantle, behind midfielders Andrew Brayshaw and Caleb Serong, 25th in the AFL, and third in the competition for all general forwards.
Switkowski's defensive impact is a big reason Fremantle has emerged as the dominant forward-half pressure team in the AFL this season, using the pressure factor stat.
The indicator measures the amount of pressure points accrued by a team – through acts like chasing, corralling and tackling – for every chance they have to apply pressure.
Fremantle ranks No.1 in the AFL for forward-half pressure factor (1.83 a game), followed by Collingwood (1.78). The AFL average is 1.72, meaning the Dockers' gap on the competition is significant.
The past fortnight, however, has seen the Magpies and Gold Coast beat them at their own pressure game in wet conditions, making Switkowski's absence a serious test for the Dockers without the ball during his two-game suspension.
With the ball, the small forward's impact has also been great in 2022, kicking 11 goals from nine games and averaging 1.8 score assists - ranked equal No.4 in the competition.
Switkowski conceded he let his competitiveness get in the way when he laid a chicken wing tackle on Magpie Jack Ginnivan during Sunday's loss to Collingwood.
Ginnivan wasn't hurt, but the Docker was sent directly to the Tribunal with his tackle proving polarising and the two-match ban falling short of what was needed, according to AFL.com.au columnist Damian Barrett.
The Dockers have opted to replace Switkowski's role for Saturday's clash against undefeated Melbourne from within the 22 players that lost to Collingwood in round 10, bringing defender Brandon Walker and wingman Darcy Tucker into the team.
With pressure forward Bailey Banfield (omitted) joining Switkowski on the sidelines, it will be intriguing to watch how the Dockers go about reinstating their forward pressure game against the Demons.
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Coach Justin Longmuir has shown that intensity is a priority at selection by not opting for talented medium forward Sam Sturt as Switkowski's replacement after nine goals in three weeks at WAFL level.
"I know he's been hitting the scoreboard, but he's not playing to the intensity we need at the moment," the coach said.
"Like all these players who want to come into the AFL side and impact and contribute, we don't want them just to come in for one week and then out.
"Sam hasn't got back to the intensity levels that he was at before the injuries he's had, so we're working with him on that."