A TACTICAL tug of war is looming at Optus Stadium on Friday night, with Fremantle holding a wildcard that could shape the crucial key defensive match-ups against Melbourne in the top four-shaping blockbuster.

The Demons have their All-Australian combination of Steven May and Jake Lever reassembled, and the Dockers have had their own defensive pillars in Alex Pearce and Brennan Cox producing elite football at stages this season.

It is swingman Griffin Logue who shapes as a key piece on the chess board, however, after a defensive forward role on May in round 11 that could be repeated on Friday night.

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With Pearce cleared to play after a rolled ankle and Cox coming off a standout performance against Richmond, Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir has the freedom to send Logue forward again.

Griffin Logue in action against Brisbane in round 12, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

If he does, it will set up a tactical battle between the coaches' boxes to get the match-ups on their terms, given the Demons would normally prefer to play May on the deepest, most dangerous key forward, which shapes as being Docker Rory Lobb.   

In that scenario, Harry Petty could then play on Matt Taberner and Lever could be given more freedom to be the intercept player he has returned to being since the round 14 bye.  

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The Dockers' round 11 win at the MCG saw Logue head to May to throw out the Demons' defence in what looked a crafty move before May was substituted with concussion in the second quarter, having impressed early.

The coach this week said there had been elements of that win Fremantle could replicate on Friday night, with the coach wary of May and Lever and what they could still do as a combination, with Lever returning from a shoulder injury this week.

Melbourne's Steven May and Griffin Logue of Fremantle compete in R11, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

"It's a real strength of their game. It's important we get good representation forward of the ball and get a good contest," Longmuir said.

Removing Lever's performance against Port Adelaide in round 18, which saw him battle through injured, the 26-year-old has been back to his intercepting best since the round 14 bye.

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After a concerning form slump, he tallied game-high intercepts in every match between rounds 15 and 17 at an average of 13.3 in an indication he could be capable of rediscovering his best form in the run to finals.

May, meanwhile, remains critical to the Demons, who are 0-2 this season when he has been absent and suffered another of their five defeats in 2022 when he was manned by Logue and concussed early. 

Steven May in action against North Melbourne in round 10 on May 21, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

If the Dockers repeat the Logue move on May, the likely match-up for Lever is Matt Taberner, who booted two goals against him in round 11, with the 197cm Harry Petty on forward/ruck Lobb. 

At the other end of the ground, the 201cm Pearce shapes as the best match-up for either Luke Jackson or Max Gawn when they are forward, with Cox to line up on Sam Weiderman in the absence of injured key forward Ben Brown.

The importance of Pearce and Cox can't be understated for Fremantle, which is 2-2 this season when missing one of its main key defenders, losing to St Kilda in round two without Cox (health and safety protocols) and Sydney a fortnight ago without Pearce (calf).

While the Demons' pair of May and Lever was wearing All-Australian blazers last August, the Dockers' duo has produced form at stages this season worthy of those individual honours.

All four will be key players on Friday night with a top-four spot on the line, but the tactical battle around the wildcard Logue will be key.