Nat Fyfe in action during Fremantle's round one match against St Kilda at Marvel Stadium on March 19, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

FREMANTLE is planning for dual Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe to eventually return to the midfield this season as it looks for ways to fix the contested ball issues that have left its season on shaky ground.

Fyfe, who spent long periods of Wednesday’s training session with the main group and is targeting a return to football next week, spent his pre-season focused on a new role as a permanent forward.

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The Dockers midfield has struggled this season, however, losing the clearance battle in all six matches and the groundball battle by a massive 31 against the Western Bulldogs last Friday night.

While the former captain's return from a foot injury remains unpredictable, Longmuir said the Dockers – who face Brisbane on Saturday – would be seeking to settle Fyfe as a forward when he returns before adding the 31-year-old back into the midfield rotation.

"He's a good clearance player obviously. That's always been in our plans," Longmuir said.

Nat Fyfe runs out to the field ahead of Fremantle's practice match against Port Adelaide at Fremantle Oval on March 2, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"It's always been, we'll get him embedded in his forward role, we'll get him comfortable down there and confident down there, and then we can expand his role.

"He had a bit of a sore foot in round one when he played his only game of the year, so we haven't been able to explore that. But we'll put him where he can play to his best."

Longmuir said Fyfe's prospects of returning against Hawthorn in round eight hinged on how he pulled up from a big training load this weekend, with the club to then work out if a WAFL game was required before his AFL return.


Fyfe aside, Longmuir said fixing the team's contested ball shortcomings had been a priority this week after ranking 18th in the AFL for the third consecutive round for groundball gets differential.

The coach said no one player could turn that area of the game around on their own, with a shift in mindset required.

"We'll change up a bit of our training to get players a little bit more instinctive and a little bit more trusting of themselves to get in after the footy and win the contest," Longmuir said.

Alex Pearce leads Fremantle from the field after a loss to the Western Bulldogs in round six, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

"But it can't be at the compromise of our method and our shape around the contest.

"I feel like a few of our players are getting caught up in thinking that's not helping them perform. Mainly based around outcome and form and scoreboard.

"That's taking them away from their role and the next task in their role."

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Longmuir underlined that execution, rather than the Dockers' style of play, was the team's issue and drastic changes would not be made out of a sense of panic.

"We'll just get back to trying to execute it better. We're still sixth in the comp for inside 50s," he said.

"Early in the season, outside of the weekend, we were playing the game in the front half more than any other team in the comp. Just bits and pieces of our game aren't clicking.

"I'm not going to throw the baby out with the bath water. I'm not going to panic. We'll stick to the course and see if we can get more weight of numbers executing their roles."

Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir during the R6 match against the Western Bulldogs in 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

The Dockers have pressing selection concerns this week after defender Heath Chapman, who was close to returning from a calf complaint, appeared to suffer a hamstring injury on the track on Wednesday.  

Michael Walters, Andrew Brayshaw and Lachie Schultz were on light duties, while young defender Josh Draper, who has been close to senior selection in recent weeks, received a large applause from teammates during the session. 

Sam Switkowski trained with the main group and will need to pass a fitness test this week to return from a calf injury, with young midfielder Neil Erasmus set to come under consideration after a strong WAFL performance.


On first-year captain Alex Pearce's form, Longmuir conceded the key defender had lowered his colours against the Western Bulldogs but said criticism had been unfair. 

"A week before, while he was on the ground, [Gold Coast forward] Ben King had two possessions on him. There's some good in his form," Longmuir said.

"He's still finding the balance between performing week in, week out and being a good leader.

"I think he's leading really well. He's got a really united leadership group around him, and the players really respect and admire him. I think it (criticism) is over the line."