FREMANTLE coach Justin Longmuir remains optimistic wingman Liam Henry will re-commit to the club beyond this season after giving the much-improved runner an opportunity to play his best football.
Henry is out of contract at the end of this season and the Dockers know they face a fight to retain the 21-year-old, who has played the best football of his short career in the past five weeks.
Longmuir said Fremantle, which recruited Henry from its Next Generation Academy with pick No.9 in the 2019 AFL Draft, was the best place for the classy youngster to take the next step.
"The ball is well and truly in his court," Longmuir said on Wednesday.
"I'm optimistic he'll stay, and I see this as the best place for him to develop his footy and take his career forward.
"I feel like as a coach I've given him a lot of opportunities along the way. He's played 40 games across his four seasons, and we've given him a lot of opportunities.
"There's been times where he's needed to go back and work on the things we're asking him to work on, and he's embraced that really well and that's got him to the point where he's played his most consistent footy over the last period of time."
Henry has played the past seven matches at AFL level after more than two months in the WAFL, with his clean hands at ground level and decision making among his improved attributes on the wing.
Fremantle football manager Peter Bell this week told SEN that the club needed to contemplate the prospect of Henry leaving but was working hard to convince the emerging talent to stay.
As the end of a disappointing season draws closer, Longmuir said the Dockers would put their gameplan under the microscope during the off-season as they review all aspects of their performance as a club this year.
The Dockers have slipped from a semi-final appearance last season to the bottom four, with Longmuir not willing to bank on natural improvement to help the club bounce back next season.
"At the end of the year we have to sit down and review everything we do," the coach said.
"We can't sit here and say that natural progression is going to take us forward. We have to be really methodical at the end of the year and review all processes, systems, gameplan, personnel. Everything we do.
"They're the sorts of things that if you get them right, they take you forward."
The coach there was a focus from the players and staff to make sure the last five matches – starting with a testing clash against Geelong at GMHBA Stadium on Saturday – were used as a springboard for 2024.
Young midfielders Matthew Johnson and Neil Erasmus would continue to be challenged at AFL level in their second seasons to set them up for the future.
"They've played some really good footy, and now they're learning what it takes to get up week in, week out and put a consistent run of games together," Longmuir said.
"That's all great experience for them and will hold them in really good stead for the next off-season and pre-season.
"It is a challenge to be able to review a performance individually and then have another good week on the track and rock up and play somewhat different roles week after week … we'll continue to challenge them throughout the last five games."
On the fitness of captain Alex Pearce, who has struggled with a lower leg injury all season, Longmuir said a period of rest rather than surgery would be needed at the end of the campaign.
He said the key defender remained keen to push on and there was no risk of further injury.
"He wants to continue to build his footy and his leadership and work on all aspects of his game and be there for his teammates," Longmuir said.
"While his mindset is like that, I'll keep backing him."