You might not have noticed it, because who’s watching Fremantle play football right now, but Nat Fyfe has been the best player in the competition over the past five rounds.
The past month has seen the Fremantle captain re-emerge as the dominant, ball-winning attacking midfielder he became in the years leading up to his Brownlow medal win in 2015. Evidently, returning from a twice-broken leg takes time, and for the rest of the competition it looks as though the period of a weakened Fyfe has passed us by.
Fyfe had a phenomenal July, putting up a stat line in keeping with his Brownlow season. It has been a slow build over the season, the trough of June coinciding with revelations of a sternum injury and the crescendo of his nine month free agency.
Suffering a chest injury while working out whether it was right to sign your soul over to a rebuilding club would have been a fair burden to carry. Fyfe is a polished media performer, but like most AFL players we don’t really have a solid picture of what makes him tick; we know Fyfe is competitive on the field but off it? He could be a hippy for all we know.
Based on his play over the past five rounds against his previous handful, surely a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. Signing on for six years at up to or over $1 million per annum – depending on which vaguely sourced report you want to believe – must be a cure to performance anxiety or something.
The Fremantle captain probably won’t make the All Australian team for this season as a result of his mid season slump. But on the last month of form he would be angling for a starting spot. Here’s that line above:
Nat Fyfe (July 2017, per game): 28 disposals, 16.8 contested possessions, three contested marks, 7.2 clearances, 7.2 score involvements, three contested marks, nine points directly scored.
Mighty numbers those. If those were his full year marks, Fyfe would sit in the top 20 for disposals, fifth for clearances, first for contested marks, second for contested possessions and 12th for score involvements. His July was an all around offensive performance that harked back to Fyfe’s 2015 Brownlow medal year.
Even though Fyfe’s full year numbers look a little more terrestrial, it’s instructive that the AFL’s Official Player Ratings (which are very good at valuing midfielders, but more mixed when it comes to forwards and defenders) now have him pegged as the fourth highest-rated player this season. Yes I’m serious, see for yourself.
It’s evident in watching the Dockers that coach Ross Lyon has given his best player more latitude to play attacking football on the outside. No more is Fyfe the Josh Kennedy-like inside animal that exists solely to see ball, get ball deep in congested packs. Fyfe has gone back to something of his pre-2013 to 2015 role as a timeshare midfielder that spends plenty of time forward of the play.
We’re all better for it. Nat Fyfe is an objectively excellent player, both for the quality of his play and as a spectator sport in his own right. No other midfielder possesses his aerial prowess, ground ball gathering and tackle-breaking abilities; Patrick Dangerfield and Dustin Martin caught up to him on the two latter attributes, but Fyfe still reigns supreme when the ball heads skyward.
Nat Fyfe is back, his absence from the top rung of the football lasting not much more than half a season. With another summer under his belt, and a rising Fremantle midfield around him, who knows what 2018 holds. Probably some more of this stuff.
Ryan Buckland either has too much time on his hands, or lives a very unbalanced life. His football fandom is three parts geek, two parts giddy fanboy, one part film critic. He writes on The Roar, and tweets far too much for anyone’s good from @ryanbuckland7.