Bolder Dockers ready for Bombers challenge

Justin Chadwick
Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir has to deal with an understrength squad in their AFL season opener

Fremantle's bolder game plan under new coach Justin Longmuir will be given a stern early test in Saturday's AFL clash with Essendon at Marvel Stadium.

The Dockers have endured a nightmare off-season on the injury front, robbing the youthful squad of vital experience.

Jesse Hogan is on indefinite leave as he focuses on his mental health, while Stephen Hill (quad), David Mundy (leg), Alex Pearce (ankle), Joel Hamling (ankle), Nathan Wilson (toe), and Blake Acres (hamstring) are all unavailable.

It means Longmuir will be without seven of his best 22 players in his first official game as coach.

Essendon aren't without their own problems, with Cale Hooker (hip), Dyson Heppell (foot), Joe Daniher (groin), and Patrick Ambrose (knee) also out of action.

Under Ross Lyon, Fremantle were renowned for employing a defence-heavy game style that relied on extreme effort and discipline.

Longmuir is keen to maintain a strong defensive aspect, but he also wants to balance it out with a focus on free-wheeling attack.

He knows his team will need to play well in order to counter Essendon's sizzling counter-attacks from defence.

Longmuir has consistently said he doesn't want to use his team's lengthy injury list as an excuse.

Instead, he wants to focus on the opportunity it creates.

Forward Sam Sturt has been named for his debut, while forward Cam McCarthy will be given the chance to prove his worth on a wing.

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown up more curve balls for Longmuir to deal with in his debut game as coach.

But Longmuir is keeping things in perspective, playing down talk a win against the Bombers on enemy territory would go down as a famous effort.

"I just think it would be great evidence that our program is on track," he said.

The Bombers will unveil new recruits Jacob Townsend and Tom Cutler.

This season will mark John Worsfold's last as coach of the Bombers before handing over the reins to his assistant Ben Rutten.

How smoothly the handover functions remains to be seen.

Collingwood experienced plenty of angst when Mick Malthouse was forced to pass the baton to Nathan Buckley at the end of 2011.

But master coach Paul Roos ensured it was a smooth transition when he stepped aside for John Longmire at Sydney at the end of 2010, before doing the same for Simon Goodwin at Melbourne in 2016.

The Bombers copped a 55-point loss at the hands of West Coast in last year's elimination final and the pressure is on them in 2020 to win a final for the first time since 2004.