Jesse Hogan's promising scratch match return has buoyed Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir despite another close loss and more injuries in their AFL return on Saturday.
The key forward hasn't featured since injuring his foot against Melbourne at the MCG in June last season, while his mental health battle also saw him spend several months away from the club.
But he impressed in a Gabba scratch match before the AFL side's 12-point loss in a sign he could return to the top level next week.
The 12.9 (81) to 10.9 (69) defeat, in which the Dockers trailed by just four points at the death, followed a six-point loss to Essendon in round one.
Longmuir was frustrated to fall short again, but encouraged by the side's fight and Hogan's efforts earlier in the day.
"It's a big step, to be honest," Longmuir said.
"He approached it with the right attitude; it wasn't the news he wanted, to have to play not at AFL level.
"By all reports he worked really hard in the game today and took another step forward.
"We're just trying to make him AFL match ready so that once we get him into an AFL team he stays there week in, week out."
They might need him against Port Adelaide next Sunday on the Gold Coast, with Sean Darcy the latest name added to the side's long injury list.
The young ruckman landed awkwardly and failed to finish the game, with Longmuir hopeful scan results are kind on Sunday.
He joins Alex Pearce and Joel Hamling on the sidelines, while Nathan Wilson (back spasm) could be fit to play the Power next week.
Adding insult to the injury was the performance of former Docker Lachie Neale, who's game-high 29 touches were crisp and composed while others tired around him.
He also kicked two goals in an impressive performance that made up for a below-par showing in his first appearance against his former club last season.
"He probably just had his normal game today; he's a phenomenal player," Longmuir said.
"He probably highlighted the difference in some sense, that they were just a bit cleaner around the ball, a bit more one touch."