Nat Fyfe is the pillar around which Fremantle is trying to build its side going into next season and beyond.
This season, the big-bodied midfielder has returned to something of his best football, reminding the football community just how good he can be.
Fyfe isn’t the only great player at the Dockers — Michael Walters will go down as one of the club’s all-time best, and David Mundy continues to be important — but he is player on which his teammates and Fremantle supporters can rely to stand up when things aren’t going their way.
Think of the match against Hawthorn in round 17, when after the Hawks kicked the first five goals, Fyfe booted three of the next four to drag his side back into the contest.
Or his vital turn in the third quarter of the Dockers’ brilliant win over Geelong a fortnight ago, when he booted two goals to put his side in front and on track for victory.
It is moments like these which have catapulted the Dockers captain to the top of the Brownlow Medal conversation — indeed, he has been installed as favourite for the AFL’s fairest and best award.
He has also won a fourth Geoff Christian Medal for best Fremantle or West Coast player, as determined by ABC Perth’s commentary team.
Comparisons with his 2015 season, when he claimed his first award, are impossible to avoid — and it makes for compelling reading.
From his 18 regular season games that year, Fyfe had nine 30+ possession games and booted 17 goals, on his way to 31 Brownlow votes.
So far this season, he has played 19 matches, had 11 30+ possession games, and kicked 15 goals.
Ross Lyon would describe it as fingernail deep analysis, but it suggests he is well and truly on track to claim the medal.
Clearing the major hurdle
Winning the Brownlow is as at times as dependent on a player’s individual brilliance as it is on the performance of those around him and the result of the game.
In 2015, Fyfe polled three votes nine times, but didn’t poll a single vote when Fremantle lost.
The following year Patrick Dangerfield won the medal at a canter, but polled just a single vote across Geelong’s five losses for the season.
Dustin Martin broke the record for votes tallied since the 3-2-1 system was introduced, but just four of his 36 votes in 2017 came in losses, while Tom Mitchell recorded five of his 32 votes in losses to claim the medal last year.
This means Fyfe will have to buck the recent trend and receive votes in numerous losing performances to win the Brownlow, with Fremantle only having recorded nine wins for the year to date.
Fyfe remains dominant in field
One major advantage for Fyfe is there is unlikely to be anyone taking votes away from him.
He has clearly been the side’s dominant figure across the year, and will not be overshadowed too often.
For his fellow favourites in the race for “Charlie”, it might not be so clear cut.
Dangerfield and fellow Cats midfielder Tim Kelly are considered the best five players in the competition, and will constantly be competing for best afield for the Cats, while Bulldog Marcus Bontempelli will likely lose votes to Jack Macrae.
Perhaps the biggest threat to Fyfe is his former midfield partner Lachie Neale — the Brisbane recruit has produced a stunning season, and is figuratively head and shoulders above his Lions teammates.
Neale will poll well, as will the rest of the favourites, and it could come down to the final game of the season.