AFL 2023: Will Brodie’s run at Fremantle looks to have come to an end

When there’s a Will, there’s a way.

But if you’re of the Brodie variety, it’s hard to see a clear path back into Fremantle’s best 22 next season. And that’s why Will Brodie should be entertaining a trade if a suitor emerges this off-season.

When Brodie was thrown up in trade discussions with Fremantle towards the end of 2021, he wasn’t even the selling point of the eventual deal. That was pick 19, which the Dockers turned into Matthew Johnson. Brodie was both the steak knives and a salary cap dump.

Brodie took less than a month to prove he was a worthy addition to Fremantle’s finals-bound set of cutlery. In round four against Greater Western Sydney, he had a career-high 37 disposals. He matched it a month later against North Melbourne in round eight. And playing every game in 2022, including Fremantle’s two finals, Brodie averaged a career-high 26.8 touches, 5.7 clearances and 5.3 tackles.

His resurgence was aided by a gift from the injury gods. Two-time Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe played just seven games. In that time, Brodie elevated himself from backup plan to one of the recruits of the year. He didn’t receive the attention or accolades of Caleb Serong or Andrew Brayshaw. But his big body, clean hands and contested calibre were crucial to Fremantle’s midfield mix.

From the outside looking in, it appeared as though the top-10 pick turned his career around overnight. But in reality, it was a result of Brodie getting consistently cut down across the course of his time at the Suns. That’s what resilience does.

Now, history is repeating itself.

Opportunities at Brodie’s former club Gold Coast were rare and rarely made the most of. Across 25 games in four seasons at the Suns, Brodie tasted victory just three times.

The meteoric rise of Touk Miller coupled with the desire to develop Noah Anderson and Matt Rowell sent Brodie to the bottom of the pecking order. And then senior coach Stuart Dew didn’t believe he had it in him to overtake them.

“We experimented with Will to try and play a different role and get some flexibility,” Dew said back in 2021. “However, Matt Rowell’s best footy is on the inside, Touk Miller’s best footy is on the inside…and I think everyone can see where Noah is going.

“It wasn’t about, could he play AFL footy? It was ultimately about, could he get in front of Miller, Rowell and Anderson?”

Fremantle are asking the same question but now it’s a matter of Brodie overtaking Serong, Brayshaw, Fyfe, Hayden Young, Jaeger O’Meara, Matthew Johnson and Neil Erasmus.

Serong and Brayshaw are the benchmark. Dockers coach Justin Longmuir has indicated that Fyfe, if fully fit, will return to a full-time midfield role. Young’s future lies in the midfield after the defender switched roles late in the season. O’Meara essentially took Brodie’s place and the Dockers haven’t done enough to fit that pair into the same midfield. And Fremantle must find a way to keep getting games into Johnson and Erasmus.

That leaves Brodie at the crossroads.

The 25-year-old played just five senior games in 2023, including one matchwinning role as Fremantle’s tactical sub against the Gold Coast. He was dropped after round seven and didn’t play again, not even when the Dockers’ midfield was being badly bullied and beaten during the middle of the year.

An ankle injury slowed him down for a month. Since returning, Brodie has averaged 28.6 disposals in his last five games at Peel Thunder.

“I think the midfield the last three weeks in particular has been really strong and really consistent through there,” Longmuir said in August. “He needs to play at a high level and wait for an opportunity.”

There’s a school of thought that Brodie isn’t involved enough in scoring chains. But he’s too good to be playing in the WAFL.

There’s also the added complexity of his contract. Brodie signed a three-year extension that ties him to Fremantle until 2026 in March. It seemed an obvious decision at the time. Now in September, it’s odd and perplexing.

The limitation on guys like Brodie is AFL clubs can only really afford to field two of them on any given day. They lack that speed and spread from the contest that the best midfielders in the competition boast. They’re also not overly flexible. But they make up for it by nailing the hard stuff.

If any one of Fremantle’s midfielders went down with an injury, Brodie could comfortably hold his own at AFL level. And therein lies the problem. There are several teams out there who could do with a Will Brodie round one next season.

It all hinges on what Brodie desires from whatever is left of his AFL career. Fremantle is on the verge of AFL success and he’s one or two injuries away from being part of it. Depth is important. And Brodie owes the Dockers something for aiding his career reinvigoration.

Ultimately, Brodie is a proven AFL footballer and a trade may be the best thing for him given Fremantle’s new-found oversupply of midfielders.

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