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Dockers primed for big premiership tilt

AT THE risk of having to picture the likes of Hayden Ballantyne and Ryan Crowley sidling up to the late great Robert Palmer, sporting purple jumpers and slicked back hair, Fremantle's form early in 2014 has been "simply irresistible".

Playing in their 20th season, the long-time easybeats are as short as $3.70 in betting markets to win their first flag, ahead of premiers Hawthorn ($4.25), Geelong ($9), and West Coast ($10).

The Dockers' premiership window has never been open so wide, and will certainly remain that way while Aaron Sandilands' huge size-18 boots are there to keep it propped up if needed.

The 211cm giant was plagued by tendon damage in his (really) big toe throughout 2011 and 2012, before a dodgy hamstring restricted him in 2013.

But, he has quickly regained the mantle as the most effective ruckman in the league - and become the most popular player in Supercoach ahead of Patrick Dangerfield and Gary Ablett - in the opening two rounds.

Sandi recorded a career-high 58 hitouts - just five short of Gary Dempsey's all-time record set in 1983 - during the win over the Gold Coast, and even registered a personal-best six tackles, just one less than he collected in 14 games last season.

While you wouldn't envy the kid given the task of draping it around his neck on grand final day, few would begrudge Sandilands a premiership medallion.

It goes without saying his skipper, Matthew Pavlich, deserves one too to go with his six All-Australian jumpers and six club best-and-fairest awards.

But time is of the essence, and the Dockers need to strike while their line-up is hot ... and not cooked.

Freo's playing list is now the league's oldest, rising seven spots from 2013, and the second-most experienced, in terms of average games, up nine places. It is also has the experience of grand final defeat, so is primed.

But, while the likes of Nat Fyfe (22), Stephen Hill (23), Michael Walters (23) and Michael Barlow (26) could dominate for some time yet, other stars crucial to any premiership success are in the twilight of their careers, namely bookends Pavlich and Luke McPharlin (both 32), while Sandilands (31) and top tagger Crowley (30) are also on that "wrong side" of 30.

And when coach Ross Lyon gives them the old heave-ho, you'll know it might be all over at Freo.

You only have to ask St Kilda champion Nick Riewoldt how near yet so far a flag can be - and how fleetingly a club can remain a 'genuine contender'.

Lyon and Riewoldt got within a kick or two of leading the Saints to the ultimate glory in 2009 and 2010. But, within a couple of years Lyon was gone and the club was in rebuild mode. They may still have six players over 30, but have been one of the big sliders on the average-age and average-games-played tables (with Collingwood).

You get the feeling though Riewoldt may just be looking to reload for another crack, with the Saints having audaciously vowed to win their second premiership by 2020.

At 31, Riewoldt is leading the AFL coaches award after two best-on-ground displays. If Lance Franklin is going to still be playing at 36, surely big Roo's a chance to still be going at 37.



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