Fremantle Dockers look for defensive hero

Fremantle coach Ross Lyon is on the lookout for an unlikely hero as he attempts to plug the hole left by injured defender Michael Johnson.

Johnson will miss the entire AFL finals series due to a back injury that requires surgery.

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Freo Final Fever

It's the second year in a row the Dockers have made it to the top four, and the City of Fremantle can't contain its excitement.

The 29-year-old's absence comes at a particularly bad time for the Dockers, who will also be without All-Australian Luke McPharlin for Saturday's qualifying final against Sydney at ANZ Stadium.

The Swans are set to unleash a monster forward line featuring Lance Franklin, Kurt Tippett, Adam Goodes and Sam Reid.

Fremantle will recall Alex Silvagni to give fellow key backman Zac Dawson a helping hand, and Lyon is contemplating switching either forward Chris Mayne or ruckman Zac Clarke to defence in order to quell Sydney's leftover bigs.

Midfielder Anthony Morabito could be handed a "wildcard" recall after playing some games in defence during the WAFL season, while Lyon said 19-year-old beanpole Alex Pearce and 196cm swingman Tanner Smith were other options under consideration to replace Johnson.


Forgotten ruckman Jon Griffin and Jack Hannath could also find themselves in the selection mix as Lyon prepares for an exhaustive debate at the selection table.

Morabito has played just three games since returning from his third knee reconstruction earlier this year, while the 198cm, 88kg Pearce is yet to debut.

Smith's sole AFL appearance came in round four last year.

Mayne performed admirably when switched to defence earlier this season, but the 25-year-old's frenetic pressure would be sorely missed in attack if he is moved again.

Lyon conceded the challenge of quelling Sydney's forward line was a significant one.

"Buddy's a special player. His league career tells you that," Lyon said on Tuesday.

"The recruitment of Tippett and Franklin has been extraordinary for them.

"Then you couple that up with Reid and Goodes and their smalls and it's really quite powerful.

"Look, (Johnson's injury) is not the ideal scenario for us, but it's not something we're dwelling on.

"Our job is to plan and prepare and come up with solutions.

"I know where the focus is, I understand that. But it's going to be won and lost in the midfield.

"It's going to be about team defence. It's going to be about pressure."

Showers are forecast for Saturday's game - a situation that could end up favouring Fremantle given Sydney's tall forward line.

"They're going to want to catch it, because we're going to be running," Lyon said.

"We do play well in the wet. It doesn't faze us at all. Our game style stands up."

The Dockers will be bolstered by the return of star midfielder Nat Fyfe from suspension, while Sydney will welcome back Franklin, Josh Kennedy, Ben McGlynn and Mike Pyke.

Sydney are also hopeful Craig Bird (knee) will be available.

Pavlich to stay up forward

Meanwhile, Fremantle skipper Matthew Pavlich says fans shouldn't expect to see him spend much time in the midfield during the club's AFL finals campaign.

Pavlich was thrown into the midfield for small patches of last week's win over Port Adelaide in order to cover for the loss of suspended star Fyfe.

Fyfe will return for Saturday's qualifying final and Pavlich is more than happy to leave the midfield work for the on-ballers.

"I don't think it will necessarily be a huge amount of time in there," said Pavlich, who won All-Australian selection as a midfielder earlier in his career.

"We've worked on some variety in different players' games, and changing things up every now and then.

"It was nice to be in there for a couple of centre bounces. But there's no risk of it being a long-term role I wouldn't have thought."

Fremantle's forward line has become a major force over the past three weeks, with the side booting more than 100 points in wins over Hawthorn, Brisbane and Port Adelaide.

The return from injury of Michael Walters has added an extra dose of class over the past month, while the recent form of 197cm Matt Taberner has benefited Pavlich, who has kicked seven goals in his past two games.

"It's certainly assisted, having another tall there," Pavlich said of Taberner.

"It's definitely alleviated some burden, but what we've seen as a group is we've all improved together.

"We think we've got some weapons up there that can certainly kick a winning score.

"But clearly it's not about that, it's about us defending and helping the mids and defenders with the ball going the other way.

"I think we've upped the tempo in the last few weeks, and it's been a big focus of ours. So it's going to be important come Saturday afternoon."