Fremantle coach Ross Lyon admits he may have erred in persisting with an undersized forward line earlier this year, but he’s glad spearhead Matt Taberner was made to win back his spot the hard way.
Taberner showcased his potential with four goals, seven contested marks, and 18 possessions in Sunday’s 37-point win over Essendon.
It was the 23-year-old’s first game of the season after he was squeezed out of the best 22 following the arrivals of Shane Kersten and Cam McCarthy over the summer.
Lyon initially thought his team would be too top-heavy by playing all three key forwards.
But the trio worked well together in the win over Essendon, booting eight goals between them.
At 199cm, Taberner is the tallest of the lot, with McCarthy (192cm) and Kersten (191cm) the next tallest up forward.
Taberner had already played 45 AFL matches leading up to this year, but Lyon admitted they weren’t all on merit.
Rather, Fremantle’s lack of forward options in previous years forced Lyon to play Taberner well before his time, with Taberner often struggling to make an impact in matches.
Taberner had booted just 41 goals leading into Sunday’s match, but his four-goal haul against the Bombers was arguably the finest performance of his fledgling career.
After the round-six derby loss to West Coast, Lyon said he didn’t think a lack of height in his forward line was an issue.
But he was rethinking that statement after Taberner’s strong marking display, which also helped ease the pressure on McCarthy and Kersten.
“Maybe I was wrong. It certainly helped,” Lyon said of Taberner’s inclusion.
“I think they looked dangerous all day. I think he helped the other two and that was the aim.”
Lyon said Taberner would face a huge challenge when he confronts All-Australian defender Alex Rance in Sunday’s clash with Richmond at the MCG.
And he said Taberner’s omission from the best 22 over the first six rounds had been crucial in the spearhead’s development.
“To Matthew’s credit he has worked really hard off the rookie list, but sometimes you get an opportunities when maybe you shouldn’t be playing,” Lyon said.
“That can give you a false sense of where you are at, and probably not as sharp a keenness subconsciously to work on the things you need to.”
Taberner offered Aaron Sandilands relief in the ruck on Sunday, and he’s set to play a similar role when he lines up against Richmond.
The Dockers were being talked up as wooden spoon contenders after opening their season with two big losses.
They now sit in ninth spot with a 4-3 record – not that Lyon is getting carried away.
“Look, from the lowest point in the club’s history it’s probably not a bad position to get to,” Lyon said.