'General soreness' a rare pleasure for star Docker

FREMANTLE star Kiara Bowers is on target to make her long-awaited Dockers debut in round one of the NAB AFL Women's season after pulling up well from her first competitive hit-out in nearly two-and-a-half years.

The forgotten midfielder has been sidelined from Freo's two AFLW campaigns due to setbacks following her third knee reconstruction in August 2016.

But Bowers made an uplifting return in a scratch match against the WA State Academy on Saturday at Cockburn.

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The 27-year-old – a five-time WAWFL best and fairest – picked up 14 touches in roughly 70 per cent game time and put the exclamation mark on her comeback with a goal in the dying stages.

"You could just see the effect she has on the girls because the girls were really excited for her," coach Trent Cooper told AFL.com.au.

She pulled up fine. I think she was rapt to pull up with general soreness, because she hasn't felt that general soreness for so long.

"She wasn't nervous (about her knee) at all. With her training, she's shown no signs of nerves whatsoever.

"I think she is probably a little bit nervous just where she's at, as far as she hasn't played for so long and the game has improved a lot.

"I told her we don't expect her to be the best player or even one of our most important players, it will be great having her just as part of the team, but she's got higher goals than that. She wants to be back where she was.

"To have that (game) out of the way and there will be another one this week, where she gets to play against AFLW opposition, will be really good for her."

The Dockers travel to Darwin for a clash with Adelaide this Saturday –  their final warm-up before the season-opener against Melbourne at Casey Fields on February 3.

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Conditions are set to be hot and humid for the 8pm (local) bounce at TIO Stadium but, apart from probably starting Bowers on the bench, Cooper won't hold his gun onballer back.

If she gets through unscathed, Bowers will be on the plane to take on the Demons.

"She gets through this and there's absolutely no reason she won't be out there (in round one)," first-year coach Cooper said.

"Her magnet is up on the board, no one is inked in yet as a definite starter, but there's every likelihood she will play round one.

"Can't wait for that, so you can imagine how the rest of the people who have grown with her and played with her for a long time and spent the full three years at the club with her how they're feeling.

"It will be exciting for us, for sure."

While Bowers' return was a highlight, Cooper took plenty of positives from the scratch match, especially his charges' ball movement into a dangerous forward line.

The Dockers have ranked equal-fifth and seventh for scoring in the first two seasons under Michelle Cowan, but Cooper expects his team to play attacking football.

"Everyone's written our forward line off as being a weakness, but I think from what we've seen so far we can hit the scoreboard quite well," he said.

"It's a pretty even forward line, so we think we can be pretty hard to match up on."

Former Crows marquee player Kellie Gibson is set to add some firepower after managing only one appearance for Fremantle last campaign, while star defender Ebony Antonio has been training up forward and could spearhead the attack.

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"She is really natural when the ball hits the ground and we're just working on her leading patterns. She's so competitive in the air and when the ball hits the ground, she's not going to get outmarked down there," Cooper said.

"She's working really hard with Amy Lavell, our forward line coach who was a really smart forward.

"If we can keep her there all year, we'd be confident she'd end up being a really good forward.

"It's just whether we can afford to do that or not. We'll have to wait and see."

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