Coach Ross Lyon says Fremantle's inconsistency was exposed in the first nine rounds, leaving them with plenty of work to do to nail down a top-four spot.
The Dockers face the 14th-placed Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium on Sunday, the first of nine straight games against teams outside the top eight.
They are likely to make two changes to the side that beat Geelong on May 17, with defender Luke McPharlin set to return after missing two games with a quad injury and Matt de Boer in serious doubt after limping from training yesterday.
De Boer was later seen wearing a brace on his left knee and then skipped a scheduled appearance at the Fremantle Telstra Shop.
He is awaiting the results of a scan. De Boer has not missed a game since round 23, 2012, but was dropped for the round-seven western derby before an injury to Stephen Hill gave him a late reprieve.
De Boer's injury could open the door for Colin Sylvia to make his Fremantle debut.
Lyon said a relatively healthy list meant selection was tough.
"He (Sylvia) is some chance," he said. "It's going to be harder obviously. No one's walked into our office yet and said: 'Here's my spot, I'll give it to Col'."
Lyon was optimistic McPharlin, who trained strongly yesterday, would play, and said the lack of tall forwards at the Bulldogs would not affect selection.
"I haven't been in a position to rest and rotate too often, so we're planning to get Luke up," he said.
Lyon used last weekend's bye to review the first nine rounds and plenty of issues emerged, including a lack of consistency.
"But we worked into pretty good shape," he said. "Our contests have improved, our use has improved, and our defence.
"We're 5-4. It tells us we've got plenty to improve on. We're chasing teams at the top level of their consistency."
Lyon said the Bulldogs' lowly position on the ladder belied the competitive nature of their side.
They trailed Gold Coast by six points at half-time of last Sunday's game at Metricon Stadium, only to be outscored 11 goals to five after half-time.
"I've got nothing but respect for their coach Brendan McCartney," Lyon said.
"They've got some great, experienced leaders in (Adam) Cooney, (Ryan) Griffen, (Will) Minson, (Dale) Morris - unbelievable competitors.
"They're a really hard-nosed, competitive team.
"They've only had some brief lapses that have cost them so we're under no illusions as to how tough it's going to be."
Lyon also dismissed talk about an easy draw over the next two months.
"The form we're in, we don't take anyone for granted," he said.
"We have got nothing but respect for our opponents. To our fans and members, there is no breathing out here.
"We have got significant chall- enge after significant challenge but we stay in the moment, we focus on our next meeting, our next training session and we pursue excellence."
"... we've got plenty to improve on. We're chasing teams at the top level of their consistency." " *Ross Lyon *