Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir is offended by rumours Reece Conca is being overlooked for selection because of a contract trigger, labelling the theory "totally inaccurate".
And Fremantle's injury curse has claimed another high-profile victim, with forward Rory Lobb (ankle) the latest to be ruled out for the remainder of the AFL season.
Conca performed a series of strong defensive shutdown roles on some of the competition's best small forwards last year.
The 28-year-old former Tiger started the 2021 season in solid form before being dropped after a disappointing display against Brisbane in round eight.
Conca has been named in just two matches since - as an unused sub in round nine and a one-off appearance in round 13.
It's understood Conca, a 150-game veteran, needs to play just two more matches to trigger a contract extension.
But he appears unlikely to reach that mark given he opted out of Fremantle's quarantine bubble this week, meaning he won't be available for AFL selection for the next two matches.
Some Fremantle fans have been left confused as to why Conca isn't getting more opportunities in the injury-hit senior side.
Longmuir was straight to the point when asked about the theory that Conca was being overlooked so as not to trigger a contract extension.
"It's just a totally inaccurate assumption and rumour," Longmuir said.
"If that was the case - because of the trigger - we wouldn't have played him as the sub against Essendon (in round nine).
"I'm really offended by whoever is saying that. It's totally inaccurate.
"Reece is really clear on what he needs to do to earn a spot in the team and he hasn't been able to do that consistently enough to earn his spot back in the side. So that's where it sits."
Longmuir says the club will sit down with Conca at the end of the season to discuss his future.
Lobb has been ruled out for the rest of the season after undergoing ankle surgery on Wednesday.
It came just days after skipper Nat Fyfe underwent season-ending shoulder surgery and Michael Walters was ruled out for four to six weeks with a hamstring injury.
"Following some light mobilisation work this week, Rory's ankle became further inflamed and sore," Fremantle's general manager of football Peter Bell said.
"After consulting with the surgeon it was decided that the surgery planned for the off-season should be brought forward."
Defender Alex Pearce (concussion) will miss Sunday's clash with Richmond at Optus Stadium on Sunday, but spearhead Josh Treacy (illness) returns.
The 11th-placed Dockers (8-10) and 10th-placed Tigers (8-10) are just half a win adrift of eighth spot, making Sunday's clash a crunch affair for the finals hopes of both sides.
Australian Associated Press