The Western Bulldogs have been threatening, and tonight they delivered.
With their young forward on an absolute mission to redeem his poor showing in the west, and Marcus Bontempelli answering his critics with a wonderful midfield display, the Dogs handballed their way through whatever defensive trap the Tigers could throw at them, and appeared to remedy the goal kicking woes that had plagued them early in this season.
Can the Dogs build on this? Is this a blip on the Richmond radar, or something a little more? Let’s see what we can uncover as part of The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
There have been some questions raised about the Bont in recent weeks. Firstly Gary Lyon got stuck into him about his lack of defensive accountability when playing opposite Patrick Cripps a couple of weeks ago.
He then got some unfavourable comparisons to Nat Fyfe immediately after the Dockers sent the Dogs packing from WA. It was as though he needed something to stick it right up those who were on his back… myself included.
Well, if I’m walking a little funny tomorrow, it’s because Marcus Bontempelli put on a bit of a show as he collected 27 disposals tonight. He’s had bigger outings, statistically speaking, but he imposed himself on the contest in this game, particularly early when the Dogs needed to set the tone.
He took marks, extracted the ball at stoppages, sent the Dogs inside 50 and made the team walk a bit taller. You could tell early that he meant business, and though you had Macrae and Daniel accumulating more touches, no one had the impact in the midfield than Bont had.
Whatever questions were being asked of him as a player, as a leader, and as a star of the competition were answered emphatically with his performance in this game.
He had ten touches at quarter time, and every single one of them hurt the Tigers. He was running through the middle, changing direction to open up play for his team, and leading from the front. Injuries have robbed us of seeing this man play in this fashion, but for those who thought his 2016 was a flash in the pan, or that he’d never fully reach his potential, go back and watch him play in the first quarter again. Watch him impose his will, and watch the pups around him start barking as the big dog takes control.
Bont is back… and maybe he never left.
The great Wayne Carey once took 10 contested marks in a game. We heard it on commentary, but because I’m a massive geek, I kind of already knew. Nah, screw it – I didn’t kind of know… I knew. The fact that Aaron Naughton came within one of equalling that statistical Everest was quite amazing.
He joined Matthew Richardson, Barry Hall, Drew Petrie, Brad Ottens, Chad Cornes, Matthew Lloyd and Daniel Bradshaw with nine in a single game. And he did it against the highest quality of opposition, making it all the more special.
Dylan Grimes is a great defender – he basically dragged Richmond over the line with a monumental defensive effort against Port Adelaide earlier this season, but the way Naughton was able to completely destroy him in the air in this game was breathtaking.
Naughton was coming off a poor performance against Fremantle last week that saw him moved away from full forward after Joel Hamling refused to allow him any separation at all. Some might say he held him – I prefer to think Hamling played a blinder, and Naughton will be better for it.
Well, if tonight was the result of Naughton being taught a lesson last week, maybe there should be a couple of lessons over the course of this year to enable the 19 year old to become one of the best forwards in the game.
I wrote the below passage last season about Naughton, and I wanted to share it with you, as much to blow my own horn as it is to emphasise how good Naughton could be.
Aaron Naughton was an absolute standout. Taken at pick nine in the 2017 draft, Naughton demonstrated the kind of clean hands and ability to read the ball in flight that you’d have to be blind not to notice. He has “superstar” written all over him, and when all is said and done, he may be the one people look back at when revising this draft and state he should’ve “gone number one.”
I haven’t changed my mind. Naughton is fast becoming the key forward every single team wishes they’d picked up. His hands are like vices (I know I said “buckets” in the title, but that belongs to Stewie Loewe) and he was reading the ball in flight as well as anyone on the park tonight.
He finished with a bag of five, and had 11 score involvements in perhaps the most complete demonstration of forward craft we’ve seen this season.
If you get a chance to watch the highlights, do so. Smile as you remember the big forwards who’d clunk contested mark after contested mark, and then smile a little wider, because we’ve got one in the league right now. His name is Aaron Naughton.
And if you don’t support the Western Bulldogs, think about whether you should be smiling. This bloke tore apart one of the most highly regarded defenders in the game.
God help us… he’s only 19.
A lot of positives for the Dogs in this one, but the form of Hayden Crozier across half back has been a standout not just tonight, but over the course of the year thus far. He went over 20 disposals for the third time in seven games this season, and played a vital role in both steadying the Dogs when they needed him to, and pushing hard forward when the opportunity arose.
How do I know this? Well, I watched it, but we can back it up with a little data, too.
Crozier ran at a brilliant 96% efficiency in this game, but that could mean he was doing that boring little chip, chip, chip thing teams do across half back, right? Well, what about if I say he also clocked up 625 metres gained, to be the number one ranked player in the game for distance?
Ah, a little more compelling now, isn’t it?
The rare combination of gaining that sort of ground, and running at that high a percentage speaks volumes about the time and space he was afforded. He had 24 uncontested touches, and was allowed to run and carry from defensive 50 at will.
Crozier has been a very underrated addition since coming across from Fremantle, but with perfo
rmances like this, you’d be underrating him at your own peril from now on.
THE REVERSE SAMSON
So, I noticed a little beard shaving has happened in the facial area of Toby McLean, and not a moment too soon. You’re all familiar with the fable of Samson and Delilah, right? Where Delilah cuts Samson’s hair because it is the source of his strength? And because she’s a bit of a bitch.
Well, we had a bit of a reversal with McLean.
After shaving off the old cookie duster – diddly – McLean had his best game of the season, racking up 24 disposals and becoming a very reliable mobile target across half forward. How McLean is being used has been a matter of conjecture amongst some Doggies fans I know. They believe his talents are best utilised off half back or running through the middle, but Luke Beveridge obviously believes that McLean has the potential to play some very good footy in front of the ball.
If today was any indication, that’s why Beveridge is a head coach of an AFL team, and my Western Bulldogs supporting friends are bums.
McLean’s 24 touches are a season high, and if he can replicate this form again over the next couple of weeks, he is the perfect foil for Aaron Naughton across half forward. McLean is a good user of the footy when things are working for him, and as a hit up half forward, having him kicking the ball inside 50 is a luxury for the Dogs.
JACK MAC REDEMPTION
I gave Macrae a bit of a whack last time I reviewed a Dogs game. He was sloppy with the ball, looked like he preferred to get every touch on the outside and avoided touch in contests like women avoid my mate Joe Ganino… believe me, they won’t go near the ugly bloke!
But tonight things were different. Macrae looked to be on a mission, and he picked up 12 contested disposals as part of his game-high 36 touches. Better still, he was creative with the ball, took risks and often started a chain at half back that led to a shot at goal at the other end.
Macrae had ten score involvements despite sending the ball inside 50 only twice. His ability to put people into space, and allow teammates to capitalise on his hard work meant that he was doing the things he clearly wasn’t the last time I watched him.
Macrae had a ripping year in 2018, and though he was marginally quieter the last two weeks, he bounced back in a big way, notching his fifth 30+ disposal effort in seven games. He put his body on the line today, had the big Nank bury him in a tackle at one stage, and got up without so much as a complaint.
I reckon Jack Macrae swallowed a bit of pride over the last couple of weeks, and with Bont up and running at his best, Macrae is just the man to start helping Bont restore the pride that has been missing for a little while from the Western Bulldogs. Today was a great start.
HOLDING ‘EM GOALLESS
I was happy for Jackson Trengove. It looked like it meant a bit to him, and on the whole he was Tom Lynch’s master. He deserved to walk off the field with a big fat goose egg next to Tom Lynch’s name, and as the clock ticked down, you could see he was determined to make it happen.
Trengove played a blinder at full back, and while you could be critical of Lynch’s endeavour (and I’m sure many will), Trengove’s ability to match him for strength is a rarity. Lynch is a beast of a man, and can usually get separation against any opponent with a push off, but Trengove was having none of it, and aside from one quick entry that allowed Lynch the space to lead into the open, Trengove wore him like a glove.
The Dogs had many players worthy of votes in this game, but I am so tempted to throw one at Trengove for his efforts. 14 disposals, 10 big one percenters, and the guy second in the Coleman race walking away with no goals to his name. I’s say that’s worth of some recognition.
THE ENGLISH MAN
A few weeks ago, Brodie Grundy absolutely ripped Tim English apart. In a dominant display by one of the best big men in the game, Grundy dominated the kid at stoppages and probably earned himself three Brownlow votes in the process. Of course, he did receive three ultra-prestigious Mongrel of the Year votes in that game, so he’d probably be pretty happy about that.
It was the sort of comprehensive beat down that could really damage the psyche of a young ruckman, but watching the game on replay, there were several moments that English not only held his own, but managed to sneak away and have an impact on the game. Despite being soundly beaten, English had a way of finding things that impacted the contest. Like a raptor in Jurassic Park, he was learning.
Fast forward to tonight, and he was matched up against the beast of a man, Toby Nankervis. Nank is no Grundy, but he is a bully of a ruckman and he should’ve had his way with English at every stoppage around the ground.
But he didn’t.
What happened was that English started winning taps. And taking marks. And running off Nankervis. And gaining possession.
English started worrying less about what Nankervis was doing, and more about what he was doing. The result was a clear win in the ruck, for mine. He had 14 disposals at 71% efficiency, seven marks and 26 hit outs. Nankervis had similar stats but hacked the ball, travelling at 46% overall.
English is still a stick. It’s like him and Todd Marshall could enter a Mr Puniverse contest and make it to the final round without taking their shirts off, but you know what? He’s no dummy. He has a beautiful pair of hands that extend up like a big pair of testicles (thanks Jack Dyer) and grab that ball out of the air.
Last season I thought the Dogs had two of the best young talls in the game in Naughton and English, and today, we saw both of them take a big step in the right direction.
Look, we sing the praises of Shane Edwards when he has those games, handballing into space, setting up teammates, making the play through the centre and making teams pay for their errors. When he does it, it’s beautiful to watch.
But when he doesn’t, what then? I have to say, whenever I have said anything about Edwards in the past, I’ve got hate messages from Richmond supporters. Not Dusty. Not Cotchin. Not Riewoldt… it’s like supporters think those guys can stick up for themselves. Edwards is t
he one Tiger fans seem to rally around – he’s their protected species.
Well, tonight he was about as prolific as an endangered species. I hardly saw him out there at all.
Edwards played 78% of game time and managed just 12 disposals, of which seven of them hit the mark. This bloke was an All-Australian last season based on his creativity, and his ability to use the ball well. On tonight’s performance, he’d be lucky to make the EJ Whitten game.
Edwards is the kind of player who developed a consistency in 2018. These were the kinds of games that were so few and far between, that you forgot he had them in him. The last time he played this poorly was the Prelim, and even in that game he was more productive.
12 disposals is his lowest output since Round 13, 2017. It’s this type of regression when the Tigers need him to stand up that is worrying. The last ten times Edwards has collected under 15 touches the Tigers are 3-7. They need him playing well for the team to play well. Another few weeks like this and the Tigers might have to start clawing to make the finals, let alone start thinking about redemption.
ONE LEG DOESN’T HOLD UP A TRIPOD
When Alex Rance went down injured there was a ripple effect through the Richmond team. The defensive general was out, possibly for the season, and people wondered how they would cover.
Tiger fans were confident. They still had Dylan Grimes and David Astbury; two of the best defenders in the game to bolster their back half. Combine them with Nick Vlastuin, Nathan Broad and Bachar Houli, and the Tigers would be fine.
But without Astbury, the defensive tripod that was once so steady now teeters with every forward entry. As good as Dylan Grimes is, he cannot carry that defensive six. No one big can carry a defensive six. We’ve seen West Coast punished this season with an over-reliance on Jeremy McGovern down back, and now, with both Astbury and Rance not there, everything has landed on the lap of Dylan Grimes.
Tonight, he ran into a buzzsaw named Aaron Naughton, and the result was not pretty. Noah Balta tried to drop back and help out, but he is a kid out of position, and when he was there, he looked lost.
The Tigers need to get at least the second leg of the defensive tripod back. They need some stability as they head to Fremantle to take on another contested marking team – Fremantle. Astbury is likely to come back, but this week was the kind of game Richmond fans feared when Rance went down holding his knee. This is what other teams without a reliable defender deal with.
A belting inside forward 50 like this happened in the Preliminary Final. It’s happened again now. Teams are starting to take notice, and without Rance there to help out, teams are walking a little taller.
Get. Astbury. Back.
SEVEN OF THE BOTTOM EIGHT
Now, it doesn’t take a genius to go and have a gander at the stats, does it? I mean, I can do it, so the proof is in the pudding. So go ahead and have a look down at the bottom. Tell me what you see.
There’ll be talk about whose role is what, and how some players aren’t meant to get a lot of the footy, but when eight of the bottom nine disposal totals belong to players from one team, something’s up.
Tom Lynch had five touches and looked like a bloke with a crook knee. Dean Rioli was obviously hampered with a thigh injury. Dylan Grimes was too busy trying to make sure Aaron Naughton didn’t sit on his head in marking contests. Jason Castagna continued his poor form. Josh Caddy was ordinary. Nathan Broad meandered about the place doing little of note. And Noah Balta huffed and puffed a little but blew down nothing.
All these players had 11 disposals or less. Only one Bulldog broke up their monopoly of mediocrity, and that was Billy Gowers, but he also matched the scoring output of those seven Tigers, with two goals.
So you give Rioli a pass due to the heavy knock he took. He looked hobbled, and it was gutsy to play on with that injury. What about Lynch? I suppose he has the runs on the board to this stage of the season, so you can’t be too harsh on him, even though his attack on the ball was rather passive today.
How about Caddy? He slammed through 46 goals last season. This season, he’s on track to get around 30 if he’s lucky. Something is up. Last year’s Tigers would not get blown off the park like that. Not in Melbourne. Not by the Dogs.
Their delivery was terrible, the pressure was sub-standard (this is probably the most concerning aspect), and when they started to get opportunities, they squandered them badly. This was a team playing devoid of confidence, and the Bulldogs smelled blood. They went for the kill and the Tigers couldn’t fight back.
Many say beware the wounded Tiger, but tonight they just keeled over and died.
Hard to find a lot to like about the Tigers tonight, but Liam Baker had some nice moments. He may have picked up some garbage time stats, but he was possibly the only small forward-type for Richmond that actually looked dangerous.
Dusty… too much hacking the ball for my liking. Champion Data are saying he went at 76% but some of those kicks inside 50 were complete finger breakers. Interesting to see him caught holding the ball twice after attempted fend offs, as well.
I jump on and off the Caleb Daniel train quite a bit. He seems reliable by foot, but then he makes a bonehead decision and I jump off. He had 36 touches today with a mountain of them across half back, but he also had a couple of huge turnovers that could’ve been very costly. I’m not completely sold on the Daniel at half back role, and would like Matt Suckling back in as soon as possible. It’s the difference of 25 metres on every kick when you supplant Suckling into the role Daniel is playing.
Bailey Smith was excellent in this one, and though his numbers don’t quite stack up with some of his accumulating teammates, some of the contests he won were absolutely brilliant. They were contests that mattered, and he looks to be a genuine star in the making.
How good was Easton Wood’s mark with the flight of the ball early in the second quarter! There’s been a bit of that this week… wonderful, inspiring stuff.
Really good to see umpires not falling for players dropping at the knees. Both Prestia and Mclean got pinged for holding the ball while trying that old chestnut tonight. The umps have been whacked over the last couple of weeks, but they were right onto that tonight – great umpiring!
Sydney Stack’s bump on Caleb Daniel… Stack is fast becoming an honorary Mongrel of the highest order. That’s a couple of nice, big, fair hits in as many weeks. Love it.
The free kick and goal to Houli for “too high” against Caleb Daniel? That was about as soft as it gets in this game. I’m not sure he didn’t miss him and Houli collapsed as he felt the breeze.
The way the Dogs took on the Tigers with forward handball in the third quarter was great. Last season, Richmond would almost dare teams to do that, and when they did, they’d attack them and win the turnover. Either the Dogs were too precise with it today, or that Richmond pressure may not be at the same level? How about we say a little of both?
And I didn’t want to put this in the part about Naughton, but his last mark wasn’t contested. I reckon the statisticians as Champion Data got a bit caught up in the moment with that one. I’ve had tougher contests against my kids for the last slice of pizza.
But we’ll say it was nine contested marks… had that been his tenth, I reckon Wayne Carey may have asked for a review.
That’ll do for me, people. We have the Dogs taking on the Lions in Ballarat next week, which should be very interesting, while the Tigers Travel to WA and face the Dockers. Depending on which Freo team shows up, this could see Richmond out of the eight after round eight. Did anyone see this coming?
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