The game started at a blistering pace and only one team could maintain that pace.

The Western Bulldogs moved into ninth and are now seriously knocking on the door of finals. You know what – if I was sitting in fifth, I would be very nervous about running into this Bulldogs team.

The usual suspects did their thing, and they added a couple of facets as well – one ending in smiles and the other in frowns, as the debut of Rhylee West and the return of Dale Morris had decidedly different outcomes.

Still, the Dogs have made a statement in the second half of the season, and with their game against the Lions next a pivotal contest for both teams, we should be in for a cracker.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

THE GOOD

 

THE FIRST HALF BLAST

Now that was some exciting football to watch! The Dogs have been playing some very attractive footy over the last month – so much so that they have been my favourite team to watch over this period. Their mids are fantastic and with Naughton up forward, they make for an impressive young group.

We’ve had Bont dominating games, Dunkley putting up what would be called video game numbers if we had a decent video game to play (AFL Evolution lost me after a week or so… and what happened to the sequel? Did it come out? Did I miss it?).

And then we have had Jack Macrae with one of the most impressive midfield runs of the season as well.

This week, it was Bailey Dale headlining the second quarter show, with great supporting action from Naughton, Bont and the debutant, Rhylee West.

The Dogs had 12 goals to half time, effectively putting the game beyond the Dockers as they established a six and a half goal lead. The Dockers tried to match them, but they just couldn’t hang with the Dogs, who took the ball end to end with fluency and apparent ease on many occasions. They ran harder for longer and in some cases, you had two or three Bulldogs players streaming past their three-quarter pace running opponents.

Luke Beveridge has seen his team come from the clouds before. Do you think he’ll sit home tonight after taking it all in and think “What if…”?

JACK MACRAE

This guy is a running machine, and more than that, he is a running machine with genuine footy skills.

I should elaborate. We’ve seen many great runners in the game. I’ll use Tom Scully as an example. He’ll run all day and will still be going at the same pace with five minutes to go in the last quarter as he was with five minutes expired in the first. He is a workhorse with a huge tank.

But he doesn’t hurt teams. He doesn’t lace his 50 metre passes out to teammates. He doesn’t lay copious amounts of tackles week in and week out.

Jack Macrae does that, and it’s about time he was given some damn respect.

From Round 13 onwards, Macrae has been an absolute machine, averaging 35.71 disposals per game. Is it time we started speaking about him as a lock for All-Australian this season? Only Adam Treloar has more touches for the year, and Macrae is much more potent with the ball in hand than his Collingwood counterpart.

If the Dogs can string a couple more wins together… just a couple more and make it to September, and Macrae can continue this rich vein of form, his claims on a first AA Blazer will be close to undeniable, if they’re not already.

THE BONT AND FYFE

I was really hoping these two would take responsibility for each other right from the first bounce, but with Bont in the guts immediately and Fyfe thrown up forward, that didn’t eventuate.

Bont ran hard all game and was very unlucky not to get on the end of some more inside 50 ball, as some players got a little goal hungry as the game wore on. To be fair, Bont looked as though he desperately wanted to end the game with three goals as well as he went for home on a few occasions where a teammate was open as well.

That Fyfe ended up with 33 touches was quite remarkable given he was without a touch halfway through the first quarter. He has a tremendous hunger for the contest, and his willingness to put his body on the line has been first class all season. As always, I loved his work overhead, and I’m not sure there is a better overhead marking mid in the competition. He added seven clearances to his stats as he and Andrew Brayshaw gave the Dockers something to smile about.

But were his 33 touches better than Bont’s 28 for the game?

Not by a long shot. Bontempelli signalled his intentions with a brilliant one handed gather and clearance early in the game. It was just one of those wonderful things Bont does on a regular basis, and I was glad when Paul Roos actually mentioned he’d like to see it again, because it was as fluent as you get in the contest.

Bont had four clearances but added 11 score involvements to his stat column, and drove the Dogs inside 50 nine times. He was also the number one rated player for metres games.

Fyfe was second.

We got to see some wonderful football on display this afternoon. Fyfe was combative and strong in the air. Bont was electrifying with the ball in hand, and looked dangerous whenever he was near it. His two goals and the ability to hurt with the footy probably put him out on front of Fyfe on the day, but watching two players of this calibre is a pleasure for a neutral supporter.

BRAYSHAW

With 26 touches and three goals to him name, Andrew Brayshaw completed what was probably his most complete outing in the big time to date.

He was headed toward this kind of output last season before his 2018 was cut short. Both he and Adam Cerra looked like potential stars in the rookie seasons, but with Cerra moved into a defensive role, it has been Brayshaw that has been granted the opportunity to blossom as a runner.

And he has grasped the opportunity with both hands.

Whilst some will question whether Cerra could also have blossomed if given the opportunity, Brayshaw’s out in this game gives a string indication that he is ready to step into the role occupied currently by Ed Langdon when he makes the next logical move after “putting contract talks on hold” until after the season.

We all know what that means.

With a brother at West Coast, the odds of Brayshaw staying put in WA are probably better than your usual Victorian. He could be a real player for the Dockers for many, many years.

 

BELIEF

You could see it on the faces of the Dogs players and supporters – they can play finals this season. With Adelaide faltering and Port dropping their game to GWS last night, the Dogs are now best positioned to make a play for eighth spot.

Their percentage is poor, but the way they move the ball, and the talent they possess through the midfield and up forward is quite impressive. If you cannot restrict Macrae, Bont, Dunkley and Hunter, you are in big trouble, and with teams like GWS, Collingwood, and Essendon all vying for fifth, the Dogs have the weaponry to give them an almighty scare in the first week of the finals.

But in order to do that, there are some hurdles to jump first, with Brisbane on the agenda in Round 20. The Dogs have a win over the Lions already in 2019, knocking them over in Round Eight, but playing them at the GABBA is a different kettle of fish.

The Dogs are 1-2 on interstate trips this season, and will be desperate to square the ledger and stay in finals contention. With the Crows facing the Saints (who will fancy themselves capable of causing a big upset), the Dogs could move into serious contention as early as next week.

Believe, Dogs fans… believe.

BAILEY AND BAILEY

Bailey Dale will no doubt get a lot of attention for another flour goal performance, and he probably should’ve had five after missing a soda from 30 out on the beautiful centring kick from Patrick Lipinksi.

He really worked well against an excellent defender in Joel Hamling, refusing to resort to the pushing and shoving content that Hamling usually wins. Instead, Dale remained mobile, took marks on the lead and was a menacing presence when the action became chaotic.

And causing some of that chaos was Bailey Smith. Often lost when it comes to discussions about the ongoing potential of Rising Star nominees, Smith had a bit of a lull midseason following a great start to the year. He was on-song, kicking two goals and laying three tackles inside 50.

His 20 touches and eight score involvements are indicative of a player who worked very hard not only to run forward when a chance to kick goals beckoned, but of a disciplined young player who was willing to do the hard work inside 50 to ensure the ball stayed locked in for his team.

With Aaron Naughton lacking only the finishing skills to cap a great day, Smith and Dale bobbed up where needed and really set the Dogs alight early in the piece. You can see that Smith’s future is in the middle of the ground, but as a second or third option, Dale may have a long tenure at the kennel as well.

THE BAD

 

THE STATUE OF AARON SANDILANDS

I am not a fan of kicking a Docker when he’s down, but there were a couple of instances today where Aaron Sandilands looked about as useful out there as Kyle Sandilands is on a diet.

On a couple of occasions, Sandilands was moved forward to provide a target inside 50. The problem with this is, as we all know, Big Sandi has absolutely sucked as an inside 50 for basically his whole career. He doesn’t take big marks, he doesn’t kick big goals, and it is about time Ross Lyon either came to terms with that and stopped playing there in the hopes that at 36 years old, he might actually discover the key to being a… you know, KEY forward.

If this was an experiment, it is the same experiment that coaches have been trying with Sandilands since the dawn of time. Has he been around that long? It sometimes feels like it!

The big fella looked lost down there and genuinely impacted two inside 50 chances negatively for his team. It was as though someone took a statue of the colossus and dumped it right in the Fremantle 50 metre arc and all the other forwards had to run around it hoping to avoid it.

I know this is low hanging fruit, but the criticism is not of Sandi. He was doing the best with what his old body could offer. This is more a criticism of the set-up, which basically set the big guy up to fail.

His career-high for goals is two. His career-high for marks is ten… once! He was never going to be the difference down there and Freo would have been better served with Sandilands resting on the bench than taking up space unnecessarily in the forward 50.

At least he didn’t tear a calf, I guess.

 

THE UGLY

 

OLD LEGS

I don’t think there was anyone whose heart didn’t sink just a little when Dale Morris’ knee seemed to buckle under the strain of AFL footy yet again.

Watching, you get the feeling this may just be it for Morris, who has overcome… no, succumbed to injury too often. I don’t think he has overcome injury because just when he does the work to get back, he is struck down again, and again. My heart goes out to him, but his left leg looked to be held together with strapping today – he was a man literally on his last leg.

A lot of credit must go to Morris for the stoic way he handled himself after, what he must know was another ACL injury. Once you’ve had one, you know it when you’ve done it again. He was coaching, instructing, encouraging… he is a coach in the making, or at least a very good assistant.

He looked great in the first quarter, and was a real presence in the back half before leaving the ground with a niggle to that knee. Once he returned, the strain of all those years, and all the wars was too much for the old dog to handle. His knee buckled as he changed direction.

I think that’ll be it for him at AFL level, and I’d like to wish him all the best.

QUICK BITS

With his bald head, Tory Dickson looks a bit like Humpty Dumpty.

A bit of love for Taylor Duryea here. Given the responsibility of Brandon Matera, he was fantastic across half back. I know Caleb Daniel gets all the plaudits for his role as a small defender when he drifts back there, but Duryea was rarely beaten in this game, and unlike Daniel, is not exploited when teams can work a mismatch.

Loved the kicking skills of Michael Walters in this one, but he just didn’t get enough of it in the right spots to truly hurt. That said, if you want a target hit, and you have Walters on your right and Mundy on your left to give it to, who do you choose? Both are absolutely elite by foot.

Speaking of elite by foot, Bontempelli’s running goal in the first quarter was the absolutely scintillating stuff. The goal review to check whether it was touched two or three metres over the line was probably a little unnecessary.

Loved Derm’s reference to Cowboy Bob Orton on commentary, but I reckon a better comparison, considering he was talking about Fyfe’s elbow infection, would have been Randy Savage. Did you know that Savage checked himself out of hospital with a staph infection to lose the title to Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 5? I probably would’ve called in sick that day.

Interesting to see Cordy started up forward. Also interesting to see he had minimal impact, but it looked as though he was completely robbed on a mark that was not paid in the second quarter.

Sam Lloyd has been a wonderful addition for the Dogs this season. With 32 goals to his name, he has more than justified his move from Punt Road, and with the benefit of hindsight, may have waited a year too long to make the jump.

I liked what I saw from West. That little sideways chip across goal to set up Lachie Hunter was wonderful, and the fact he had the presence of mind to feign the handball in mid-air before dishing off by foot was excellent thinking. You know he’s going to be a player… not sure he’ll be a seven-time Best and fairest winner… but two or three would be nice.

And that’ll do me for this one. Really enjoyed the Dogs’ display of power football. They play a style that would be setting off some alarm bells in the completion and I cannot wait for the match with Brisbane next week.

For the Dockers – they need soldiers back. Hogan, Taberner and Pearce are all pieces of the spine, and they’ll add so much to the team next season if they can get right. They’ve got Geelong next week, and should be eyeing an upset against the traveling Cats.