Well, where to begin with this one? It was a clinical performance by the Collingwood Football Club, dismantling the Bulldogs in the first half and running out easy 52-point winners in a game that promised so much, and delivered so little if you are a Western Bulldogs supporter.
The Dogs lacked passion, pressure and composure – all qualities the Pies displayed in abundance.
Make no mistake, the margin may have been under nine goals, but this was as comprehensive a beating as you’ll see.
Let’s check out the details in The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
THE GRUNDY LESSON… AGAIN
In January, I wrote a piece for members asking the question – Can Tim English overcome the ruck bullies? In his first attempt to stand up to those who take great delight in knocking him down, the answer was a resounding “NO!”
It was a mauling, If you’re a Pies fan, throw the tape on, sit back and enjoy the show if you haven’t seen it. It is like a nature documentary where a lion corners a baby giraffe, and it gets to the point where you’re pleading with that giraffe to do something – kick a leg out! Run! Do… something!
After an off-season where anyone attached to the Western Bulldogs talked up the fortunes of Tim English in 2020, Brodie Grundy showed that talk is cheap, and it is the performances on the field that dictate just who is the best ruck in the game.
And there was no doubt after this performance.
Grundy had six Brownlow votes in his two games against the Dogs last season, completely destroying English in the process. Fast forward another season – nothing has changed.
The first half was when the Pies star put his foot on the throat of the Dogs, compiling the kind of stats most rucks would be content with for the entire game. He had 13 touches, seven score involvements, five inside 50s and 25 hit outs to go along with a goal, completely overwhelming the outmatched English.
In response, the Dogs’ big man returned ZERO disposals… yep, not a touch, to go along with his six hit outs. It was as comprehensive a beating in a one-on-one duel I’ve seen, and as the half time siren rang, I actually felt pity for English. I was sad for him – he was monstered and as much as I think he will be a very good player, it was apparent just how far Grundy is in front of him at the moment.
Grundy finished with 19 touches and 37 hit outs as he took his foot off the pedal, and probably could have had three goals for the game as well. After leapfrogging Max Gawn into the position of the number one ruck in the game in 2019, Grundy has thrown down the gauntlet regarding 2020.
English had a better second half (it couldn’t get much worse than the first half) but by then the game was decided, and Grundy was a lot less attentive to anything English was attempting to do. Amazingly, English was not the worst player for the Dogs. He had plenty of mates to fill that position.
Three votes, B Grundy… again.
HOWE GOOD CAN JEREMY BE?
It might be time to start playing a defensive forward on Jeremy Howe. He is doing as he pleases.
In the Marsh Series, he was a standout and he carried that form over into Round One with a commanding performance across half back. He finished with 12 intercept possessions, which would be a very high number in a regular-length game, but to pull out those kinds of numbers in a contest that is 16 minutes of game time shorter is quite outstanding.
Howe reads the play as well as anyone in the game and judges the ball in flight to perfection. With Jack Crisp working further up the ground, Howe has slotted into that perfect rebounding defender role, and with bigs surrounding him, such as Jordan Roughead and Darcy Moore, he is free to float around and make penetrating the Pies’ defensive 50 more and more difficult.
His 25 touches were at a brilliant 88% efficiency as he steadied the Collingwood ship in defence and added a real sense of calm to the back six.
On any other day, he would have been best on ground in this one, but the Pies had winners everywhere, and this is a tough team to be rated the best on the park when it is playing like this.
ADAMS ON BONT
So, anyone see what happened to Marcus Bontempelli in the last quarter? “Hardly sighted” is describing his performance very lightly.
I’ll get to him a bit later, but I just want to give the nod here to Taylor Adams, who was handed a big responsibility in the midfield tonight. Without Adam Treloar, and with the Pies opting not to really play a defensive mid (Rupert Wills), Adams put his hand up to stand next to Bont at centre bounces.
And he proceeded to tear him to shreds.
In truth, it was a collective effort by the Pies to stifle the brilliance of Bontempelli, and the Dogs’ captain was not at all aided by the fact his ruck couldn’t get his hand on the footy, but Adams played his role perfectly in disallowing Bont any room to move when the tap was in dispute, and running off to receive from the sublime Grundy.
Adams finished with a game-high 12 clearances as he ripped the ball from the centre on six occasions. He wandered forward late in the game to be on the receiving end of a gorgeous inboard kick from Steele Sidebottom, and finished nicely with a goal.
When talking about the Collingwood midfield, Adams can often be like the fourth musketeer. We all know Pendles, and then Sidebottom had a ripping 2018 finals, Treloar just accumulates the ball like he has an unnatural attraction to it, but Adams… he slips under the guard a little.
Well, tonight was a wake-up call for anyone who is not factoring him into their plans when they play Collingwood. He was incredible, and went at top pace for the entire game.
And he put Bontempelli to shame.
THE PIES PRESSURE ON ONE END, AND COMPOSURE ON THE OTHER
How is that Collingwood continually have one player behind the ball no matter where the ball is on the park, and no matter the situation?
This was a masterful coaching display by Nathan Buckley, with his good ball users happy to drop back behind the ball, absorb any pressure the Dogs decided they wanted to apply (which, in fairness, wasn’t a heap).
Howe, Crisp, Maynard, Mayne, Pendlebury, Sidebottom… whenever one of them got the ball and was confronted with any trouble, all they had to do was look back over their shoulder and support was there.
Every. Single. Time!
The Dogs looked flustered and were seemingly reliant on a skill error to allow them any chance to get into a scoring position. The problem with that was that there were very few skill errors from the Pies. They were sharp with their skills, they moved with purpose to position, and even when the Dogs did attempt to apply pressure, they seemed to be able to walk through pissweak tackling attempts and go forward at will.
At the other end of the ground, the Dogs were buffeted and bustled into error after error, with their defensive exits hampered continually by Collingwood pressure.
Amazingly, despite the Magpie pressure being intense in the first quarter, at quarter time, the teams had just one tackle inside50 between them. Just one!
So, it was the implied pressure that got the Dogs, then, was it? The hand in the way as they attempted to handball, the push or bump as they attempted to kick. It was the little things the Pies did that brought the Dogs to their knees.
At quarter time, the game had a very similar feeling to the Richmond v Carlton game from the night before. One team just looked a level above, and if you’re a Western Bulldogs supporter, you would be bitterly disappointed with your team for vomiting up such an insipid, lacklustre and heartless exhibition.
But if you’re a Pies fan… there’ll be more than a few smiles tonight.
Watching Scott Pendlebury amble around the footy field, you could think he’ll play for another five years.
He just does everything so effortlessly, yet so well that it must make others, who are out there trying their guts out, feel either very angry, or completely inept.
By this stage of his career, I expected Pendles to have slotted into a different role – maybe the half back sweeper, using that wonderful vision and delivery to open the game up for his team. However, he has moved past a 2018 season that saw him struggle with injury, and back into the sort of form that made him one of the best to ever pull on the black and white.
He is clean at every opportunity, and during the first quarter, I started to wonder whether the Bulldogs had not been keeping up with the news and thought there was a chance the Collingwood captain was still under a cloud regarding his health. They seemed to be avoiding him at all costs.
Pendles gathered ten touches and three clearances in the first quarter and set the Pies on their merry way. He is the kind of footballer I could watch all day, irrespective of what team he played for. He is balanced, classy and just has command of the game at all times.
25 touches and three clearances are not numbers he’ll write home about, but it is the quality of those touches and when they came that made the difference.
Sam Lloyd had a really good 2019, and was one of the league’s – not just the Western Bulldogs’ – success stories. He made a real habit of bobbing up at the right place, at the right time, and capitalising on his midfield’s hard work.
He led the team in goals last season, and will probably give it a shake again this year. He is opportunistic and is a continual threat around goal.
But in this one, he fell victim to the implied pressure of the Pies, and as the seconds ticked down in the second quarter, he had the chance to mark at half forward and give his team a chance to score.
But he didn’t.
Brayden Maynard was coming the other way, and yes, there was a chance that he could’ve got to Lloyd and knocked him on his ass. He didn’t have to. The ball slipped straight through Lloyd’s hands, Jeremy Howe gathered and the Pies cleared. At that point, the Dogs had made some inroads into the big Pies lead, and with the scoreboard reading 54-24, a shot at goal in the dying seconds may have given the Dogs some hope.
Instead, it summed up their night. Sam Lloyd was worried out of the ball at half forward by implied pressure. He heard footsteps.
THE CUE IN THE RACK
So, if the Dogs live and die by Marcus Bontempelli, it was no wonder they were so lifeless in this encounter.
Are we starting to see a bit of an ongoing weakness in their game? And if so, will teams be focusing on just how much this Bulldogs team does not like physical contact?
Remember last season where they were picking up these huge numbers, running the ball through the middle and everyone started talking about how they were channelling the 2016 version of themselves? Remember how people thought they’d run into the finals and run over teams?
Then the GWS Giants beat them down and that aura that surrounded them evaporated quickly.
The Pies were watching that day, and whilst they didn’t come out to beat the Dogs up, they didn’t need to. They simply applied pressure, and the big ball winders for the Dogs went to water.
Bont had just 15 disposals and looked completely disinterested in doing any defensive work. You could often see him walking in the background after his initial efforts, which is a terrible sign. It kind of makes me wonder if he was a little ill?
Again, if the Dogs will only go as far as Bont will carry them in 2020, his effort and return in this game doesn’t bode well at all.
LACK OF EFFORT
You know what – when things aren’t going your way, you can always tell which of your players drop their heads easily, and which players will continue to fight.
We saw a few Bulldogs drop their heads in this game, and it wasn’t only late in the piece that they did it.
Tackling pressure is an effort stat, but irrespective of what the numbers say, you can tell a lot about intensity only by the eye-test. And the Dogs failed it in this one.
The Magpies walked through tackles at will. Not only did they monopolise the footy ( +71 disposals), they also tackled harder (+8).
The Dogs had seven players who did not lay a single tackle in this game. Screw it – let’s name them. Lewis Young, Easton Wood, Zayne Cordy, Bailey Dale, Bailey Williams, Jason Johannisen, and Tim English – a big, fat goose egg for tackles between them.
Champion Data hoards these stats and drip feed them to peons like me, but I would love to see how many tackles were broken – I saw two tackles from Tim English brushed aside by Collingwood players too easily. Seriously, I reckon English should wear long sleeves if he goes to the shops, as women will be fighting over who gets to take home his spaghetti arms to feed their families.
Add to those seven players above another eight Dogs who had just one tackle for the game and you can see what an insipid performance this was. Too much was left to too few.
Then you had the big ball winners for the Dogs – you know, the ones who racked them up with ease in 2019?
Macrae had 22 but picked up quite a few of them in defensive 50, and Josh Dunkley had just 18. As a matter of fact, I was unsure that Dunkley was playing in the first quarter and had to check the named teams, because I couldn’t see him anywhere.
So, I know I am harping on about this, but does anyone know why, in an off-season where there was experienced rucks looking for a new home, that the Western Bulldogs opted to look at different positions and neglect getting any help for Tim English?
This was a huge weakness for the Dogs in 2019 – easily last in hit outs, and it wasn’t addressed?
So, we usher in the 2020 season and it opens with English being absolutely pantsed by Grundy, and we’re right back where we started in 2019.
Look, we all know that English has the capacity to be an excellent ruck man, but part of me wonders just how much damage is being done to him by having him play this role of lamb, and being slaughtered by players like Grundy. It’s borderline abuse, and it’s borderline neglect from those at the Dogs who opted not to obtain someone capable of stepping in and at the very least taking the heat for the young fella as he develops.
Paddy Ryder was available. Sam Jacobs was available. Matt Allan was available. Zac Smith was available. Even Marc Pittonet was available.
And the Dogs looked to fill other needs. By doing so, they have thrown Tim English to the wolves this year. Last season, the sudden retirement of Tom Boyd scuttled their ruck plans, but this season, there is no excuse. They knew this was coming.
A FEW QUESTIONS
WAS THE BROWN TO BROWN MOMENT THE BEST OF THE NIGHT?
It’d have to go close, but only if you’re a Pies supporter. Seeing Tyler feed Callum for a goal would have warmed the cockles of Magpie hearts. Or it would have warmed the hearts of the Magpie cockles, but what about if you were a Dogs’ fan?
Hmmm… the way the red, white and blue seas parted for Callum Brown, I’m not sure that moment would rank amongst the best for you guys.
WHO WAS BEST FOR THE DOGS?
Far out… maybe Alex Keath. He tried his guts out, and looks as though he will settle in nicely as an intercept defender. Bailey Smith was good, and looked like he was up for the fight (to a point). Not real sure about the way he tried to bounce the footy as he was running through the guts at one stage. Looked like he was playing in a different version of our game at that point.
And I suppose the move of Matt Suckling to half forward was relatively good.
WHY IS DARCY MOORE NOT IN THE ‘GOOD’ SECTION?
Great question by me – I am glad I asked it.
Really, Moore didn’t have to do a hell of a lot in this one. Aaron Naughton was given no favours by the Bulldogs mids, who seemed as though they were determined to kick the ball so as to land it a few metres in front of him every single time. Add to that the fact that the Dogs could not get the ball inside 50 for what seemed like hours at a time, and it was more the overall team defence that stifled Naughton.
WHY DIDN’T BEVERIDGE MOVE NAUGHTON UP THE GROUND?
I’m sure I’m not the only one asking this.
He can play defence, and in the first quarter, the Dogs needed to stop the bleeding. Instead, Naughton sat in the forward 50 and waited.
And… you get the picture.
A young bloke with so much upside, five minutes in defence may have seen him get his hands on the footy and gain some confidence, but as to why he didn’t move him… really, I don’t know.
DID THE DOGS ACTUALLY WANT TO PLAY?
Maybe they were one of the teams where there were a few players not really that keen on pulling the boots on in the current climate? Probably an outlandish piece of speculation by me, but did they look like they wanted to be out there to you?
They played like a team that was going through the motions.
You only need two or three players to drop off five percent to allow the opposition to sense it and capitalise, and the Dogs were off, collectively in this game. Maybe some truly don’t want a bar of season 2020.
This is the game that the Pies want from Steele Sidebottom. 21 uncontested touches at 77% efficiency, and a couple of moments where you could see had the time to stop, assess and make good decisions.
Some really iffy free kicks in this one. The tunnelling free kick to Cox against Keath was line-ball, but there was a trip paid to Bont on the wing in the first quarter, and on replay, the opponent is nowhere near his legs… I don’t know what the ump saw there, but the lack of crowd noise obviously means it was skimmed over.
Great of Eddie to give up his tickets to allow the Brown family to attend and watch Tyler Brown debut. I think he may have even won Mrs Mongrel over with that gesture, and she is a die-hard Eddie hater.
Speaking of Brown, a very nice debut for Tyler Brown and I reckon he did enough to hold his place next week. It’ll be interesting to see how he plays when he is not matched up against witches hats.
And how good was Jordan de Goey bracing, taking the bump from matt Suckling and then just darting away to belt the ball inside 50. Didn’t think about tackling there. Matt? De Goey is a beast, and Suckling was probably damned no matter what he chose to do, but bumping a tank like de Goey… to quote the great Dennis Cometti, that was the third of two options.
An ultra-impressive win by the Pies. Assuming we get a Round 2, next week should be a blinder against the Tigers, whilst the Dogs and the Blues tangle, and one of them will be 0-2 in a shortened season… trouble brewing for one of them.