Questions were answered, and more questions posed as the Western Bulldogs strangled the GWS Giants in their highly-anticipated rematch following a spiteful Elimination Final last season.
And the spite continued in this game, with several skirmishes littering the game through the first three quarters, culminating with an intense 44-man push and shove (because really, that’s all AFL confrontations ever are, right?) on the three quarter time siren.
Were the Dogs that much better? Or were the Giants absolutely horrid? And if it was the latter, was it the Dogs’ pressure causing it?
Well, that’s what I’m here to uncover, as we dive into the Good, Bad and Ugly of the Giants and Dogs.
SETTING THE TONE
You know, I love a good bit of physicality. No, not the sort you can obtain from Joe Ganino for a small fee (or even some food on occasion) – I mean a bit of physical football. And as much as I do like the niggle, the push and shove and damn it, I like jumper punches, nothing can compare to the kind of impact you can have when you run in a straight line at the footy and take out whoever gets in the way.
Late in the first quarter, after the teams had got a little of their faux-aggression out of their systems, Aaron Naughton did more in a contest with the footy in the vicinity than every push, shove and torn jumper did for the entirety of the contest.
Line-balling the contest, Naughton did not deviate and crashed into Lachie Whitfield in his attempt to pick up the ball. The GWS running man spun a 360 and slumped to the turf. After going off the ground, Whitfield would not return, and in one fell swoop of controlled aggression, Aaron Naughton simply removed one of the biggest GWS threats from the equation.
There should be no case to answer.
So, for all the breaches of social distancing as the teams remonstrated with each other, it was one act by a young Bulldog that set the tone, and it was one that the Giants – the team that bullied the Bullies last season, were unable to match.
Alex Keath had his name in potential All-Australian discussions after about a quarter of the 2019 season, and for good reason. Watching him move and contend with the reigning Coleman Medallist demonstrated just how capable he is.
Keath was caught on switches here and there – it happens at this level – but he played the majority of the contest on Jeremy Cameron, and restricted him brilliantly.
Cameron roams far and wide in order to get involved in the play, and having been dragged up the ground, Keath made the GWS forward pay when he streamed forward to receive a handball from Josh Dunkley and slammed home a goal from 50 metres.
No footage was shown of Cameron as the ball sailed through. That would be because he showed Keath little in the way of respect, and at that point he paid for it dearly.
Though they struggled mightily in the first two rounds, the defence of the Bulldogs looks very solid on paper. Zaine Cordy is one of the most underrated young backmen in the game and with both him and Keath more than capable of holding down the key positions, it allows players like Hayden Crozier and Jason Johanissen free rein to create space and work the rebound for the Dogs.
This was not the kind of game where players racked up big numbers. It was slow at times – painfully so, and a lot of possession came as part of meticulous and, let’s be honest – frustrating build ups. This played into the defenders’ hands, but regardless, they still have to get the job done, and none were more impressive that Alex Keath in this one.
If I pulled you aside at the start of the game and said I had a hot tip that Alex Keath would kick as many goals as JC, you’d be pretty pleased with me. Well, I didn’t say that – don’t hold it against me.
ANSWERING THE CRITICS
Unfazed and unflappable.
That’s what was required from the Bulldogs captain as the Giants placed a big red ‘X’ on his back early in the game.
Marcus Bontempelli stood his ground, held his own, and refused to be sucked into a game of cheap shots. He did not back down and did not fall into the traps that GWS set for him. He took their best and answered in a way that exemplified what he is about.
Whilst Bont’s 16 touches are far below what is expected of him, the fact he was able to remain calm under pressure, endure the early tagging tactics of Matt de Boer and work himself well and truly into the game is testament to the kind of player he is.
Bontempelli had flashes of brilliance, but this game was about more than doing something special here or there. This was as much a mental test for Bont as any game he’s played up until this point of his AFL career. Several will argue that he failed this test in last year’s finals.
Those same people would be hard-pressed to argue that he didn’t pass it with flying colours this time round.
THE DEFENSIVE WEB – ONE FOR THE COACH
Did we notice how often the Giants had absolutely nowhere to go when they took possession across half back? Did we notice how many times they were forced to change direction and switch the ball across to the other side of the ground, hoping, praying, begging for someone to provide an option other than a 20 metre pass that gains nothing?
That sort of thing doesn’t just happen by accident.
It takes a full 22-man commitment to the cause to execute a defensive web so well that a highly-skilled team like GWS is not only unable to spot up a kick in traffic, but fearful of even attempting it.
The Dogs pushed the Giants down the line time after time, and when the ball was in dispute, it was the boys in red, white and blue that were both more polished and more desperate.
The way their defence works reflects well on Luke Beveridge. If you read social media, or listen to your idiot friend, I am sure you’ve heard at least one person yap about how Bevo’s time at the Kennel is probably running out, and how the credits earned with the flag in 2016 are now not worth much.
That’s fine – let ‘em talk. You do not hold a defensive line like the Western Bulldogs did this evening without everyone being 100% committed to the game plan of the coach, and each and every Bulldog was doing exactly what he was asked in this one.
This remains Beveridge’s team for a while, yet.
BOY BECOMING A MAN?
After two rounds of looking like a kid trying to match it against men, Tim English showed just a glimpse of what he was capable of in this game. And he found the right opponent to strut his stuff against.
The versatility and willingness to push hard into both forward and defensive 50 worked for the lanky Bulldog as Sam Jacobs simply could not keep up with him.
English could have been rated as the best player on the ground in the first had he converted the chances he earned inside attacking 50, but it was his work in defence that was the standout. He flew for everything, and whilst he only clunked one contested grab, he got his hands to plenty, ensuring that no GWS forward was able to do that same.
In addition, he consistently put himself in the right spot to cut off the GWS attack at the legs, registering a game-high six intercept possessions.
Look, I reckon Tim English needed this game. After seeing what Brodie Grundy did to him in Round One, and then seeing him have to contend with two bigger, stronger bodies last week, I was genuinely starting to worry whether beatings would start to have an impact on his psyche. He is just a baby in ruck terms, and being knocked around from pillar to post cannot do wonders for even the most self-assured young man.
To see him come out and take the game up to Sam Jacobs was enough to bring a smile to my face, and I am sure Luke Beveridge will feel some relief that his big man was able to fire back a few shots this week.
THE NEXT STAR
I reckon I’m preaching to the choir here, but after watching his Marsh Series form, I was all in on Bailey Smith. Absolutely, positively all-in. I’m pretty sure I even went so far as to state that after the 2020 season, we will no longer be talking about Sam Walsh or Connor Rozee as the best pick in the 2018 National Draft – I was of the belief that Bailey Smith will have forced his name into the conversation as well.
He continued to impress this evening.
After spending plenty of time coming off the wing over the first two weeks, Smith spent more time in the guts, and pushed hard forward to create for his teammates. His mindset and confidence in himself flat out refuse to see him rushed with the footy, and it is in that extra second or so that Smith makes some great decisions with the footy.
You can see his mind ticking over as he streams forward with the footy. You know he is always looking for the best option, and more often than not, he makes the right decision. Still a teenager, he demonstrates the kind of poise and composure of a player of many more years, and his wonderful 94% efficiency indicates that when he decides where that footy is going, it gets there.
What is his ceiling?
That’s a tough one, as there is so much water to flow under the bridge just yet, but a better question might be “what’s his ceiling in 2020?”
Could a berth in the AA squad of 40 be beyond him? The way some of the established stars have commenced 2020 (not Bulldogs, I mean all teams), Smith is playing just as good footy as them. It could very well happen. If he does that, do we go Rozee, Walsh, Smith as the conversation?
It’d be hard not to.
THE LACK OF TRUE COURAGE
You know what – it doesn’t take a heap of guts to grab someone by the jumper in an environment where you know nothing can really happen to you, and rip away at it.
“Wow wee someone’s jumper is ripped!”
Big f’n deal.
What takes guts is putting your head over the footy and being prepared to cop a hit in the process. What takes guts is running with the flight of the ball and going full-chested at it, not sticking one hand out and hoping you don’t get contact. And what takes courage, of a different kind, is backing your skills, making a tough kick and hitting a target in the corridor to open the game up.
How many times did you see GWS players run through the middle of the ground with the footy over the course of the game?
You could count them on one hand and still have enough fingers to pick both sides of your nose.
GWS played a conservative and weak style of footy in this one. Forget the pushing, shoving, pulling and posturing (again… like the love life of Joe Ganino), some of these Giants had the chance to show courage and take the game on. Instead they played like they were trying to save it, and in the process managed just four goals for the game.
That’s not gutsy footy. That’s not playing to win. That’s playing not to lose, which they proceeded to do anyway.
THE UNDERSTUDIES ON CENTRE STAGE
Have you ever really liked a TV show to the point you feel like you connect with one or two characters? You watch each week, or maybe you binge it, and you actually find yourself looking forward to see what a certain character does next.
I felt that way about Game of Thrones until they cocked it right up with some stupid choices, but there is one thing that even trumps a completely ruined story – it’s when they get someone else to usurp the role of a popular departed actor.
The part of so-and-so will now be played by…
What?!?! Can anyone do what the actor was doing? Can anyone slot in and play this role that I felt I was getting to know? Is this character so shallow that I should just accept that he looks completely different?
That’s how I felt watching the Friday night clash between the Dogs and their arch-rivals, GWS, because the main character – call him the protagonist or antagonist, Toby Greene just wasn’t part of the cast. Then there was the missing Josh Kelly and the early injury to Lachie Whitfield as well.
I have to admit, I felt a little let down when I heard Greene wasn’t going to be playing. It was like Star Wars without Darth Vader and Boba Fett, or The Avengers without Thanos. It didn’t feel as though we were getting the entire picture as it should have been in this game.
I suppose that was always going to be the case though, wasn’t it?
Without crowds there, we lost the genuine heat and the implied pressure. Then we lost Toby Greene. Then Josh Kelly. Then Lachie Whitfield.
Though the Giants still had Stephen Coniglio out there, and with Jeremy Cameron and Nick Haynes, they still possessed star power, but I kind of feel that we tuned in looking to see the Beatles, and we got presented with four guys in wigs saying “yeah, yeah, yeah…”
I hope we get something more fitting these two teams in one of the later months.
AN UNWISE INVESTMENT
Now, I have already gone on about the game of Tim English in this game and how, after two weeks of looking anything like a good ruckman, he was able to take control of the air.
But what does that say about his opponent?
Sam Jacobs was recruited to the Giants to provide a more reliable big man than they possessed in Shane Mumford, but after seeing Jacobs plod around the ground, having minimal impact on the contest at all, you have to wonder whether the Giants’ move to secure the services of the former Crow is being openly questioned…
… because I am openly questioning it.
Brodie Grundy made Tim English look like a whipping boy. Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall double teamed him into submission (I’m talking like as in a wrestling sense here, you dirty buggers… have some class!) and then he comes out against a guy like Jacobs and is one of the most influential players on the ground?
Something is not right.
Jacobs finished with six disposals and just one mark as he failed to match English when the big man drifted into either 50 metre arc.
So, have the Giants simply recruited someone that is a very marginal upgrade on Shane Mumford? Given what we saw tonight, is he an upgrade at all?
Jacobs won the hit outs, with 25 to his name, but his team had just one more clearance for the game. Either he wasn’t finding his mids, or they weren’t working hard enough.
I’ve heard several people mention that Jacobs could be the recruit of the year given what he could potentially offer the Giants, but if GWS are a Ferrari, Jacobs is acting like a non-authentic part that is making them a little clunky. He needs to be a lot better.
WHERE WAS MATT DE BOER IN THE SECOND QUARTER?
I really don’t understand what Leon Cameron is up to this year with the league’s premier stopper. Last week, he started on Ben Cunnington and restricted him to two touches. Today he started on Bont and with a couple of minutes expired in the second quarter, the Dogs captain is running around with Jacob Hopper?
Leon, you are a Grand Final coach – you obviously know what you’re doing, but if you have a great stopper, please just let him do his job!
WHO ARE YOU, AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH ZAC WILLIAMS?
So, where is that blistering run and carry? Where is the ferocious tackling? Where is the X-Factor we saw last season?
Zac Williams is averaging 12 touches per game this season. He was sitting pretty at almost 24 touches last season. In this one he also managed to give away three free kicks, and is starting to resemble someone who doesn’t really trust himself in a contest. Very concerning…
IS THERE A BIT OF SAM MITCHELL ABOUT CALEB DANIEL?
I know it’s a bit of a stretch, but some of the possessions from Daniel seem to me as though he is almost kicking around an opponent deliberately. I’m not making sense, am I?
Okay, I’ll try this. You know when someone is running into smother a kick, and if you drop the ball straight down onto your boot, he’s going to get to it? So, instead you hold the ball out and kick slightly around the body in order to get the kick away. I saw Caleb Daniel do that twice tonight, and the margin for error was incredibly small. I have not seen anyone do it on a consistent basis since Sam Mitchell retired.
It takes the utmost belief in your skill to time your kicking so perfectly that it just misses the outstretched hands of the opposition and still goes straight to the spot you want it to. I know people talk up his skills, and it takes guts to hit those kicks, but Daniel makes it look easy.
GWS could have used a player like that in this game.
ON A SCALE OF 8 OUT OF 10 TO 9.5 OUT OF 10, HOW GOOD IS NICK HAYNES?
About a 9.2.
How good was his effort in the two-on-one in the second quarter to not only stay in the contest, but to cleanly mark it as well. And then he follows it up with what can only be termed as a blind-spoil.
Some may have considered that second one a little lucky, but Haynes is a star, and he watched the eyes of his opponent and got his fist into the right spot to break up the play.
HOW MUCH DOES LIBBA CHANGE THE FEEL OF THE MIDFIELD?
Oh yeah, he adds not just toughness in general but that genuine, head over the footy and refuse to give up kind of mongrel that has been missing from the dogs for a while.
It was no coincidence that when the Giants gave the dogs a touch up last year, Libba was on the bench. Physically, they’re a different side with him, Mitch Wallis, and now Josh Bruce in the team.
And here’s one for you – hit me with the answer. Is the difference between the best and worst for either of these clubs too vast for them to run through a finals series without their worst form rearing its ugly head?
I like the look of Ed Richards on the wing. Not only a good runner, but also works hard in order to ensure he provides an option running both ways. That might be the niche for him.
Two excellent run down tackles by Toby McLean in this game. he dropped almost eight touches per game last season, but if he can apply tackling pressure like he did in this one, he may prove very valuable as a half forward.
Was Josh Bruce’s zero goals and six disposal game the best of its sort in recent history? That bloke is a unit, and whilst his impact on the stat sheet was minimal, his big frame may have caused a few Giants to reconsider the tough guy act.
It was interesting to see Callan Ward inserted into the middle in the last quarter. He was propped up on the wing last week and for the first three quarters here, but early in the last Leon Cameron threw him into the guts. He is a ball winner… probably could’ve been tried in there earlier.
Harry Perryman on the wing is providing a real headache drifting forward. Another two goals this week give him eight for the season and the outright lead in the Coleman! of course, Charlie Cameron will play Saturday night, but far out…no one could have picked that.
Is this the second week in a row Leon Cameron has been completely outcoached? I know you cannot coach errors, but the Giants seemed to have no Plan B at all today. And not much of a Plan A, either.
And that’ll do from Casa Del Mongrel this evening.
Great win by the Dogs to get their season back on track. It probably should have been a much bigger win.
As for the Giants, when you have that kind of talent on the pine, bad stuff will eventually happen. I personally feel robbed that we didn’t get to see Bont and Greene go head to head.