The Western Bulldogs put the clamps on the Swans and held them to one goal in the first half as they set up their second win of the season.
Behind some inspirational acts from their captain, and a significant lift from their young big man, the Dogs were able to send numbers swarming back into defence to stifle the Swans’ attack, and make them pay at the other end.
The win was soured by an ankle injury to Aaron Naughton, who was looking threatening early in the piece, but it was a solid effort from the Dogs to run out 28 point winners.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
OH CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN
Before I start, I thought Callum Mills did a pretty good job on Bont after half time. However, it was in the first half that the game was won, and it was the game of Marcus Bontempelli that set the wheels in motion and powered the Bulldogs to a solid lead.
We saw some things from Bont I wasn’t all that familiar with in this game. Renowned for that loping run and long delivery, the act of running with the flight of the ball and throwing himself into traffic wasn’t something I was used to seeing from the Dogs’ captain.
In this game it was as though Bont wanted to demonstrate that he could do it. So he did, then he did it again, then again.
His mark against Isaac Heeney really made an indelible mark on the contest. If you picked one moment that stood out, that would be it, wouldn’t it?
Heeney is no shrinking violet. Whilst he is no Jeremy Howe, he can pull in some big hangers and as he charged toward the contest, things could have ended really badly for Bontempelli. Yep, they could have, but they didn’t.
A lesser man may have pulled out of the contest, or went with one arm, turning his body to completely protect himself. The result may have seen a spillage and no one would have thought any less of Bont.
Except maybe himself.
There are hundreds of incidents over the course of a season where a player could’ve gone hard and chose a different option. Bont had this option presented to him in the second quarter and he chose to put his body on the line. If there was anyone who was on the fence about Bont, that action right there would have to win you over. It was the mark of a courageous player. It was the mark of a superstar.
And damn it, it was the mark of a leader.
LEARNING HOW TO MAXIMISE THE TALENT
You could almost see the light bulb go off in Tim English’s head last week, couldn’t you?
Matched up against Sam Jacobs, English had close to the best game of his career, sneaking forward and dropping back into defence, virtually unencumbered at times. Looking around, Jacobs was often nowhere to be seen. Yes, Tim English lost the ruck taps, but he more than made up for that with some wonderful work around the ground.
He finished with 15 touches and even earned some votes in our Mongrel voting.
But that was seemingly the warm up for him. Tonight, he unleashed even more.
A career-high 22 disposals exposed the lack of adaptability of the Sydney rucks. They could win the tap and then… nothing. As soon as that stoppage was done and dusted, English would get on his bike and leave Naismith and Sinclair for dead. He now knows where his strength is.
English is not going to overpower anyone in the ruck. Not anytime soon, anyway. He is not going to body up and successfully tussle with men who have been in the league longer than him. No, no, no…
But he can outrun them.
And once he outruns them, he can either sit in the hole in defence, or sneak forward to provide a target inside 50. Meanwhile, his opponent labours around the ground like they’re dragging the stone of shame.
And they should go visit the Stonecutters and borrow the stone of shame because they were beaten in this game by a bloke who has been the ruck whipping boy for the better part of the last couple of seasons.
But you can call me Bob Dylan, because the times, they are a changin’ for Tim English, and we are seeing a big man starting to find his feet and his niche in the ruck.
BREAKING THE TAG
Last weekend, George Hewett was given a job to do. With Ben Cunnington sitting out, the target for the Sydney stopper was apparent – Shaun Higgins.
Hewett wore Higgins like a glove and restricted him to just 12 touches in a fantastic display of tagging. You’d think that John Longmire would’ve had to consider sending him to Bont in this game, but no… Jack Macrae was the recipient of the Hewett attention, and early in the contest, Hewett looked as though he was going to give Macrae similar nightmares.
However Jack Macrae is not Shaun Higgins and he simply refused to raise the white flag in this one. Using blocks, and the will to get his hands on the footy, Macrae was able to get enough of the footy that it soon became apparent that Hewett didn’t have what it takes to put the clamps on the All-Australian.
This was far from Macrae’s finest outing. He is known for his hard run and huge disposal counts, but with 22 touches tonight he proved that he can take on a tagger head-to-head and emerge victorious. Some may mock an achievement such as this – “oh, you managed to beat your man in a win” – big deal, right?
Well, actually, it is!
We’ve seen many tagging jobs become a decisive factor in a win. As mentioned above, the Swans beat North Melbourne last week with Hewett locking down the Roos’ prime mover. They won by 11 points, and Hewett’s contribution to that was huge. By getting the better of his tagger, Macrae was able to swing the momentum the Dogs’ way by not allowing them a win in the middle. It is way more important than most will mention.
FOUR OUT OF FIVE AIN’T BAD AT ALL
If you can go into a game and snag 80% of your team’s goals, you know you had a good night.
Think about the blokes that would do that. Plugger, Dunstall… now Papley.
What a shame the Swans only managed five goals for the night, because their third quarter should have resulted in a few more. Papley, himself, was a little wayward, with a couple of behinds and another clear miss for the quarter. You have to wonder how the last quarter could have played out had Papley converted earlier.
Still, four goals on a night when your side was outclassed and outworked is a spectacular return, and emphasises just why the Swans were so determined to hold onto the 23 year old.
Righto, I am a fan. Not of the hairstyle, which is both fabulous and horrid, but of the way Bailey Smith goes about it. Contested, strong and determined, he is fast becoming one of the top handful of players from the 2018 draft.
More than that, by the end of this season, we could be speaking about him as the best player from that crop, and he has some stuff competition.
Connor Rozee and Sam Walsh were the popular picks for the Rising Star award last season, but I wonder how the voting would have played out had we added the first four contests of 2020 into the mix?
Bailey Smith had leapt forward by a considerable amount. Rozee has diversified his game, whereas it seems that Walsh may have hit a wall (through three games at least). With the competitiveness of Smith, and the ferociousness with which he attacks the contest, it’s hard to see him NOT getting better this season. I love the way he stands in a tackle, simply refuses to go to ground, and manages to get his hands free to release the footy.
Some would still take Walsh.
Others may prefer Rozee.
But if Bailey Smith was a distant third in the running last season, the gap has closed rapidly in 2020, and the way things are going, there may be no gap at all very soon. He might be the best of the three.
I’LL GET YOU, BLAKEY
The second year curse gets a few players, and it seems to have really bitten Nick Blakey.
There were points in 2019 where the young fella looked as though he had the world at his feet, but as we have notched four games in 2020 he seems like he didn’t see it there and has tripped over it.
Blakey struggled to get involved in this one and concerningly, it wasn’t as though he just plonked down inside 50 and was beaten on the day. He ranged far and wide and simply could not get into the play.
So, what’s going wrong? Does he need a run on the wing? He started one centre bounce there but largely didn’t play in the role. Could he slot in at half back, allowing Jordan Dawson to move to a half forward flank? Maybe he could have a bit of a run on the ball to get a touch or two before moving back forward?
I’m at a bit of a loss. I expected him to take a step this season, but it seems the direction he’s stepped is backwards. He had six touches in this game, had one chance to kick a goal, but a desperate lunge by Alex Keath robbed him of that chance. He is not attacking the footy in the air with any sort of confidence, and marks he should be clunking (like the one against Caleb Daniel for god’s sake!) are being spoiled. It’s almost as though he is resigned to the ball being spoiled before he even tries to mark it.
For the season Blakey is averaging under eight touches per game, and unless we see a significant lift from him as a third viable forward presence, I’m afraid we may be asking a little too much of the Papley/Heeney combination in the absence of Lance Franklin.
Naughton, Lloyd and then… Naismith.
No one likes to see a player go down, but watching Sam Naismith get his knee tested on the bench during the last quarter… that one hurt.
Having returned from injury and doing the copious amounts of rehab associated with it, and then to experience a loss in the family in recent weeks, seeing Naismith hurt again was one of those moments where everyone just lets out a collective “oh no…”
We here at The Mongrel wish Sam all the best in his recovery.
INEPT IN ATTACK
The lowest half time score in SCG history for the Sydney Swans… did I hear that right?
Sydney looked horrible, and broke down at half forward like Joe Ganino breaks down in the toilets at Sexpo in 2011.
As much as I gave credit to the Dogs’ defenders and midfielders working back to make scoring difficult, the Swans did themselves no favours. Lewis Taylor looked half-interested and Will Hayward is starting to look a lot like the Swans’ version of Stevie Johnson… only without the talent or results. Seriously, he looks like he has every tool to be a star, but we see very little of it way too often.
Hayden McLean is a work in progress, and at 21 as a ruck/key forward you’d be content giving him time to develop, but you have to wonder why the Swans went into this game with three players capable of playing ruck, wouldn’t you?
Cal Sinclair looked lively in the third quarter and competed well, but due to inaccuracy, his efforts largely amounted to very little.
Three goals in the last quarter might wallpaper over things a little, but it is important to note that it took until 15 minutes were elapsed in the third quarter before the Swans kicked just their second goal. In professional football, that is simply unacceptable.
TOO MANY BIG FELLAS?
I touched on this above, but what sort of selection idiocy was this?
The Swans went into this game with Callum Sinclair, Sam Naismith and Hayden McLean. What a bloody mistake. Even if you combine all three, I still would have taken the play of Tim English over the lot of them.
Naismith and Sinclair combined for 44 hit outs but the Bulldogs won the clearances. So tell me – who is at fault there? Do we point the finger at the Sydney mids such as Luke Parker and Josh Kennedy? Do we look at the way the Dogs sharked the hit outs and give credit where credit is due? Or do we turn our attention to the Sydney rucks who couldn’t find their mids even if they came equipped with some orienteering gear and a Sherpa?
I think you can see where I am laying the blame, but you’re wrong. It is not their fault.
Two of the big men were completely outworked around the ground by Tim English, and the third played the role of a statue inside forward 50. I don’t blame the players – I blame whoever made this selection blunder.
You often hear the saying in footy that the game was lost “at the selection table”. And whilst saying that was the case in this game would be disrespectful to the Dogs, the Swans sure as hell did themselves no favours.
Going forward, Naismith’s injury will once again force Cal Sinclair into the ruck a little more than he probably should be. I like him up forward, but once he gets those hands to the footy he just has to hang on! I’m not sure how often he’ll get to play forward now. With Naismith gone, the load just got very heavy for Sinclair to carry.
HOW IS THE JOSH BRUCE TRADE WORKING OUT?
We all know that Aaron Naughton is the future of the Dogs’ forward set up, but at 28 years old, Bruce was supposed to bring a contested marking component to the line up to aid in taking the pressure off Naughton. We’re yet to see that aspect of his game materialise.
Bruce has had just two contested grabs for the season and if the Dogs are going to be finalists, they need more from him.
DOES SCHACHE GET A RUN NOW?
With Naughton hobbling off with an ankle injury (how innocuous did that look?) the Dogs will be looking for another forward option to work with Josh Bruce. This is make or break time for Josh Schache.
When he was recruited it was with a plan for him to be the number one forward eventually. Then Aaron Naughton emerged. Now Josh Bruce has arrived. Schache is now the third forward at best, but the ankle injury to Naughton sees the door open slightly. If Naughton doesn’t come up, Schache needs to put his best foot forward. Otherwise, he is wasting the years that he should be developing his game against some of the best defenders in the game.
HOW UNDERRATED IS ZAINE CORDY?
Putting this out there – he is a future AA-calibre defender. I’m not sure that he will ever be glamorous enough to get selected, but in AFL circles, he will fast become a player that is spoken about with reverence.
He rarely gets cleanly beaten, and with Alex Keath now playing alongside him, he knows help is never far away. Credit where credit’s due – he is solid as a rock down back.
IMPRESSED WITH RHYLEE WEST?
Why, yes I am. Thanks for asking.
There was enough on display tonight to indicate he will be a star for this team. He took a contested grab way too easily against Jake Lloyd, and looks like he has plenty of mongrel in him. You know we like that here.
WHO SHOWED A BIT FOR THE SWANS?
I liked the game of Justin McInerny. Found plenty of the footy early in the piece and with just a handful of games, there is plenty to work with there.
James Rowbottom will turn into the regular nuggetty Sydney contributor, won’t he? You can tell he loves the tough stuff already and will make a very good accountable midfielder in the next couple of years.
And, as mentioned above, Callum Mills rose the occasion in the second half to limit the influence of Bontempelli. The damage, sadly, had already been done.
Am I the only person that thinks Marcus Bontempelli can bear a striking resemblance to Brian of Nazareth at times? I suppose the question as to whether he is the messiah or just a very naughty boy depends on where your allegiances lay.
Am I willing to admit Caleb Daniel in defence is really working yet? No, not yet. Not completely. I am a little disappointed in the Swans, inasmuch as they failed to even try to capitalise on having a match-up on Daniel. Take him to the square! I follow basketball and have for years – they are so good at identifying mismatches. We’re not quite there yet in the AFL.
If you could only choose one of Crozier or Suckling to have off half back, who would you choose? Papley was a nightmare matchup for Crozier, particularly with some of the delivery from Kennedy, but in the air Crozier is able to impact contests the way Suckling cannot. Do you go for Suckling’s foot skills, or do the little arrogant chip kicks, on display last week, deter you?
A bit of a dirty night for Josh Kennedy, but that is quite understandable given today’s events. He had just six touches to half time, and it is becoming more apparent that the Swans need to put something in place to fill his role this off-season. Any preferences, Swans fans?
The debutant, Louis Butler – how’d he go? Had the most intercept touches on the ground, which is both surprising and encouraging. I’m not sure you could ask for much more on debut.
And that’ll do me for tonight.
Are the Dogs back? Or did they just get a team that is not destined for much this season?
Was this an anomaly for the Swans, and can they bounce back?
Is Tom Papley the front runner for the AA forward pocket role, or will he have to kick more goals than Charlie Cameron to make up for an eventual poor record?
As always, we had some questions answered, and came up with only more questions. Such is footy.