Early season bolters, Essendon were brought back to Earth by a powerful Western Bulldogs performance that saw the Doggies actually leapfrog the Bombers on the AFL ladder.
With their fourth win of the season, the Dogs revelled in the continuing coming of age of Tim English, the debut of Cody Weightman and an irrepressible style of play.
The Bombers were halted in their tracks after quarter time, hardly troubling the scorers for the next two quarters as the Dogs did as they pleased. Mitch Wallis, Jack Macrae, Lachie Hunter and Tim English were all very solid, if not spectacular for the Dogs as they despatched the Bombers for the sixth straight game.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
I’VE SEEN THE FUTURE AND IT WILL BE
So, it was just six rounds ago that I was watching Tim English being beaten up and beaten down by Brodie Grundy to the point I actually felt sorry for him.
Seriously, it was like watching a man kicking a dog… figuratively, at least. At half time of that game, English hadn’t touched the footy – no disposals, and I started to wonder whether playing him as the sole ruckman was doing him a favour as he developed or causing him psychological damage.
Well, silly me to question Luke Beveridge. The bloke didn’t win a flag by accident, right?
Tim English has been one of the better rucks in the competition over the last month, setting or equalling a career-high in disposals three times. Tonight was one of those nights as he picked up 22 disposals for the third time this season and counted amongst them 17 contested touches.
English was everywhere – bobbing up to kick goals, drifting back to take intercept grabs… he was doing it all. The thing is – he was beaten in the hit outs quite handily, 28-16 but the work of the Bulldog midfield meant it didn’t matter. It’s as though this midfield has learnt to live with the fact that their big man is not going to get first hand to the footy and they work hard and win the clearances anyway.
Is that a knock on English? No, what he adds around the ground is more than making up for not getting ineffective ruck taps, as his opponent did this evening. Is that a knock on Phillips? Well… kind of. If you’re not going to have the follow up to create another contest from ill-placed hit outs, your presence in the team may not be as required as you think it is.
Back to English.
His second efforts were excellent, as is evidenced by his six clearances and four tackles and his ability to hit a target by foot are a rarity for a man of his size.
After Round One this year I thought this may have been another painful learning experience for this kid. It still may be at points, but mixed in with the pain will be copious amounts of pleasure and if he continues along the path he is headed right now, the future will be extremely bright for the Dogs.
Oh, and that tap to Bont in the first quarter… absolutely exquisite.
MONGREL UP FORWARD, MONGREL IN THE MIDDLE
I hate bringing this up in a Bulldogs review because when I have spoken to friends who support the Dogs, they have a physical reaction to the subject.
However, if you can humour me for a moment or three… cast your mind back to last September and the painful memory of the GWS Giants beating up Bont and beating down the Dogs. I know it’s hard – bear with me.
Two players were missing that day that are vitally important not just to the structure of the club, but the fabric of the club as well. Both men had fathers who wore red, white and blue, and both men are known as much for their mongrel as they are for their finesse – moreso.
Mitch Wallis and Tom Liberatore would have flown the flag for their captain last September, but they were situated in the grandstand watching proceedings. Would they have been THE difference? Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but they would not have sat idly by while people got stuck into Bont. If you want to see the kind of difference they can make, this game would be a great example.
Libba was big early, and his clearance work helped get the Dogs off to a good start. Wallis added three goals for the evening, and his strength in both marking contests and at ground level gave the Dogs someone who could reliably contest and win.
With the two of these blokes on the field, the team seems to walk taller. Every team has a player or two who exude confidence and allow their teammates to feed off them. I get the feeling that Libba and Wallis are two such players for the Dogs. Libba, with his weird tattoo assortment and Wallis with eyes looking like they’re going to pop out of his head; they make quite a pair.
And if that pair is in the vicinity when any team decides they’d like to target someone on the Western Bulldogs, you can be damn sure they won’t be permitting it to happen without sitting a few on their backsides.
COVER FOR CALEB
I watch the Dogs with interesting and in a way I sit and wait for the moment to come when a smart forward combines with a smart midfielder to capitalise on the mismatch of Caleb Daniel and basically anyone else in the competition in the air.
And it just doesn’t happen anywhere near enough.
Whilst I am sure a lot of this is due to forward planning by Luke Beveridge, particularly after opposition coaches became aware that Daniel was losing a heap of one-on-one contests last season, I find myself disappointed in opposition coaches and their seeming inability to work this situation to their favour.
In this game, Daniel found himself opposed to David Zaharakis. After a great outing last week that saw him kick three goals, Zaharakis started well, working up the ground to collect plenty of the footy. He had a good first quarter, with nine disposals but when he went forward, he was simply unable to get hold of the diminutive Daniel.
When the chance came to mark against Daniel, the little man was up to the challenge. More than that, whenever the ball came into the vicinity of Daniel, help was never far away and as the game settled, we found that there were really no instances where the Bombers were able to isolate Daniel at all.
Much credit for this has to go to the Dogs. When the experiment of Daniel into the defensive half began, there were teething problems and we ended up with a heap of mismatches. As a collective defence, the Bulldogs have been able to limit, if not eradicate those scenarios. Players like Easton Wood, Alex Keath and Bailey Williams constantly position themselves to actively aid should their opposition attempt to manufacture a mismatch. They have grown into a cohesive unit that knows just how much Daniel adds to their defensive 50 exits and look to protect him.
That, my friends, is a good defence at work.
THE NEW FLEA?
It was hard not to like the enthusiasm and infectiousness of Cody Weightman in this game. Wait on… maybe scratch that second part, given the current climate.
He only bobbed up a few times in this game, but finished with a couple of goals and probably should have had three on debut. Whilst not Rankine-levels of excitement, there was still plenty to like about the way he attacked the contest and found himself in dangerous situations time and time again.
His first goal was a belter. I am not sure how many of you take the footy up the park for a kick, but anything over about 30 metres when kicking a banana is a pretty difficult ask. Weightman went back like he didn’t have a care in the world and slotted it from the boundary – I loved it.
Of course, as is the curse of the modern player, he completely muffed the drop punt set shot that followed later in the game, but that was probably to be expected.
A COMPARISON OF YOUNG GUNS
Coming into this game, I wanted to focus on two young players whose form going forward will dictate how their respective teams perform.
Bailey Smith and Andrew McGrath were two of their teams’ most important contributors in this contest, and in my notes before the game I had their names circled. Who would be better, and who would have more of an impact?
McGrath led the Bombers in disposals but found himself under pressure more than was necessary – see below in the “bad” section. He ran at 50% efficiency as he was forced to attempt to gain ground as the pressure came from all angles. His six clearances were important but he was really missing the presence of Dylan Shiel in the middle to draw the opposition heat. As such, he was rushed in his disposals.
The flipside saw Bailey Smith doing his usual bash and crash effort at stoppages for the Dogs. The stats say he had four clearances for the game but I felt as though he was way more influential than that number would lead you to believe.
Whilst the game was live in the first half, Smith was good for 12 touches to McGrath’s nine and his three second quarter clearances helped the Dogs gain the ascendancy.
You could argue McGrath’s second half either of two ways – either he fought on valiantly to prop up a team that was failing quite miserably, or he won plenty of the ball once the game was just about over. I prefer to think of him the first way, as I do not ever want to question his commitment to the Bomber cause.
That said, if you’re asking me which game I prefer, the result definitely factors in. Smith did his best work when the game was there to be won. His second quarter helped elevate his team and they were never headed from that point. As much as I respect what McGrath continued to produce, the Dogs had many contributors, and Smith’s 20 touches were more than enough to get him the nod in my book.
JJ TO SAAD
Now this was an interesting coaching move, wasn’t it?
The Bombers hadn’t had many clear winners in the first half of footy, but Adam Saad was definitely one of them. Missing our Rolling All-Australian team earlier in the week, Saad hit the ground running as though he was on a mission to stick it right up the Mongrel Punt team.
Not me, of course… I voted for Kodos! I also had Saad in my team.
Anyway, he burst out of the gates and looked as though he might be one player that could drag Essendon back into the contest. At half time, Saad had 14 touches and was running at 100% efficiency. Pretty hard to get more efficient than that, isn’t it?
At the other end, Jason Johannisen had just three touches for the half and was struggling to get into the game. The Norm Smith Medallist was lacking that trademark run and looked a little flat. Beveridge decided to pull a change.
Switching JJ to half forward, his focus became the limitation of Saad’s influence, and though the switch only lasted a quarter, it had the desired impact. Saad was restricted to two touches in the third quarter, and ran at 0% efficiency. Johannisen had only four touches, himself but as he ran forward and kicked a telling goal, it was like a dagger in the heart to Bomber fans.
Whilst Saad would rally to get plenty of the footy in the last quarter again, the damage was done in the third, stifling the Essendon running man, and in the process giving the Dogs breathing room.
Here we go – if you’re going to watch a replay of this game, when the clock ticks over to 9.50 remaining in the third quarter, I want you to watch the actions of Darcy Parish.
It is everything that was wrong with the Bombers on the night and something they will need to address and correct.
The right thing to do was to lay a shepherd on the pursuing Marcus Bontempelli to give Andrew McGrath a clear path to kick the ball. The benefits of this were two-fold, inasmuch as you clear the path for your teammate and also get the chance to punish one of the best players in the game, physically.
But Darcy Parish didn’t opt to lay a shepherd. He was waiting for McGrath to hand off to him and treated shepherding like it was a foreign concept.
If it were not apparent at that point, you could tell the game was well and truly gone right there and then. Bont was allowed to pressure McGrath and the ensuing kick flew out of bounds on the full. McGrath will receive the statistical blame for the turnover, but this was due to the neglect of Parish to look after his teammate.
In a nutshell, it was selfish.
But throw in some steak knives and call me Demtel… there’s more.
In the last quarter, we finally saw a moment where some defensive pressure could have been rewarded. Jacob Townsend ran down Bailey Williams inside 50 and won a holding the ball free kick. 40 metres out, it was the kind of shot that is bread and butter for a forward.
But when you’re out for yourself, you don’t consider the team, and once again it was Darcy Parish running in, picking up the footy and handball backwards to take the advantage.
I’ll write that again – handball BACKWARD to take the advantage. He was also handballing to a target in Zaharakis who wasn’t in the clear, who handballed it back for another handball, then another until finally Parish capped off this advantage with a hack kick inside 50 to about the point Townsend would have claimed the kick from in the first place!
But at least he got three stats for it – well done, Darcy.
I seriously don’t know whether it was selfish, or just plain dumb. Maybe both…
Orazio… you’re one of my favourite targets over the past couple of years – I reckon I’m onto you, and whilst you had plenty of mates who underperformed in this one, could you at least look like you give a shit?
I’d be tearing my hair out if I were John Worsfold having to put up with this bloke. As it stands, he looks like he is horrified of physical contact, has obviously done his dash with being played as a small forward, has been shifted to half back and now runs around at three quarter pace barely getting involved.
Tell me this – when was the last time you saw Orazio Fantasia run at top pace in a game? When was the last time you saw him run someone down and tackle them? This season? Last year? A couple of seasons back?
I can tell you when I saw him run at full pace, but the tackling one will remain a mystery..
Last season he tried to clean up Robbie Gray, and put his foot down as he approached the contest. However, Gray avoided him and Raz crashed to the ground. As Gray ran past, he gave Fantasia a little hip and the Bomber went down like he’d been shot.
Guys, I don’t think his heart is in this game. Not for this club. When things get tough, he goes missing.
A downhill skier of epic proportions, when the Bombers are up and about are up and about, you overlook how poor he’s been. In his five games this season, he has hit double figure disposals just once. ONCE! This isn’t as a small forward like McDonald-Tipungwuti with an opponent draped all over him. This is as a half back, with all the freedom to run off and make space he could ever want.
But does he want? Does he want to put the work in? Does he want to do the hard stuff?
For a player of his talent, the level of his performances this season have been a disgrace, and truth be told, they have been terrible for the last two seasons. I don’t know where his head is at and I don’t know where he sees his future, but from all reports, his teammates wanted him in the leadership group this year and right now, I am not even sure he could lead a Frenchman to a brothel.
After this performance, Worsfold should sit him down and have a heart to heart with him. Be up front, be honest and ask him where his head is at. If it is an injury that is restricting him, then that’s fine, but if it is all upstairs, Woosha may need to make the tough call and tell him that he’ll be having a bit of a rest.
Righto, so are Bomber fans going to tell me that Tim English didn’t get hold of Phillips around the ground the way they told me Goldstein didn’t get hold of him last week? The numbers aren’t too dissimilar.
This is becoming an issue. In the actual ruck duels, Phillips can obviously compete, but he is being exposed around the ground. I spoke about English enough in the good section, but what of Andrew Phillips? What are Bomber fans expecting of him for here on? Does he have the tank to run with the elite rucks? Do they need to play another big man to support him?
The Dogs mids were a cut above, and whilst English wasn’t winning a heap of taps, they were winning plenty of clearances. Is it enough to get your hand on the footy in the ruck and then that’s it? English was able to follow up, but like so many Bombers, Phillips was unable to match the second efforts of his opponent.
HOW MUCH HAVE THE DOGS MISSED LACHIE HUNTER?
He was good last week, wasn’t he? And he was good again this week.
Hunter’s run and positioning to cut off the defensive 50 exits is one of the keys to the Bulldogs locking the ball inside their half. The way he finds the ball is great, but I love his ability to be in the right spot to send that ball back from whenst it came if a player hacks the ball out of the defensive area.
Playing more in the middle than his traditional wing role, Hunter cruised around combining with Jack Macrae to have his way in this game. 26 touches at 81% efficiency, whilst dropping back to help his defenders is the perfect way to assist after a pretty ordinary period earlier in the year.
IS JOSH BRUCE A CONFIDENCE PLAYER, OR WHAT?
He started like a beast and looked like he may be in the sort of form that could see him repeat his six goal blast from a few weeks ago, but after three shots in the first quarter that registered one single behind, it was as though the little man on his shoulder got the better of him, and it wasn’t long until he drifted out of the game and was searching for kicks up the ground.
Credit to Cale Hooker, who really knuckled down and refused to give Bruce a look-in after quarter time, but the Bulldog forward could have had three goals to his name at the first break but for poor kicking. Who knows what happens from that point on?
WHERE TO PLAY MITCH HIBBERD?
The Bombers already have a Mitch Hibberd-like player in their ranks. That bloke is Kyle Langford, and though we have seen him do a great job on Paddy Cripps, I’m not sure there is a permanent, locked down role for Langford in the team week-in, week-out unless he is given a job.
So, where does that leave Mitch Hibberd?
He’s a bit of a plodder, but is strong in the contest. I kind of felt that tonight would be his kind of night. A little slippery and dewy, maybe – it would be the kind of environment he could thrive in. but he didn’t, and neither did Langford who struggled to get involved in the first half.
Both men can be effective at stoppages, yet found themselves on the wing at points in this game. I’m not sure there is a place for both in the team at once. They make the Bombers look a little slow.
Geez, I thought I may have to reconsider my own Rolling AA team early in the first, with Jordan Ridley looking like a million bucks with his intercept marking
Dev Smith was on the angry pills a little bit in this one. That 50m penalty he gave for knocking Jack Macrae over was equal parts soft and stupid. Yes, Macrae went down easily, but when your team is struggling why even give the umpire a reason to punish you further? A free kick off the ball caused a turnover at one point as well.
He might play at his best when he walks the edge between in control and angry, but he wasn’t on the edge tonight. He was stumbling from silliness to unnecessary stupidity.
Tim English’s hair style looks like a blonde version of the helmet Brett wore in Flight of the Conchords with hair on it.
One of those very disappointing nights for Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti. As good as he is, he has these games where he is simply a non-factor. He is too good to be completely invisible for a game. It’s not like he had one bloke locking down on him, either. The Dogs were switching often between Bailey Williams, Easton Wood and Hayden Crozier
And that’ll do me tonight. Next week the Dogs attempt to ruin the highest-profile Gold Coast game in recent memory when they clash on a Thursday night, whilst the Bombers get to redeem themselves against the Crows.
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