Thursday night footy welcomed the Dogs and Suns and with a spot in the eight up for grabs, both teams cracked in to provide a great wet weather footy spectacle.
Despite driving rain at points, this was an excellent game of footy. The field was littered with a great mixture of young stars, established champs, new recruits and the kind of attack on the ball and opponent that makes AFL footy great.
Am I talking up this game more than I should?
Maybe, but it was hard, it was fast and it went down to the wire. On a Thursday night, give me a game like this every week.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
He was the best player on the ground for mine, and not by a small margin.
He made intelligent decisions with the footy in hand, got the Dogs off and running with the right kick at the right time to the right teammate, and dropped off his opponent when necessary to collect the footy in the back half all night.
When under pressure in the last quarter, he trusted his skills and they did not let him down at all.
From afar, you sit and watch this bloke and wonder how he does what he does. There is a touch of Sam Mitchell and Diesel William about him in the way he shapes a kick around his body perfectly, not only hitting the target, but kicking it just far enough around the corner to avoid the outstretched hands of his opponent.
I fully expect some intelligent coach to formulate a plan to exploit his obvious deficiency at some stage, but it hasn’t happened thus far this season, and maybe it won’t happen at all.
They called him the architect this evening. It’s a good description, but I prefer the ‘Mini Maestro’. He controls that defensive half and directs them as to when to increase tempo and when to slow it down. He is the conductor of the Western Bulldogs defensive symphony, and tonight he was the best player on the park.
SAM COLLINS IS A BAD MAN
There was a dual brilliance to the defensive efforts of Sam Collins in this contest. Not only did he obliterate Josh Bruce in one-on-one contests, he was also able to be the best intercept player in the game.
Along with Hayden Crozier, who I will get to in a moment or two, Collins amassed ten intercept possessions to half time, however unlike Crozier, Collins was able to do this whilst refusing to allow his direct opponent a sniff of the footy.
Collins (and Crozier for that matter) are former Dockers, and you wonder how much better that Freo defence would look with those two still wearing purple. Watching Collins in this game, you have to wonder how the hell the Dockers let him go. Was he a late bloomer? Does he have body odour issues? Is he terrible at karaoke?
All I know is that he is fast becoming one of the more dependable lockdown key defenders in the game, and his efforts against Josh Bruce in this game did his reputation no harm at all.
And who cares if he is crap at singstar, anyway?
LIBBA WHEN IT COUNTS
This might be missed because he was pretty poor through the first half, but how good was Libba when the game was on the line?
It was like Tom Liberatore grew a third leg and willed himself into the contest in the last quarter after really struggling to get into the game in the first half. Yes, yes… I know he kicked a goal. He also had just seven touches before half time.
His in-and-under work and desperation was indicative of the way the Dogs lifted and his kick with the time running down, almost picking out the boundary line between a mass of players was… cue Dennis Cometti… centimetre perfect.
Even on a relative dirty day, Libba found a way to make it happen when the Dogs needed him, and it’s not the first time he has stood up when it counts this season.
I just did the recruits grading this week… today in fact, and I had Alex Keath sitting as a ‘B’. This was up to the end of Round Seven.
After tonight, could he sneak in as an A-Grader?
Keath has been everything the Dogs wanted this season. He can hold down a big job and make his opponent redundant, or act as the big interceptor, slipping in and out of each role with ease.
Last season around seven or so rounds in, there was plenty of talk out of Adelaide that Keath could be an All-Australian. Whilst we haven’t heard that from the Kennel, I am sure there is a strong belief that Keath has made the Bulldogs’ defence significantly stronger.
His stats aren’t going to blow anyone away – 13 touches and two marks, but when you consider that Sam day has been an integral part of the Suns’ success this season and you factor in that he had just four touches in this game, you have to give credit to Keath for a wonderful lockdown role.
A lot of defenders getting praise in this article at the moment, and for good reason – both teams’ back sixes were phenomenal.
But in this case, I want to single out Bailey Williams’ last quarter efforts.
He was excellent in providing a springboard for the Dogs to launch forward, picking up 165 metres gained in the last quarter alone. When the Dogs needed run, he provided it out of defence as the Sun managed to place the shackles on Jason Johannisen.
Williams has been exceptional on several occasions this season, with his intercept work a highlight in other games. Tonight, it was his run and carry from defence that stood out, and like the best players, he was at his best when the game was on the line.
He’s been floating between the wing and half-forward for weeks now, and I don’t hear many people talk about him.
It might be time to start.
His one-on-three breakeven on the far wing in the last quarter was a game-saving moment. It was not spectacular. It was not breathtaking, but what it demonstrated was a young man willing to put his head over the footy and work hard for the betterment of his team. This bloke has just seven games to his name, but there was no gushing over his efforts the way the commentators did over even the slightest movement from Rankine.
Vandermeer is one to watch. Each week here at The Mongrel I compile a list of the best wingmen in the game and bobbing up for the last few weeks has been Laitham Vandermeer.
Time to give the kid some credit.
I loved the game of Touk Miller. Absolutely loved it.
I am a huge fan of the accountable midfielder. I adore what Jack Steele is doing for the Saints, think Elliot Yeo does a wonderful job for the Eagles and more and more, I find myself smiling as I watch Touk Miller ply his trade as one of the hardest working mids in the game.
Miller’s 26 disposals, seven tackles and seven clearances were the complete game for the dogged midfielder, and a couple of his tackles on Marcus Bontempelli were just pure delight for footy lovers.
He isn’t going to get be lauded as an AFL great, but he is well and truly on the pathway to be one of the first genuine favourite sons of the Gold Coast team.
A favourite Sun, perhaps?
Pretty corny, but screw it…
As I write this review, I have already had two Dogs fans message me with their opinion that Hayden Crozier was one of the best players on the ground.
At face value, I have to agree.
He was dominant in the air, rebounded beautifully and had double figure intercept possessions at half time. There’s not much more you could ask for from a defender is there?
Except maybe stopping your direct opponent from kicking goals. That’d be good, huh?
Not to sound like a smart arse, but at one stage Gold Coast had four goals on the board, and as great as Crozier was, Alex Sexton had kicked three of them.
Now, this may be more on the entire Dogs back six for not covering for Crozier as he chased the footy, and did so exceptionally well, but at the end of the day, he lined up on Sexton and needed to play a lot tighter.
Yes, a good game from Crozier. Yes, he did a lot of great things. But he did those things whilst not giving the respect his opponent deserved, and the Dogs got hurt on the scoreboard as a result.
NO BIG BOYS DOING BIG BOY THINGS
If there was one thing this game was missing it was the presence of a great big man performance.
The conditions were not great for the big guys, but it is on these kinds of nights that stars step up and instead of flying to take big overhead grabs, they start leaping into their opponents to take strong marks on their chest. Amazingly, the only forward capable of doing that seemed to be Rankine.
Running down the list of players, we had Josh Bruce, Sam Day, Ben King and Billy Gowers all struggling to get their mitts on the footy. When you add to that Tim English and Jarrod Witts struggling to work into the game after ruck contests, you can see how much one player in that bracket stepping up would have impacted the game.
We, as a footy community, tend to give the big guys a free pass when it rains. Some Geelong coaches even decide to give them a rest in finals when there is a bit of rain on the radar… too soon, Cats fans? But when you look as some of the most impressive outings of the genuine stars of the game, they did it in adverse conditions. You remember seeing Wayne Carey fly into packs and mark the wet ball on his chest? That’s how he made his mark on the competition. Just because the ball is wet does not mean you cannot have an impact.
Yet we’ll give them all a free pass tonight again, right?
UNABLE TO CASH IN
How often do you see it?
One team peppers the goals, dominates possession and keeps the ball in their forward half but cannot capitalise on the scoreboard.
Then, the ball goes down the other end and… bang – a goal to the opposition.
That’s exactly what happened in this game, with the Suns clearly having an extended advantage in the second quarter, but were unable to hit the scoreboard.
After a goal to Rankine (a beautiful set shot with the wet ball) the Suns had so much of the footy in their half that the Dogs did not have a forward half possessions for ten minutes. Let that sink in for a minute.
Alas, Gold Coast were unable to kick a goal.
Credit must go to the desperate Dogs defenders who threw themselves at contest after contest before the shackles were broken, the ball was swept away and Patrick Lipinski slotted a goal to break some Gold Coast hearts.
We’ve all played sport, right? We’ve all at least worn our heart on our sleeve when we’ve watched it. We know how demoralising it can be to do all that work for no reward and then give up an easy one at the other end. That’s what happened tonight, and if the Suns are looking for a period where they lost the game, the second quarter is where they’ll find it.
I don’t like doing this as he is a young player and I reckon he has enormous potential. As a matter of fact, I was just singing his praises last week BEFORE the Rising Star nomination was announced.
However, the reluctance or inability to give the ball off to a teammate hurt the Gold Coast Suns, and that cardinal sin was committed by Noah Anderson.
Above, I wrote about the 10-minute period of absolute Gold Coast dominance inside their forward 50. It was the second quarter and Gold Coast were owning the footy. Repeat entries and multiple chances at goal went begging, but one that looked like a genuine “put down your glasses” certainty didn’t come to fruition when Anderson elected not to give a little handball to the running Lachie Weller.
20 metres out from goal in the open, already on the move and with the goal begging, Weller didn’t get a touch, as Anderson threw the ball on his boot and added to the behind tally.
Later in the game he missed a wide open teammate again, which cost his team another scoring chance.
Anderson is an impressive kid and will learn from tonight’s errors. Electing not to give that quick little give to Weller was something his teammate let him know all about, and rightfully so. I reckon Stuart Dew will pull him aside and talk to him about trusting in the voice of the teammate and giving the first option, particularly when your mate is calling for it.
In a game decided by five points, those things probably stick out a little more than it should.
DO THE SUNS SETTLE FOR HONOURABLE LOSSES?
No, no, no… you can’t fall into this trap.
The Suns are good enough to win and win often. Last year, in the second half of the season they were whacked several times. They ran out of legs and teams smelled the blood in the water when playing them. That will not be the case this season.
They had the chance to win this one, played a bit of panicky footy and squandered it. The Dogs were more composed and that’s what won the game, but Gold Coast are not far away at all, and should be playing to win at all costs to instil a bit of killer instinct.
Honourable losses… that’s a defeatist attitude.
WHO WON THE RUCK BATTLE?
Well, Jarrod Witts did on paper, but we expected him to win that, didn’t we? I suppose what we also expected was for Tim English to run off Witts and stretch him up and down the ground.
It didn’t quite work that way, with Witts refusing to be drawn inside 50, playing a kick behind the ball. English, for the most part, opted to stay with him and what we ended up with was a stalemate in terms of impact around the park.
Overall, Witts whacked him in the ruck, but English lifted late to ensure Witts wasn’t getting a clean run at the footy and able to feed his mids.
Short answer – Witts
IS BAILEY SMITH THE BEST SECOND YEAR MAN IN THE LEAGUE?
Who is his competition?
Connor Rozee? He has dropped off slightly this season but is the sort of player that can explode in a game and remind everyone of his good he is.
Sam Walsh? Is now being played primarily on the wing and is learning the role. Still good, but experiencing a significant drop off.
Others include Zak Butters and Curtis Taylor who have stepped up, but no one is playing the kind of footy that Bailey Smith is each and every week. If he was third in the conversation last season, he has bumped, bustled and pushed his way into the frame now, and he might even have his nose in front.
WHY HAVEN’T I GIVEN LOVE TO JACK MACRAE?
I’m not really sure. I think he may be a victim of his own high standards. That’s a bit of a cop-out, I know.
I just didn’t see him hurting the opposition the way I saw Daniel, Williams or even Bont doing with the footy in hand. I like his work as a link man, but unless the Dogs can get him running on the outside and feed him the footy, I’m not sure he’s hurting teams as much as he could be.
Happy to be advised to the contrary on that one.
A bit of an ‘almost’ game for the Bont in this one. Looked wonderful in moments but also looked a little restricted by a hip injury at points.
Another nine tackles for Hugh Greenwood in this one. Gave a few free kicks away but all of them seemed to be attempting to dispose of the footy and missing his foot in a tackle.
Interesting to see the Suns starting Pearce Hanley on a wing and then he was dropping back behind the ball almost immediately after the centre stoppage. Kind of admitting defeat out there when you do that, and you deny yourself an option to run and carry.
I reckon Charlie Ballard would be one of the most unconventional defenders in the game at the moment. I’m not sure whether he uses his body well, or just gets in the way sometimes. I kid, obviously – he just tends to use his body very late. It’s effective.
Finally, Rankine… I left this til last because the commentators were pumping him up as though he was the match winner. He kicked 1.4 and whilst he had the chance to win it, he was talked up like he did.
He didn’t, obviously and there were probably more players out there deserving of that level of attention on the results of what they DID produce. Still, you can tell he’ll be a star – I just prefer to heap praise on him when he delivers; not just when he threatens to.
And that’ll do me. A really solid win for the Dogs sees them in a great position. They get the Tigers next Wednesday in what is sure to be a belter, and a huge test for them.
Meanwhile, the Suns will either get a resurgent Giants, or a team with their tail between their legs dependant on what happens on Friday Night Footy. The Suns need the next one to stay in the hunt.
And hey, you know we have memberships here at The Mongrel, right? We are small, we’re independent and we’ve knocked back cash from the gambling industry as I reckon I’d be a massive hypocrite if I complained about all the gambling ads on AFL coverage and then sold out to them. For 40-80c per day you get access to our wingman rankings, defensive rankings, weekly player rankings as well as members-only columns and early access to my Good, Bad and Ugly evening game reviews.
Plus you help us grow. Come on… click the image below and help an old mongrel out.