THE IRVINE REPORT
A combined ten-goal first quarter might’ve been a sign of things to come, but just for one team. From that point, the Western Bulldogs piled on ten more goals for the match to Adelaide’s four – three of which came in the fourth term. Leading by example, Marcus Bontempelli crashed through packs in the middle while it was a career-best six-goal showing from Aaron Naughton that catapulted the Dogs percentage up as they make a charge towards keeping in touch with the eight.
WHERE WAS THE GAME WON?
The game was won by the Bulldogs use out of the centre and continued penetration of the centre corridor. They applied pressure, especially in the forward 50 and dealt with the Crows effort to replicate it, punishing Adelaide on the turnovers. Adelaide spent the ball before they earned it, and the mistakes came from newcomers and veterans alike as most of the Bulldogs lineup had an impact.
The Dogs scored 73 of their 111 points from stoppages as Marcus Bontempelli had seven less clearances than the entire Adelaide outfit combined. The difference in clearance numbers from the centre square and stoppages highlighted a glaring difference between each side and the Dogs’ midfield brutality, but also demonstrated the spread and the runners who come off half back.
The game was already over by the time the Crows added three late goals in the fourth quarter and while some pressure from Adelaide forced the Dogs to backtrack, the skilful users of the ball on the Dogs list were able to launch forward more often and with more purpose.
WHO WERE THE FIVE MOST IMPRESSIVE PLAYERS?
I could honestly group a whole selection of players into one paragraph, just to make room for notable mentions to other handy players – that’s how impressive, as a whole, the Dogs were up on the Gold Coast.
Marcus Bontempelli had 10 first-quarter possessions and didn’t slow down at any point during the game as he inserted himself into every play. A contested ball winner, Bont wasn’t afraid of crashing into packs to win the pill and when presented with a clearance, he often found a target. Bont ended the first quarter with a captain’s goal – one of two he kicked for the game. After laying a tackle in the centre circle and intercepting a handball, he continued to run onto the ball and after a mongrel of a dribbler forward, seemingly kept running with no one bothering to stop him.
As a result, he motored inside 50, received a Mitch Wallis handball and ran into an open goal. Bont was able to read the ball as well as anyone else, and whether it was him going for the ball or delivering it to others, he was effective all over the park. It makes him more than a handy player for the Dogs, especially when he’s off the leash and they don’t put a tight tag on him.
Bailey Williams is becoming an unheralded player and looking to play his first complete year in his fifth season. This has imbued him with an increased confidence, which is evident in his approach to the game. His creativity with ball in hand is noticeable and his ability to carry to ball, despite pressure building around him showcases his prowess. He is a line breaker, evidenced through his run from the defensive side of the centre square, right through to the forward end without being touched. This run helped fund a goal to Aaron Naughton who took an uncontested mark to cap off Williams’ run. Even if he did have opponents breathing down his neck, he showed he can shrug off anyone in his way and is increasingly taking on more responsibility as his spot in the team becomes more secure.
Lachie Hunter hasn’t slowed down this season, despite some challenges with injuries and time away and has found a good position on the wing and moving across the half forward line where he made most of his impact today. A skilful user of the ball, Hunter went deep and got on the scoreboard himself but was involved in passages that yielded the same results. Hunter’s kicks inboard to forwards like Mitch Wallis helped get the scoreboard ticking over, off the back of his constant mentality of moving the ball forward.
Tom Liberatore played a big role in the first half and assisted the midfield in gaining the clearances from the taps of Tim English. A skilful handball in between three Adelaide players on the wing in the first quarter enabled the Dogs to secure a goal to Bailey Dale, and it was decisions like that which demonstrated his importance to this team. In the second term, Liberatore produced a great tackle on Ben Keays to earn a free kick and after sizing up his options, he found the in-form Aaron Naughton who kicked his fourth of the match.
Speaking of Aaron Naughton, he played one of his best games for the club as he bagged a career-high six goals, including three in the first quarter to get the Bulldogs started. A deep forward, Naughton was able to use his size advantage and strength against the veteran Daniel Talia, surprising the bigger man with a couple of body-to-body wins. Even when being held in the contest, Naughton used his strength to mark and repeatedly found space to lead into, including leaping and taking a strong pack mark that would’ve made the full forwards from yesteryear take note.
WHAT WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT HEAD-TO-HEAD MATCH-UP?
Marcus Bontempelli v No One:
The bonafide, young star midfielder of the Western Bulldogs, Bont was everywhere he needed to be and could be. There was no accountability by anyone in the Adelaide camp as Bont was able to run free, end to end and gather up the possessions. Adelaide lacked the size and muscle for anyone to run with him, no one could stick a tackle on him, unable to pin his arms and that allowed the ball to get loose and away.
The slaughter by the Dogs in the midfield was largely due to the grunt of Bontempelli and it quickly became evident that no one on the Adelaide team could stop the Bulldogs captain.
WHO SHOULD HAVE STAYED HOME?
Daniel Talia had no answers at all for Aaron Naughton, constantly shoved out of the contest and unable to match the overall package of his Bulldogs opponent. A two-disposal game, Talia had no impact at all and it’s hard to see the Crows competing well when so many players, especially their number one backman, is this down on form. A handful of one-percenters may have saved him and the Crows from being humiliated too much further, however he was constantly beaten, and chasing all day.
While Mitch Wallis was good, I’m a critique of the kick around the corner, especially when it goes poorly. Wallis drew a free for holding about 15m out on a slight angle and instead of going the drop punt, he thought it best to run around a kick off the side of the boot. Wallis’ inability to execute correctly, especially when a routine set shot would’ve sufficed, when he goes at 73% from a set shot, was a quizzical decision.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN DONE DIFFERENTLY?
For the Crows, no one was able to contest with the Bulldogs forwards, and none seemed to want to do so. Aaron Naughton, Mitch Wallis and Marcus Bontempelli each took marks deep inside 50, either from a long, high ball or running into space while the Adelaide defence stood around. The forward pressure from the Dogs was good and it made the Crows think before they’d even gained control of the ball, hence some very costly turnovers. Add to this, two 50m penalties that drew the Dogs to the edge of the 50m arc for better forward entries. When you’re a team struggling this badly, gifting deep entries is cutting your own throat.
The Crows needed to play for each other, which means looking for an option around you when you’ve got a fast break, not bombing it forward hoping for space where Dogs defenders lead the charge. The Crows needed to counter the might of the Bulldogs midfielders who were allowed to run away and you’d think with the amount of touches they were racking up, a harder tag, or any at all, might’ve quelled a little of the influence.
WHERE DOES THIS GAME SIT IN TERMS OF BEST/WORST FOR THE SEASON?
Even though the Bulldogs dominated after quarter time and the margin became blown out, it wasn’t the reason why this game is receiving a low mark from me. While most of the footy world are crying out for more open football and this game provided that from both teams, it was uneventful. Each side lacked a defensive impact when their opponents streamed forward with ease. While the delivery and conversion were usually on point, the avenue to get there didn’t feel accomplished. It was bruise-free. There were no real tricks in transitioning the play from end to end.
The Bulldogs gained a huge percentage boost to accommodate their tilt at the finals and to keep in touch with the bottom half of the eight so in that sense, Dogs fans may look back on this as the crucial game that put them into finals calculations. However, the overall spectacle was lacking, save for an Easton Wood screamer that could be talked about at the end of the season.
WHERE TO NEXT FOR THE DOGS?
This win over the lacklustre Crows will help the Bulldogs confidence and the cohesion the entire team displayed should hold them in good stead for the next couple of weeks of footy. The midfield trio of Marcus Bontempelli, Jackson Macrae and Josh Dunkley are always going to work but the guys who can come into the stoppages such as Lachie Hunter are integral to their setup which is pretty good across the board. A late injury concern to Tim English could dampen the Dogs’ system, especially when Dunkley was used as a second option at times today. A good test is on the horizon with Melbourne next weekend, a club who are looking to cement their own spot in the eight.
WHERE TO NEXT FOR THE CROWS?
The Crows are mathematically out of the finals now, so they should probably focus solely on a rebuild. Nothing is going right this season as veterans are down on form, including the returning Rory Sloane today. Taylor Walker was unsighted for most of the day, Daniel Talia was no match for Aaron Naughton, and another backline veteran in Jake Kelly was sloppy. A couple of first to third year players need to be cleaner, such as Fischer McAsey who is still finding his feet while Tyson Stengle, who kicked the opening goal of the game, went missing for the remainder. Things don’t get easier for Adelaide when they host Geelong next week.
SPEAKING OF ENGLISH’S POTENTIAL INJURY, WHO’S NEXT FOR THE DOGS RUCK STOCKS?
While English is the Dogs’ number one ruck option, he attended ruck contests 39 times today. The next ruck option the Dogs rolled with against the Crows was Josh Dunkley, one of their premier mids, who battled 30 times across the space of the game. A 190cm midfielder cannot match it against the best rucks, especially when a fit Max Gawn may be returning next weekend. Jackson Trengove could come back as the next best ruck option while Marcus Bontempelli is third-best for hitouts out of the current crop of Bulldogs – he attended two ruck battles today.
As an aside, as English gives the Dogs some scoreboard pressure. He pushed hard forward on multiple occasions and kicked 1.4 today. His best shot (before the goal) was a long-range shot outside 50m after the half time siren – and it was very close to extending the Dogs’ lead
WILL RORY SLOANE FIND FORM THIS YEAR?
While this question could be asked of the entire Adelaide team, even before his time on the sidelines, Sloane hasn’t looked like a version of his former self. Today he found it difficult to get hands of the Sherrin.
Adelaide need Sloane to fire if they’re any chance of winning a game soon, as Matt Crouch has done a lot of the heavy lifting with support from Ben Keays and Brodie Smith. Moving Sloane to the inside instead of the wing may provide a boost.
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