The Western Bulldogs used an inspired third quarter blast to go on a six goal run, setting up their win over a disappointing Melbourne at Metricon Stadium.
After an even first half, the Dogs were able to tighten the screws on the Dees, who were unable to respond under pressure and allowed their opponents to go the length of the field on several occasions.
The win catapults the Dogs back into the top eight and sends the Dees back into the mix of the middle of the road teams with time fast running out.
The Dogs dominated the disposal winners and got solid contributions from their stars as they simply applied too much pressure for the wasteful Demons to overcome.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
UP FOR THE FIGHT
Forget pre-game screenings of old boxing matches – these Dogs were up for the fight when it mattered today.
The Demons have an elite clearance midfield. Usually well-serviced by Max Gawn, they can rip games to shreds from the centre bounce and have first class service to aid them extract the footy. But without Gawn in the team, they were forced to fend for themselves at stoppages. Well, pretty much anyway.
Brayden Preuss moved into the role of number one ruck for the second straight week, and for the most part seemed to be matching up on a combination of Josh Bruce and Josh Dunkley. Yet the clearance numbers favoured Melbourne on the day by just two as many of Preuss’ taps were not to advantage despite Jack Viney doing his best to make them good.
Tom Liberatore, Bailey Smith and Marcus Bontempelli flat out refused to allow the Melbourne mids clear passage to the footy. Viney tried hard, particularly early, but many of his six clearances were under duress and the results were as you’d expect.
Petracca managed to pick up the eight clearances on the game, but several came late, and several went nowhere in particular as well.
Often, it is the secondary clearance that makes the difference – where the ball lands and who it lands with should be termed a successful clearance. It would be interesting to see the numbers if that was applied to the game today. I reckon the Dogs were much more effective in extracting the footy to a teammate as opposed to hacking it forward and hoping.
It was a true team effort by the Dogs in the clinches in this game. They were up for the scrap, had each other’s backs and maintained the pressure for longer, and at a higher intensity than their opponents. They took what the Dees could dish out and handed it back to them, only to see their opponents falter.
Harder for longer. Sounds simply, but it rarely is. Today, the Dogs were able to do it and the Dees fell in a heap when the game was there to be won.
The six-goal third quarter below this game open, and you could tell the Dogs knew that this was their moment.
I usually try to avoid stats until after I write a review, but I checked this at the time. In the third quarter, the Dogs had ten of the top 12 disposal winners on the park. Bailey Smith, Josh Dunkley and Tom Liberatore all dropped the hammer on the Demons, running to position and trusting their teammates to win the footy.
They were buoyed by the rebounding efforts of both Hayden Crozier and Bailey Williams, who seemed to read the ball so much better than their Melbourne opponents.
Tim English and Marcus Bontempelli drove daggers into the Melbourne hearts as they hit the scoreboard and gave the Dogs an almost unassailable lead heading into the last quarter.
Was the third quarter the Bulldogs at their best? Probably not, but the intensity was up, the pressure was there, and the Dees could not, or concerningly, would not match it. They call it the premiership quarter and though the Dogs winning the flag seems like a bit of a stretch, this was definitely the quarter that won them this game.
And it may have been the quarter that sent them into the 2020 finals series. Once there… anything can happen.
CRAZY EYES WALLIS
It’s hard not to like Mitch Wallis. He does the hard stuff, is completely unafraid to put his head over the footy and barely ever concedes a contest.
Watching him excel in this game whilst almost every other forward on the park struggled to deal with the swirly conditions was an absolute joy. He finished with a season-high four goals to continue his excellent 2020, taking his season total to 20.
With Josh Bruce struggling in all but one game this season, and Aaron Naughton spending a large portion of the season out with injury, the Dogs have looked to Wallis to fill the void, and he has done that and considerably more. His ability to use his body in marking contests is right up there, particularly for a man who isn’t the biggest body on the park.
It was only a couple of years ago that there were so many questions about his playing future with the Dogs. He was, pardon the pun, in the doghouse and struggling to get a game, but as testament to his desire and work ethic, Wallis is now one of the most important pieces to the Bulldogs’ puzzle. He is a tough match-up and should probably have 22-23 goals this season but for having to leave the field due to bleeding from head wounds.
The bloke is a warrior and deserves all the success he’s getting this season. Doggies fans, where would you have him in your B&F right now? Top three? Top two? The Charlie Sutton Medallist, perhaps?
THE OTHER BULLDOG BAILEY
The mainstream media doesn’t talk much about Bailey Williams. Instead, there has been a bit of a focus on what Caleb Daniel provides off half back and how that has impacted the Dogs this season.
It’s fair enough I suppose – Daniel has been wonderful, but the work of Bailey Williams deserves to be highlighted as well. Consistently placing himself in the right position, Williams has the ability to be the best rebounder on the team as well as knuckling down to lock down an opponent where necessary.
Again this afternoon, he picked up 19 disposals as he cruised around the defensive fifty arc and gained almost 600 metres for the Dogs as he continually got them out of trouble.
Adding another eight rebound fifties to his season totals, he is averaging a career-high in that regard as the Dogs place their trust in his decision making from defence and he has really embraced the responsibility.
THE MAY-N MAN
I don’t know where the Dees would have been in this game if not for Steven May. He was huge in defence all afternoon, and made life miserable for Aaron Naughton with a combination of excellent body work and the ability to zone off and take intercept marks as well.
May came under a heap of criticism last season for a number of reasons – showing up out of the condition and getting suspended early on just two of them – but he has well and truly redeemed himself this season, knuckling down to be one of the most reliable defenders in the game.
It is worth noting that Naughton had an absolute day out last week against Daniel Talia, but May was having none of that in this one, picking up 11 big spoils, six intercepts and seven rebound fifty disposals as he held the Demon defence together.
His combination with Jake Lever is really starting to gel well, with Lever adding a game-high 12 intercepts to May’s defensive work. Imagine how effective they’d be if the Melbourne midfielders and half forwards actually ran defensively and changed 70-30 inside 50 chances to 50-50 contests?
BACKING IT UP
Every week I calculate performances of players across the board and publish (for members) weekly player ratings. In the two years I have been doing it, nobody had ever achieved a perfect score at any position… until last week.
And last week, two players did it! Tom Hawkins did everything for the Cats as they cruised to a big win, and the other was Marcus Bontempelli, who amassed video game number on the stat sheet. 33 touches, nine tackles, 12 clearances, two goals… he did as he pleased against the Crows.
But this is a league filled with stars. Even lesser-known players can have big weeks. It takes something special to back it up.
Whilst not rising to the same heights as the Crows game, Bont was on again in this one, with his penetrating inside 50 kicking on display again. He picked up two direct goal assists and added a snag of his own as he picked up 22 touches and seven tackles to be one of the most influential players on the park.
The thing with Bont – he is almost the anti-modern midfielder. Whilst they screw around with the footy like they’ve got no confidence in their own ability, Bontempelli backs his skill to hit targets and has no hesitation to kick the ball long inside fifty to the advantage of his forwards. And when it goes in quick, it sews the seeds of panic in defensive fifty.
And that lead to goals.
Bont was down earlier in the season to the point where some openly questioned whether his heart was in this season, but his last two weeks have answered any lingering questions in resounding fashion.
Yes, his head is in the game. And that spells trouble for upcoming opponents, just as it did for the Demons in this one.
Last week I watched on as Alastair Clarkson threw James Sicily forward for the second week in a row. I’m not criticising the move – rather the timing of it, as in both cases the Hawks were well and truly out of the game and the move seemed to be a move for the sake of it.
The Dogs had a bit not working in this game and rather than wait until the last quarter to make a move that was rather pointless, Luke Beveridge threw Josh Bruce into the ruck to get him involved in the game.
Was it a match-winning move? No… hell no, but what it did do was give the Dogs a big body at stoppages to crash into Brayden Preuss and cause a bit of chaos.
Beveridge didn’t sit and wait until the game was decided to make a move. He didn’t play it safe and stick with what he knew. He threw his team around and changed things up whilst it still mattered, and I am glad it worked for him. That was courageous coaching.
One of the big knocks on Melbourne this season, and last season as well if we’re being honest is their inability to hit targets by foot and though the conditions didn’t exactly lend themselves to clean disposals and perfect hit ups, the Dees were atrocious by foot at crucial points of the game.
Whether they were trying to be a little fancy by hand, or a little delicate by foot, Melbourne missed targets and made fundamental errors with the ball in hand, leading to turnovers. With time ticking down, decisions by Angus Brayshaw, Christian Petracca and Jay Lockhart all but sealed their fate, with their poor decisions/skills opening the door for the Dogs on the counter-attack.
Was it the pressure that caused the Dees to cough the footy up over and over? Or was it poor skills?
What was really frustrating as a neutral viewer was seeing players screwing around with the footy – trying to be creative sideways and backwards when time was of the essence, and when your team has done nothing but miss targets all day, personally I would much rather be missing targets forward than I would sideways and backwards.
The commentators mentioned “bad habits” creeping back into the game of Melbourne players, but for mine, poor skill isn’t a bad habit – it is just poor skill, and the Dees suffered for it today.
The lack of defensive running from the Melbourne forwards and midfielders was terrible in this game. Absolutely horrible.
If you’re looking for the reason the Dogs were able to kick away in the third quarter, look no further than the insipid efforts in manning up from kick ins in the third.
The Dogs were able to move the footy from end-to-end without encountering any opposition on several occasions, setting up vital scoring opportunities while the Demon mids seemed happy to cruise through the corridor and not venture wide enough to apply the necessary pressure.
Even following a score review, the Dogs were able to execute a kick in to hit an unmarked man at the defensive fifty metre line – wit that sort of time to set up, there is simply no excuse for that kind of mistake. It is an error wrought of laziness and lack of attention to detail. Good teams don’t do that.
Melbourne did that, and they did it several times.
WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES LACHIE HUNTER MAKE TO THE DOGS?
A huge one. Absolutely huge. Whilst some question his disposal or choices with the footy at times, there can be no questioning his enormous work ethic and willingness to work over his opponent.
His first quarter saw him matched up on Aaron vandenBerg, who had a big influence on last week’s contest. At quarter time, vandernBerg was sucking in the big ones, spent from trying to keep up with the hard-running Hunter as he picked up ten disposals. Though the conditions seemed to play havoc with some of his disposals, the way he worked up and back all game added so much to the Dogs’ running game.
WHAT CAN LAITH VANDERMEER BECOME?
Well, he works hard – I’ll give him that, and I loved that he tried that ridiculous step he tried to pull at one stage. However, I have watched him pretty closely all season and I reckon the Dogs have really found one here. He run as hard as anyone on the park, doesn’t mind throwing himself into the fray and hits the scoreboard often.
I don’t think I am going out on a limb by saying that he will have a 20+ disposal game before this season is done and he might even add a couple of goals to the mix as well.
WHERE DOES BAYLEY FRITSCH RATE AS A MEDIUM FORWARD?
He’d have to rate pretty highly given the big Melbourne forwards are so hit and miss.
I didn’t mind what Weideman offered in this one, and he probably could have finished with three or four goals quite easily, but I once again found myself admiring the work of Bayley Fritsch as he continually presented for marks inside 50 – he took the lazy five.
Conversion remained an issue, and with 17.17 to his name this season, he could be right in the mix for the Coleman if he could improve his accuracy. He has a ripping pair of hands and reads the ball beautifully in the air. I reckon 1.2 could have probably been 3.1 had he had his kicking boots on today. Still, at 23 we are seeing plenty from him and I expect to see plenty more.
DO THE DEES CRACK UNDER DECENT PRESSURE?
Well, they did today, but part of me thinks it was due to them trying to be too cute with the footy in hand.
They were just outworked at stoppages for the first three quarters and I have no idea why Brayden Preuss didn’t just drop a knee into Josh Dunkley’s chest at a stoppage or two to end this farce of him competing at ruck contests. If I were Preuss, I would take that as an insult. But instead, he tapped the ball to non-advantageous situations way too many times and allowed the Dogs mids in.
WHO WAS THE MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER ON THE PARK?
Probably not just one player – the crumbing forwards from Melbourne were pretty poor. Couldn’t get near it and though Kosi Pickett did apply a bit of pressure, he didn’t seem to have any influence on proceeding. Apart from a late goal, neither did Charlie Spargo.
Also, I am a big wrap for Jake Melksham and have written glowingly about him all season, but some of his decision-making and errors in this game really let his team down.
What do the Dees do with Tom McDonald? With just seven goals from nine games this season, he has been unable to even look like he can recapture the form that made the Dees pull the trigger on the Jesse Hogan trade. Unless he is getting the ball lace out, he seems to become a non-factor very quickly.
Speaking of that trade, right now I reckon the Dees are going okay with it. may has really turned it around and whilst Ben King will be good for a long time, May is now doing exactly what he was recruited for.
And that’ll do me. Both teams needed this one, but only one was going to get it. The Dogs used some slick handball to run the ball and leave the Dees in their dust in the third quarter and that’s all it took. They get the Cats next week in what will be a huge test for them. Win that, and finals beckon. Lose it, and back to the pack they go again.
For the Dees, their clash with the Saints is now do-or-die. Evening in Alice Springs will bring its own set of challenges but they have to put their head over the footy and win the inside battle first and foremost to have a chance.
And not waste the footy with dinky little handballs… that’d be nice, too.
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