The Western Bulldogs ambushed the Magpies with a three-goal blast to start the game, and were never headed.
Despite some overuse of the footy at points, the Dogs were aided by some really poor, and some would say selfish forward play by the Pies. From there, the Bulldogs were able to open their 2021 account in the first week with a 16-point win over a team that were all over them this time last season.
The Bulldogs midfielders were dominant as the red, white and blue collected 149 more disposals over the course of the contest, often playing the game on their terms and forcing the Pies to man-up in order to stop the chain of uncontested possessions. In fact, nine of the top ten disposal winners on the ground were Bulldogs, with Scott Pendlebury the only Magpie to get the statisticians working.
16 points was probably not a good reflection on the game, with the Dogs clearly a better team. That could be a worry for Luke Beveridge. A team with a combination of that much footy, and that much talent should have won by a lot more. Let’s explore a little…
Here is The Mongrel’s Good, Bad and Ugly.
GETTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER
Ah, to see the Western Bulldogs midfield up and running is a thing of beauty, and to see the quartet of Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae, Josh Dunkley and Tom Liberatore all collecting 25+ touches had to take Doggies fans back to the halcyon days of 2016 when they looked at their list of young midfielders and wondered what was possible.
And what could be possible again?
The Western Bulldogs bat very deep through the middle, and it is quite alarming to think that even with those four wreaking havoc on the Magpies, it was the play of their mulleted star, Bailey Smith that was the standout.
Smith played on the wing for the entire game, matched up on John Noble to begin with before a number of Pies had their turn in the position. Smith saw them all off, with a 36-disposal outing that saw him collect a tonne of footy on the outside, and throw his body in when required as well.
Many asked the question as to how the Dogs would fit all this talent into one midfield. They’ve added Adam Treloar (played the game on the opposite wing) and also have Lachie Hunter running around out there. These blokes can pick up disposals without even trying, yet they were relegated to the outside, or in Hunter’s case, the half-forward flank.
We’ve seen some pretty impressive midfield units compiled over the last few years – West Coast in 2018 was a powerhouse, and Collingwood in 2019 was supposed to be a powerhouse as well, yet this Bulldogs inside/outside rotation may trump them.
Jack Macrae was a ball magnet as per usual, whilst Bontempelli threatened at times, but didn’t really get into to gear – he ONLY had 28 touches.
Who do you tag the next time you play the Dogs if you’re Nathan Buckley? Assuming of course, there is a next time for him? Do you throw a Levi Greenwood at Bont? Do you look at Tyler Brown and give him a run-with role on Macrae? Or do you go head-to-head with them and get your arse handed to you again?
If we’re looking at the final result, Buckley would walk away knowing he was slaughtered in the guts, yet only lost by 16. Rectify one or two of those matchups next time and things could be very different, particularly if the Dogs don’t use that disposal domination wisely.
It was a pleasure to watch Darcy Moore go to work in this game, and after a nervous couple of minutes in the first quarter that saw Aaron Naughton get on the end of a beautiful pass from Treloar, Moore dropped the hammer and made the defensive 50 his own.
He took six contested marks for the game, had nine intercepts and eight big spoils (five in the first quarter) as he killed almost every contest in his direct vicinity. It is scary to think where the Pies would have been in this game without Darcy Moore, but I reckon it is pretty fair to state that the margin would be considerably more than 16 points.
Some complained last year when Moore was awarded the All-Australian centre half-back position, claiming that Jacob Weitering was just as deserving, if not more so, but Moore does something that Weitering does not, and it was evident in the second quarter, when he took off from defensive fifty and dared anyone to catch him.
His 60-metre pass on the run to Trey Ruscoe was perfect (and one of the very few times Ruscoe was able to look good on the night), who turned and spotted Brody Mihocek running into an open goal. It was probably the best piece of play all night for the Pies, and it was all down to Moore’s willingness to take the game on.
This is what he adds to the Magpies that Weitering simply does not at Carlton, so as the season progresses and the Moore v Weitering discussion starts to heat up again, watch for moments like that from Moore – it is what sets him apart from those who would usurp his throne.
THE TWO-HEADED RUCK BEAST
David had been slinging rocks at Goliath for a few years now, with little success. It turns out he just needed someone to help him learn how to aim properly.
The ruck battle was always going to be a point of interest in this game, with the history between Brodie ‘Goliath’ Grundy and Tim ‘David’ English a very lop-sided one. English had been soundly beaten in the last three encounters between the pair, and the Dogs finally enlisted some help.
In strode Stefan Martin, fresh off an extended period at Brisbane and looking for a new challenge. That challenge, in this case, was to put an arm around Tim English, reassure him and say “come with me, kid… we’ll be okay”.
They were more than okay – Martin’s ability to both take and dish out contact provided the type of weapon the Dogs have been lacking. At a couple of stoppages, you could hear Grundy grunt (should we call him Grunty?) as he and Martin collided. This time last season, Grundy was mauling English. This year, he had a seasoned veteran to contend with – someone who could match him physically…
… and I’m not sure he liked it too much.
What Martin’s presence allowed the Dogs to do was to ease English into the game, and the approach worked well. The big blonde seemed to walk a bit taller once Martin dealt with the initial heat, both outmarking Grundy in a one-on-one, and physically moving the Collingwood ruckman off the spot to take clean possession at a stoppage – that was simply unthinkable 12 months ago.
Looking at the overall ruck stats, Grundy handily beat the combination of English and Martin in getting his hand to the footy first, but it was around the ground that the Dogs pair was able to capitalise.
Both Martin and English hit the scoreboard, kicking a goal each, and both were better-performed in contests all over the park. Martin had 15 touches (12 contested), whilst English picked up 14. Grundy, fighting a battle against two opponents, finished with just 11 touches.
This was the game where the Western Bulldogs finally stood up and said “enough” to the man who had dominated them over the last few seasons. It was the game where Stef Martin walked into town and stood up for the young bloke, and it was the game that Tim English walked a bit taller.
Grundy was by no means disgraced, but if you were looking at this game as a whole, and you see the clearance stats as +6 to the Dogs despite being -27 in hit outs, the numbers would back up what your eyes were telling you. There was no bullying in this game – Martin and English put Grundy back in his place.
THREE ABSOLUTE FLANKERS
Just want to take a second to point out the defensive efforts of three half-backs for the Dogs, and how they repeatedly turned defence into attack in this game.
Caleb Daniel was a master on Josh Daicos, who was deployed at half-forward – we’ll get to that, whilst Bailey Williams was given the job manning up on Mason Cox here and there. Finally, Bailey Dale’s attack on the footy was second to none.
These three, all equipped with excellent foot skills make the Dogs look lethal coming out of defence. You can see the run and spread from the second any of these blokes gets the ball-in-hand – their mids know that if they run hard to position, they’re going to get it.
Daniel will be the one who gets the attention as the season goes on – he is a beautiful kick of the footy and a polished decision-maker, but in this one his defensive skills, whether he had Daicos, Jamie Elliott or Josh Thomas, were first class.
The Dogs won a flag in 2016 on the back of quick ball movement and manic pressure. They strike me as a team that can exploit this “stand” rule to really hurt teams as they move the ball from defence, and these three will play a significant role in doing that.
THE ORGANIC IMPROVEMENT
You’ll see me bang on about this kind of stuff. Yes, recruits are great and high draft picks get the headlines, but watching the Dogs in this one, two players were both very impressive, and they’re not huge names or high picks.
Laith Vandermeer was having an excellent 2020 season until a bad hamstring tear derailed it. Stringing together 12 games, he demonstrated the ability to hit the scoreboard and his run and carry were valuable. In this game, he showed a little more, with an attack on the footy that was not as prevalent in 2020.
This Bulldogs team is not going to be an easy side to remain in – Luke Beveridge will expect nothing less than total commitment to the cause, and that’s exactly what he received from Vandermeer in this one.
The other bloke flies under the radar, but at 22 years old, is starting to know where to run to get the footy from his highly-skilled teammates. Patrick Lipinski is viewed as a bit of a link man in the league – but can he take the next step?
Look, I am going to reserve a little judgment on Lipinski here – why? Well, because he started 2019 and 2020 in great form, with his first four games of 2019 returning an average of 26.75 touches before dropping right off. Again in 2020, he started the season with a bang, averaging 20.75 touches in reduced game time over the first three weeks. In this game, he had 26 touches, and as great as that is, I want to see him still doing this stuff in May, not just restricting it to his first month of footy.
I’m not going to whack blokes like Trey Ruscoe or Ollie Henry, here. They’re inexperienced, and you’d be hoping like hell that both learned some valuable lessons in this game.
No, the blokes I want to focus on are part of the great diverse forward set up that helped the Pies get within a kick of the 2018 Premiership. It seems so long ago, now.
Will Hoskin-Elliott has become a shadow of the player he was in 2019. With three first-half disposals, his output in this game was a negative for the Pies through the first two quarters – as in, everything he did or tried seemed to benefit the Dogs. He fumbled the footy, missed targets and generally looked like a man with zero confidence. I hope he doesn’t read this, as I am sure it will not help.
I was so disappointed with what I was seeing from him that I looked up his contract to see if it was expiring after this season. Sorry, Pies fans – he is locked in until the end of 2022.
In 2018, WHE managed to kick 42 goals. It was a wonderful effort in a forward set up that saw the Pies able to call on any of their forwards to become a focal point of the offence, and they would respond. Hoskin-Elliott’s next two seasons combined for a total of just 30 goals. The form that saw him as the string marking, rangy running half-forward has deserted him, and what the Pies are left with is a player without a role in this team. He is a Nowhere Man.
The second player is Josh Thomas. Eerily similar to Hoskin-Elliott, Thomas starred in the 2018 season, notching 38 goals. In the following two seasons, he compiled 26 goals as his performance and confidence have eroded.
In this game, these two combined for no goals again as the Magpies screamed out for someone to make a stand. Instead, they stepped aside.
Nathan Buckley has some work to do. These two, at their best, can be really damaging, but it has been a long while since either of these players have looked as though they could take a game by the scruff of the neck. Whatever Collingwood are doing with them, it is simply not working.
SELFISH IS AS SELFISH DOES
Thanks Forrest… now, let’s look at two examples of this in particular.
Both occurred in the fourth quarter, and really, the Pies were always within striking distance. Given the fact that the final margin was less than three goals, had one of these instances played out a little differently, we may have got a different, and thoroughly undeserved result.
The Bulldogs were a better team all game, yet they failed to put the Pies away. Missed shots at goal and a little bit of overuse continually left the door ajar, but the Pies, like a drunk man struggling to find his keys, were never going to push their way through that doorway. Not with players looking out for themselves.
You could tell Jordan de Goey was desperate to hit the scoreboard. He opted to go for home three times in this game and in his defence, all were very kickable. However, you know when you shouldn’t go for home around the body from 30 metres out? When your teammate has been awarded a free kick inside 25 metres from goal. At that point, you stop, calm things down and allow your mate to kick the goal.
Not de Goey. He continued the play, threw the ball on his boot and registered his third behind of the day. Maybe it was frustration, but this kind of action absolutely reeks of selfishness.
The second one came when the player who was robbed of his opportunity by de Goey had the chance to give the ball off to a teammate in a better position and hesitated.
Jamie Elliott had the chance to feed the footy to Mason Cox in the last quarter out ahead of the converging Bulldog defenders. He looked up, saw it was Cox and didn’t give the handball. And he was mown down and had a free kick awarded against him for holding the ball. Some may call that a just reward for a selfish action, and I would be inclined to agree with them. You could even hear a guarded Wayne Carey – usually reluctant to state anything of merit – mention that Elliott refused to give the first option.
I know one little change to the game alters everything, and for all I know, if Elliott or Cox take those kicks at goal, they miss, or the Dogs run the length of the field and score, anyway. However, the fact they didn’t do the team-thing speaks volumes about where this Collingwood forward line is at. They got in each other’s way as often as they combined well in this game, and look a far cry from the team that had so many potent options just a couple of years ago.
WHAT WAS BUCKLEY DOING WITH JOSH DAICOS?
You would have heard all the chatter about how Daicos was going to the next level this season, right? A few people tagged him as their breakout player this year – they’d seen enough quality last season to warrant it.
The thing is, last season, Daicos played on the wing and was given the freedom to learn the role and become comfortable with it. In this game, he didn’t play in that position until the last quarter – I won’t even be including him in our weekly wingman rankings this week due to the minuscule amount of time he played in his preferred position.
What did the Pies gain from having Daicos up forward? With the benefit of hindsight, we can see it wasn’t much at all. He finished with nine touches and was consistently beaten at ground level, and once in the air, by Caleb Daniel. You have to wonder what Buckley was thinking here – he took someone who was playing like a winner on the wing last year and threw him into attack… for what? To give Tyler Brown a run on the wing? He was borderline ineffective in the role, which meant that this tactical masterpiece from Bucks had two blokes doing very little.
Let’s see if Collingwood move Daicos back to where he was playing such good footy last season when they meet the Blues on Thursday.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH BRODIE GRUNDY?
Let’s get it out there – has he dropped his bundle?
A big six-year deal? Was it seven years? I can’t remember… he signs off on that and all of a sudden the dominant big man is a thing of the past? It’s interesting – second efforts are what Grundy made his name on. He worked harder for longer than any other bloke on the park in 2019 and was rewarded with the All-Australian ruck slot.
Now… those second efforts are few and far between. Three tackles, just four contested touches, and three clearances – they are not the numbers we are used to seeing from Grundy. Nowhere near it.
I waited until after the 2020 season to see if there was any injury news about him surfacing – did he need surgery to repair something? Is that why his second efforts were a little down last season? But no news came through.
This may be a little sobering, but is this the version of Grundy the Pies have for the next six/seven years? I’m not a Magpies supporter, but even I hope that’s not the case. I want to see the big fella in full flight.
WHAT DID WE THINK OF LUKE BEVERIDGE’S USE OF ADAM TRELOAR?
I liked it – take him out of the heat early, give him some room to move out on a wing and allow him to ease into the game. It’s not as though the Dogs are short of talent in the midfield department, is it?
Treloar will get his time in the guts, but we must remember that he didn’t play the AAMI Series and a week ago, there were questions about whether he’d be right to take on his old team. He got himself right, started the game well with a great pass to Aaron Naughton and though he was nowhere near the dominant ball-gatherer we’re used to seeing, he did enough to warrant his place and gave enough to make you think bigger and better things are on the horizon.
If I asked you to name the bottom six players on the ground (excluding unused subs), who would you put in there, and how many of them would be Pies?
My bottom six are all Magpies – Daicos, Brayden Sier, Wil Hoskin-Elliott, Tyler Brown, Trey Ruscoe and Ollie Henry. Hard to win when you’re carrying that many.
This was a bit of an “almost” game for Jordan de Goey. He kicked 0.3 and I found it really interesting to see Bailey Smith move right alongside him as soon as he switched into the middle. That speaks volumes about how much they rate Smith at the Dogs.
The fifty-metre penalty against Alex Keath was definitely there, but boy I felt for him. It goes against every instinct a player has to stand completely still on the mark, like an emotionless, reactionless automaton. Players almost have to retrain their brains now with the penalty so potentially damaging.
And that’ll do me, guys – a nice win to start the season for the Dogs, but you’d like to see them make a little more of that kind of ball-dominance.
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