Western Bulldogs v GWS – The Doc’s Autopsy

As far as big-time danger games go for the Western Bulldogs, nothing says danger more than fronting up against the modern-day rivals away from home.

The Dogs have been spotty this year, sitting at an even ledger of 6-6 ahead of this encounter with the Giants. A loss here and it would’ve kept them two games behind the logjam for the bottom four slots of the top eight and with tough games ahead in the next month, would’ve made the task of reaching finals even more difficult.

Since Leon Cameron stepped down as head coach of the Giants, they’ve been 2-1, beating the bottom two sides in the competition, but also giving Brisbane a real run for their money in between.

Usually, in these rivalry games, there’s a lot of spite, fire and hard stuff, which always makes for an entertaining game, but this was entertaining for its run, dash and end-to-end football, some punters are already claiming it as one of the games of the season.

As a Dogs fan who naturally despises the Giants, there was a lot to like about them from this game. They responded well after conceding six of the first eight goals of the match to stay within striking distance at halftime before taking the lead early in the third quarter.

But then the Dogs found some charge, by kicking five on the trot to open up a five-goal margin at the final break. The door was never really closed on this game and with a couple of goals midway through the term, there was some nervy moments in terms of the Dogs’ lack of closing the game when it should’ve been done sooner.

Conceding 100 points in a win sounds a little concerning, but this was a win the Dogs needed to have, whilst the Giants will be feeling upbeat about their performance. Whilst finals might be out of reach this season, you can bet that they’ll have a keen eye for 2023.

It’s time to crack open another autopsy in the first of two games these two will face off against this season.

 

WALKING SMALL

I would love to know the exact numbers of who the Bulldogs targeted inside 50 in the opening term. By quarter time, Cody Weightman and Rhylee West combined for five of the six goals in the first quarter in what was a great start from both players.

West has had to fight tooth and nail to lock down a spot in the best 22 at the Bulldogs for years and has now looked to have found consistency and form as a small forward, after toiling away at Footscray in the VFL as a midfielder.

I loved his attack on the ball, both in the air and at ground level. He certainly made recent defensive convert, Harry Himmelberg look like a chump early in the game and whilst the impact tapered off as the game progressed, if he continues to kick one to two goals per week and continues to attack the ball in the manner he has over the past month then there’s not a chance he loses his spot in this team.

As far as Weightman goes, he received a lot of criticism for playing for free kicks in their loss to Geelong a couple of weeks ago, he looked as if there were words exchanged with him and Bevo and he just went out and played football how it should be played.

There was hardly (if any) staging and he really worked for his goals; he led and presented well and he identifies exactly when to run back deep in the forward 50 to provide an option. Six marks, five inside 50 and five goals from 11 disposals is a bloody brilliant return, equalling a career-best five goals he dropped on North Melbourne on Good Friday.

It was even better considering all five goals came in the opening half. We were robbed of seeing just how many he could’ve finished with, as he fell awkwardly onto his elbow and dislocating it in the process, the slow-motion replay was disgustingly bad.

From a football supporting point of view, I hope he earned some respect from neutrals for getting the elbow taped and sticking it out when he had every reason to put it on ice and look towards a return towards finals, but you could see as the game progressed, the elbow was swelling like a balloon, trying to push through the tape.

Incredibly gutsy act if you’ve ever seen it, and if that doesn’t inspire the rest of this team in their charge to September, then God help them.

 

FOOTSCRAY’S PUBLIC ENEMY

From one end of the ground to the other, Toby Greene has delivered another game where the Footscray faithful are left to curse his name for the week.

Greene’s chequered history with the Dogs has been well documented over the years. Heck, even I’ve found myself saying on many occasions that I hope he would be sat on his backside – he has been that infuriating to watch any time they come up against the Dogs.

But there was none of that bullshit in this game, and Dogs fans may lynch me for saying it, but when Greene leaves that nonsense at the door, he becomes a fun player to watch. Some would argue he’s a box office player for his football ability. Anyone that says they wouldn’t take Toby Greene in their team is lying straight through their teeth.

I’d take him on in a heartbeat if he was available. He does so much right, his high football IQ, his goal sense, his ability to work up and then push into the forward line when he sees his teammates win the football – it feels as if he’s two steps ahead of everyone else in terms of recognising how the game unfolds before him.

Also, seeing both him and Cody Weightman in a Bulldogs’ guernsey pissing off a vast majority of the AFL fanbase? I’d love to see that.

Anyway, this was a dominant game from Toby Greene; seven goals is a career-best performance from him, but it wasn’t just that. It was his involvement when he wasn’t the direct target inside 50 – he had the 21 disposals, but also had three goal assists, eight inside 50s and 14 score involvements overall in this game.

It was destructive Toby Greene at his very, very best.

 

DID THE BRAYDON PREUSS INJURY CHANGE THE MOMENTUM OF THE GAME?

This was a game that yielded injury carnage. On top of Weightman playing out with a dislocated elbow, we saw Taylor Duryea subbed out with a knee injury, Braydon Preuss subbed out with ankle injury and James Peatling and Ryan Angwin at the hands of the trainers at various points of the game as well.

The Preuss injury hurts the Giants on many levels. It hurts Preuss personally because he’s had a real rough go of it since coming across from Melbourne, and when he’s actually managed to get on the park, it’s often been pretty positive in terms of giving first use to his midfielders and throwing his body around in aerial contests around the ground.

He went off late in the first quarter in this game after a ruck contest in the middle of Giants’ Stadium and was officially subbed out of the game in the second term. But before then, he was doing a lot right to give the Giants’ midfielders more of the first use of the ball in the centre bounces especially.

The Giants led the centre break count 7-3 at quarter time and Preuss was largely responsible for this, amassing 13 hitouts and six to advantage in the very short time he was on the ground. Tom Green was also a big beneficiary of the service from Preuss, with five of his eight clearances coming in the first term.

In the third term, where the Bulldogs found some breathing distance, it was on the back of their clearance work and the impact of Tim English as the game went on; the Dogs recorded 13 clearances to five in that quarter alone – English, along with Tom Liberatore and Marcus Bontempelli combined for eight of them.

English then turned it on with repeat efforts in the ruck and it enabled him to win five clearances in the fourth quarter and backed it up with a couple of really strong intercept grabs in defence when the Giants tried to make a push for the comeback.

I don’t know if it changed the momentum, but the injury certainly hurt them as the game progressed. Lachie Keeffe had a crack but he isn’t exactly the kind of bloke you’d want to be first ruck especially if it’s against a ruck as mobile as English is and it forced Himmelberg to come in and pinch-hit and compromise his position.

 

THE NAUGHTON/TAYLOR BATTLE

This was a fun battle to watch throughout the night

After quarter time, where Aaron Naughton didn’t really get used and didn’t see much of the ball, this battle took off, and when it did, it was all eyes on the pair of them.

For full disclosure, I love how Sam Taylor goes about his footy. He’s unassuming, strong when he doesn’t look like he could bench press his body weight and has an uncanny knack of killing contests when he’s got no right to, coming from a few metres back. A real ‘never say die’ player who backs himself in every contest.

There were a few times where Aaron Naughton was out on a lead and pushed off Taylor to find separation and the delivery to Naughton from his teammates was nigh-on gold class, the sort of passes by foot that no defender can defend.

Taylor had his moments, worked to the front spot a couple of times to pluck some intercept marks and had 10 spoils in this game, but Naughton finished with 5.1 with the one hitting the post in one of the more accurate games I’ve seen from him over the last few years – makes the column I wrote about him a few weeks ago feel a bit more vindicated now… Sorry for the self-big note, but he should not be moved into defence. Not then. Not now. Not ever.

He was in good form in this one. He marked the ball well when called upon both up the ground and inside 50 and stood up when Weightman went down and tried to toil away when he came back on.

 

JACK-ED UP

Jack Macrae loves accumulating disposals, doesn’t he?

There’s been some discussion around some of the Mongrels (I won’t name names, but you know who you are) that Macrae doesn’t do a lot with his disposals. In fairness, at times it’s warranted because the handballs either sell his teammates into trouble or it’s basically going around in circles and it doesn’t go anywhere.

But there wasn’t much of that in this game – it was vintage Jack Macrae in this game. It was a performance more about working from contest to contest and getting to where the ball is going to be next and pushing the extras to make sure the ball stays in the Bulldogs’ possession.

He demonstrated in this game that when allowed the time and space, he makes you really hurt with his kicks. Robbie McComb missed his second sitter in as many games (S.O.S please drop), but he was able to get onto the end of a set shot because of Macrae’s vision coming out of the stoppage, it’s not the first time he’s done that, his vision is well and truly elite.

He had 37 disposals in this game, 20 kicks at 75 percent efficiency, but it’s what he does with the ball; eight inside 50s, 10 score involvements, six clearances – three from centre bounces – and the nine tackles and 25 pressure acts as well.

It wasn’t just one midfielder; Josh Dunkley was in and under a lot, Tom Liberatore extracted clearances as per usual – led all Bulldogs for clearances in this one – Adam Treloar had some very strong patches, particularly in the second quarter, and Marcus Bontempelli worked into the game with some terrific surge football as the game progressed.

But for my money, I’d say Macrae was the number one midfielder on the ground in this one, out worked and out ran everyone and was pretty effective with his disposals all round.

 

OTHER OBSERVATIONS

It took him a quarter to work himself into the game, but I was impressed with Jamarra Ugle-Hagan presenting and flying for marks in this one. Not many of them stuck, but he’s at least getting to them. He earned a goal for his troubles, which is nice, I’d like to see him play more and Bevo persist with him.

Stephen Coniglio has been in much better form this season than he has the past two years, and backed it up with another very strong performance in this game; worked hard between the arcs and even got on the end of a couple of goals himself – 32 disposals, 10 score involvements and five intercepts.

Loved seeing Caleb Daniel and Bailey Dale back up their lengthy contract extensions with really solid performances in this one – Daniel’s run-down tackle on Lachie Whitfield was exceptionally brilliant to watch.

I haven’t seen a lot of Jacob Wehr, but I was impressed with his defensive pressure throughout this game; four tackles and 18 pressure acts from him in this game, he just attacks the contest without fear.

Josh Bruce kicked three in the VFL on Friday night, how long do you give him before making his return to the side? Josh Schache had some good moments in terms of presenting high up and finding a target inside 50 but left a lot to be desired in a lot of other moments.

Another player who was playing hurt was Jesse Hogan. He was hobbling around for most of the game after a contest that saw him land heavily on his leg. Corky? Maybe it was, but to see him run out the game was admirable in its own right. He made Alex Keath look silly a couple of times.

Tim O’Brien still makes me nervous, had a moment where he could’ve easily given it off but instead chose to run himself into Lachie Keeffe and get pinged for holding the ball.

I liked Jake Riccardi’s game up forward as well, definitely speaks of the Dogs’ defensive woes continuing on, but in terms of presenting as a key target and putting goals on the board, he did very well; four of his seven marks were contested and kicked 2.1 for his efforts.

Josh Dunkley, on top of his ability to win the ground ball consistently, he was at his defensive best, as well. He had eight tackles, three of them inside 50, but also 28 pressure acts in this game. Only Marcus Bontempelli had more.

What happened with Josh Kelly in this game? Had the most pressure acts of anyone on the ground with 31 for the game, but had just 17 disposals, and hardly looked like he wanted to impose himself with his disposal.

And well, that’ll do me for this game, for the neutrals and the casuals, this was a game they would’ve loved, being high-scoring affair and all.

The Bulldogs are back on the winners list and are now a game behind Collingwood, Richmond, St Kilda and Sydney and with games against both the Saints and the Swans in the next month, they’ll be poised with the challenge of taking them both out to get to the finals.

But before they do that, a six-day break before tackling Hawthorn at Marvel Stadium presents another big test for the Dogs. Whilst the Hawks are in the bottom five sides on the ladder, they’ve definitely showed that their best football can put the competition on notice – another danger game for the Dogs considering the shock loss late last year.

GWS, at four wins and nine losses and four games out of the top eight, travel to the MCG next Sunday afternoon to take on a Collingwood team who were in red hot form before their bye this week, beating Melbourne, Fremantle and Carlton all in the past month.

 

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