The Western Bulldogs’ push for finals from the outskirts of the top eight kept on rolling with a solid seven-goal win over Hawthorn at the Docklands on a chilly Friday night.
Despite where the Hawks stand on the ladder in the build-up to this game, this was not a contest that the Bulldogs could treat lightly and they were rudely reminded of how the Hawks harassed, bullied and outworked them in their encounter in Tassie last year with something eerily similar with their first-quarter performance.
Five goals to one down early in the second quarter, the Bulldogs then found their bite and responded in kind to kick the next 13 goals of the match. Yep, you’ve heard that right; 13 goals in a row – sort of reminiscent of the Bulldogs’ 21 in a row against Essendon a few years ago – sorry to bring that one back to mind Bombers fans reading this.
They completely slammed the foot down the Hawks’ throats and served the competition a friendly reminder that despite the deficiencies that currently plague them with their team defence, the Dogs are still sniffing about and in the hunt.
The Dogs put the cue in the rack by allowing the Hawks to kick seven final quarter goals, but the fact that they also put seven goals through themselves puts the mind at ease that this team can still kick a winning score and that the leaky defence still needs some plugs and gaffer tape ahead of their tough run home.
Anyway, enough of that, they’re currently in the eight, so Dogs fans will take that heading into Brisbane next week and with that said there’s a bit to dissect in this week’s autopsy, so let’s get right into it.
LIBBA’S NIGHT, OH WHAT A NIGHT
Sometimes in football, you can pinpoint a moment in time that changes the entire game on a dime and we saw some moments from Tom Liberatore in this game that swung the momentum in favour of the Dogs.
Particularly in the second quarter, after what I considered was a paltry effort in the contest from the Dogs in the first stanza. The Hawks were able to get first use out of centre bounces and around the contest. They were just simply hungrier, and were +3 in the centre clearances and +15 in contested possessions up to quarter time.
That all changed and it started with the work of Tom Liberatore. The Dogs were +10 in contested possessions in the second quarter and once they started their chain of goals, it was almost as if the Hawks were struggling to match with them once they got their contested skates on.
He beat out Tom Mitchell for a loose ball on the broadcast wing and put the ball inside 50 to the advantage of Aaron Naughton to get the Dogs’ second of the night. He followed that up with an effort on the other wing in which he used his body to knock Changkuoth Jiath on his backside whilst he was down to pick up the footy and that opened up the Dogs to run it down towards goal and it eventually led to a goal to Rhylee West.
But it’s not just the general play stuff that will land Liberatore the full votes in this one, it’s the clearance work and the urgency to just pump the ball long and direct. The Dogs were guilty of playing the over-handball game again in this one, but Libba looked keener to take ground and kick the ball forward as much as he could.
The goal in the last quarter just capped off an extraordinary night; 30 disposals, a goal, eight tackles, 27 pressure acts, 11 clearances – seven of them from centre bounces – and 13 ground ball gets, the most of any Bulldog on the ground.
It’s no secret that when the Dogs are up, Libba is usually the catalyst with his exceptional in and under work, and this performance was one from the top shelf.
THE SON OF A GUN SHINES THROUGH
Last week, Rhylee West got a small mention in one paragraph that was dedicated to both him and Cody Weightman. This week, he’s getting his own paragraph, because this was hands down, the best game I’ve seen from him in his fledgling career to date.
The kid is 21, will be 22 in July so I am highly confident he’ll have better games than this one before his time is up, but considering where he was at with this club as recent as this past off season, what he’s been able to do and provide as a small forward over the past month has been nothing short of phenomenal. As we see for many players – this was a coming of age game for him this week.
Sure, a return of 3.3 will read across many neutrals as a scratchy game in front of goals, but it’s the work he does prior to that which will have many Bulldogs supporters excited about his future. It’s not hard to remember that when he was taken via the Father/Son rule in 2018, West had been an established midfielder in his under-18s campaign.
He presented well up the ground and his attack on the ball matched his attack in that first half against the Giants last week – only he was able to carry that into a consistent, four-quarter effort.
Not only that, but he was able to hand off three-goal assists too, which shows that as a half-forward option, his spotting up of teammates is fast becoming a staple in his game. The play right before halftime where he read the clearance from Liberatore quicker than anyone else and then spotted up Aaron Naughton (albeit on a tough angle) from outside 50 speaks a lot about how quickly this young lad is coming on.
And we haven’t got to the defensive side yet, Dios Mio! He literally tackled a bloke twice his size inside 50 in Ned Reeves and made it stick and cause a stoppage; that’s not an easy thing to do for anyone let alone West. He had five tackles all up, three inside 50 and had 14 pressure acts to follow on from that.
A fantastic display from a guy who’s in a great purple patch of form heading into a crucial time of the year from the Bulldogs.
THE SCRIMSHAW EFFECT
Before going any further, let’s just say the Dogs’ efforts to put James Sicily off in this game were outstanding.
There’s no doubt that when the game’s on Hawthorn’s terms, Sicily’s impact in terms of intercepting the ball as well as rebounding with efficiency and purpose. Whilst Sicily had nine rebound 50s in this game and went at 90 percent kicking efficiency, he only had one intercept mark for the game and six intercept possessions.
Of course, it doesn’t help that the biggest defender on the park is a young man playing his first game in James Blanck, who was picked up in the mid-season draft. He was alright in his first hitout, I’d rather him over Kyle Hartigan in my team, but then again, that’s just me talking.
Whilst Sicily’s influence in the air was curtailed and seemingly more interested in whether Aaron Naughton’s headband does indeed give him sexual powers or not (also points for the sensational judo flip on Marcus Bontempelli, Austin Powers would’ve been proud of that), Jack Scrimshaw played himself a fine game in defence.
In a game in which the Hawks were swamped with inside 50 entries by the Bulldogs, he was the one bloke that constantly put himself up in the air and was taking advantage of poor entries by the Bulldogs at times, and his marking hands up in contests were a lot better than I thought they were.
It’s funny, because on the drive up to Docklands heading to the game, my father (who’s a Hawks man) and myself had that conversation about how the Hawks would combat the talls of Schache, Ugle-Hagan and Naughton.
Frost was out injured, Callow was pulled from the side, as was Hartigan, and my old man made the argument that Scrimshaw could also play tall, and well, seven intercept marks from 12 marks overall is a pretty telltale sign that Scrimshaw can play tall if he has to, but I’ve always seen him more as a quality user coming out of the defensive half.
And you know what? He was pretty good at that too; 26 disposals (13 intercepts led all comers on the ground too), including 13 kicks at 92 percent is a good return too. Very staunch in defence at moments where the Dogs were threatening to take the game to even further discomforting heights.
BIG MONEY MITCH
Having just recently penned a four-year contract extension, Mitch Lewis saluted his new deal with another monster performance up forward for the Hawks in this one.
I’ll try not to rehash the paragraph I did on him when the Hawks played Collingwood a couple of weeks back, but when you look at what else was around him in the forward line, it’s very easy to single out the body of work Lewis did in comparison and point him out as the most dangerous forward on the park.
Dylan Moore had some very handy moments in this game, but I didn’t feel as if his impact was as consistent as that of Lewis’ who had a lot of aerial presence, neither Alex Keath or Ryan Gardner could do much to stop him in the air and two of Luke Breust’s goals came during junk time in the fourth quarter.
Lewis’ game started with some efforts in the forward half in the opening term. To take the mark about 65 metres out, chip it to a teammate and then push to get to the hotspot and then take a towering mark essentially running with the flight of the ball with a pack coming the other way is ballsy stuff.
But Lewis is fast emerging as the sort of bloke who can put the side on their back when the club is in a tight situation and can haul them over the line on the back of his kicking. He missed one or two simpler shots in this game, but he still managed to walk out of Docklands with 4.2 from 15 disposals, nine marks (three contested).
Fantastic by the Hawks to lock him down for a long time and hopefully for a good time too, he’s right amongst them in terms of Hawthorn’s most important players in the long term.
THE CAPTAIN’S GAME
He’s struggled a fair bit this year, wouldn’t be fair to say? But on this night, we started to see the best come out of Marcus Bontempelli again, and that’s problematic for any side coming up against the Bulldogs in the next month and a bit of football.
There are a lot of dimensions within this Bulldogs’ midfield; I touched on Liberatore before, and Macrae was again very solid with his 30-plus disposals, looking for that perfect link in the next chain and Adam Treloar worked himself into the game well after a very quiet opening quarter, but it’s the weaving and the striding out of stoppages from the Bont in this game that adds a great cherry on top.
His kicking went awry at various points in the game and he only went at 47.1 percent, but it’s also very hard to not forget how important his goal in the second quarter was in the context of the game; to complete a comeback that 20 minutes earlier looked like it was more of a pipe dream than reality.
In recent weeks, he’s been more stationed as a deep forward to work with Naughton and company. But with the targets all set, and hopefully a body more at 100 percent than when it was at the start of the season, he was allowed to weave his magic in the midfield and was able to extract clearances as he liked.
Libba had seven centre clearances as mentioned earlier, Bont had six himself from his eight total clearances, but also had seven tackles, two inside 50 and 22 pressure acts, to go with his 13 score involvements and 11 inside 50s from his 27 disposals.
It was a very productive game from the Bulldogs’ captain and maybe one he needed to get his campaign really rolling along now. It was a tad bumpy with little injury niggles, but they look like they’ve been shrugged aside for now, he’s playing great footy for the Bulldogs.
One of the rare occasions has Josh Schache consistently used his body in a marking contest; he actually did it a few times in this game and looked solid for the Dogs up forward with a 2.1 return from 12 disposals, seven marks and three tackles.
Also great to see Jamarra Ugle-Hagan attack the contest aerially. He dropped a few marks in the warm ups and shanked a shot on goal in the opening term, but just kept at it, got another goal for his trouble and six marks, four contested, is good for the confidence level – keep on building.
James Worpel led all Hawks for contested possessions with 16 for the game and had seven clearances, but apart from that, he’s not adding a hell of a lot more around the ground is he?
Tim O’Brien pushing forward and kicking a goal? I like seeing that. I also liked Alex Keath running through the middle of Marvel Stadium, had every right to kick the goal, but opted for the team thing and spotted up Aaron Naughton instead.
Very optimistic about the future of Connor Macdonald in the AFL. He’s just so quick on his feet and so clever in terms of where to put the ball in a rushed situation, you know this kid was drafted as a genuine footballer and not an athlete. Had two goal assists, both on the back of kicking it to the hotspot and to advantage of his team mates.s
Not sure how to assess Hayden Crozier’s game in this one; marked well behind the footy, but when it comes to defensive transitioning, gee he doesn’t like running back and being accountable, a few of those Dogs’ defenders don’t in all honesty – seeing Bailey Dale (had a strong game offensively) outmarked by Luke Breust was deplorable defensive craft.
Blake Hardwick is not a guy who gets high possessions, but I just love his competitiveness. Saw him on Cody Weightman for a fair portion of the game, and whilst we know Weightman is not playing at 100 percent (what’s the crazy bastard doing out there with one working elbow?), his efforts to spoil and impact big contests was huge
Intriguing ruck duel between Ned Reeves and Jordon Sweet. Reeves’ work in the first quarter was very good, three hitouts to advantage before quarter time and a goal in the second quarter looked as if he was on for a big one, but Jordon Sweet came back with a goal of his own in the last quarter and matched him in ruck contests at the end; 32 hitouts, 10 to advantage and three clearances, opposed to Reeves’ 31, nine and four.
Changkuoth Jiath has got to learn how to play composed football under pressure. I love how he attacks and takes the game on, but with an opposition player in front, but he’s incredibly prone to giving the ball up to the opposition.
Jason Johannisen got the Dogs’ off the board with their first goal for the match, and you know, I thought he was good around the half-forward line as the game progressed, stayed dangerous and pressured well when called upon.
Just on Dylan Moore’s performance, whilst it was probably just below Mitch Lewis in terms of consistency of impact, he had two goal assists as well as two goals himself to go along with eight tackles (six inside 50), 22 pressure acts and six marks as well.
And on that note, it’s time to wrap up the autopsy this week. The Dogs get the win they needed to keep their chances of playing finals alive for the time being, in fact, they currently sit sixth on the ladder, but will be expected to be jumped by either Sydney or St Kilda in their game and could be bumped back out of the eight if both Richmond and Collingwood win their games this weekend.
It’s all about staying alive with the Dogs right now, but with Brisbane in Brisbane next week in the anticipated semi-final rematch of last year, they’re going to get the Lions at their best after being pantsed by Melbourne on Thursday night.
As for the Hawks, they now sit at 4-10 and finals eluding them once again this season. Plenty to take out of this season, for their best is very good football – evidenced by their first quarter in this one – but they must now find some consistency in that form, they can’t go missing for two quarters and expect to win.
They head to Sydney next week to take on a rejuvenated Greater Western Sydney side who will fancy themselves a great chance to go a game clear on the Hawks and condemn them to their 11th loss of the season.