Sydney v Western Bulldogs – HB’s Loves and Hates

The writing was on the wall early in this one, with the Swans jumping the Dogs and setting up their win with seven-goal first quarter.

It could have been a much larger lead, with the Swans also kicking eight behinds as the Dogs managed just 2.1 in the opening stanza.

The visitors battled back in the second and had a run of goals that saw them draw close enough to launch a serious challenge, but by the time the third quarter rolled around, it was all Sydney again, with Sam Reid, Chad Warner, and Tom Papley establishing themselves amongst the best on the ground.

Make no mistake – this was a belting from the Swans, with the scoreboard flattering the Dogs, somewhat. Bevo’s boys look a mile off the level required to play finals, whilst Sydney appeared as though their loss to the Bombers was more a speedbump than a roadblock.

Let’s jump right into The Mongrel’s Loves and Hates.

 

LOVES

 

RYAN CLARKE SHUTS IT DOWN

I had a smile as the commentators mentioned that Ryan Clarke had really shut Bailey Dale down “after quarter time”.

They obviously weren’t watching too hard before quarter time, as Clarke went to Dale immediately and was on him like me on leftover pizza right from the get-go. The thing that must have confused those calling the game was the fact that Dale had ten touches in the first quarter.

It just so happened to coincide with the Swans kicking eight behinds in the first quarter. Guess who was taking a fair amount of the kick-ins? Six of them, in fact. And he played on every time.

Dale was blanketed all day by Clarke, who is starting to find a niche in this Sydney team. With Caleb Daniel sitting on the sidelines, John Longmire saw that the most potent weapon they possessed was the run and carry of Bailey Dale.

So, he simply took it away.

Dale ended up with 16 disposals for the game, but threw the towel in relatively quickly, not enjoying one ounce of the attention he was receiving. Ten of his touches were from kick-in/play-on situations and a further two came from give-and-go situations stemming from kick-ins.

For Clarke, it was another shot in the arm as he attempts to establish a spot in this Sydney side heading toward finals. He now has two potential AA defenders on his list of scalps, with Dale joining Jack Sinclair as players rendered ineffective by his work

 

SAM REID STEPS UP AGAIN

I know Sam Reid had a bit of a purple patch a few years ago – I am thinking it was around 2019? Is his current form as good? Or am I just falling into recency bias? He seems to be finding new ways to impact games this season, expanding his repertoire.

The challenge was thrown at the feet of Sam Reid when Peter Ladhams was subbed out of the game late in the first quarter with a broken thumb. Matched up against Tim English, Reid was undersized and most expected him to be in for a very tough day at the office.

Not so.

Not only did Reid match it with English at centre bounces, but he also beat him convincingly at stoppages around the ground, using his body to manoeuvre English out of position as he won hit outs and clearances at a good rate.

Whilst Reid did not take a grab in this game, his continued efforts to nullify English in ruck contests played a huge role in securing the lead for the Swans. He added a career-high 13 tackles, doing all the dirty work . He had 15 touches for the game – all of which were classified as contested possessions, in the type of game that continued to prove his value to this team.

 

TOM PAPLEY UP AND ABOUT

Had Papley kicked straight in this one, we may be talking about this as the best game he’d played for the club.

The antagonist finished with 2.5 from 24 touches as he worked hard all over the park. There may have been a couple of moments where he could have dished off rather than have a ping at goals, but you’re gonna get that with Papley – he makes up for it at other times when he collects the footy on the boundary and sends it across the face of goal to set up a teammate.

He finished with a mammoth 17 score involvements in this game, including five direct goal assists in a probable three-vote game.

As mentioned, the only detraction from his efforts was the inaccuracy, but when you have a bloke like this up and about to the level Papley was in this game, you take the little bit of bad with the mountains of good, and Papley was close to unstoppable in this one.

And as for his report, it’ll be thrown out immediately. Both players were going for the footy, both went low and hard, and it was just a good, hard contest – similar to the Mills/Libba contest earlier in the game. Knee jerk reaction from the umpire.

 

PADDY MCCARTIN CONTINUES THE GOOD NEWS STORY

There are a few great stories in the league this season, but I reckon only one is better than that of Paddy McCartin. Sorry Swans fans, but Sam Docherty’s return from battling cancer for the second time is untouchable.

That said, McCartin is performing like he has been playing for the Swans all his career. His ability to position himself, work off his opponent (in this case, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan) and take intercept grabs is the best in the AFL.

That’s not hyperbole – that is fact.

McCartin has now dragged down 57 of them, eight ahead of the next best – Gold Coast’s Charlie Ballard on 49.

That McCartin has been able to slot into this side alongside his brother, forming one of the more formidable one-two defensive punches in the league is the type of story that just makes me smile. To see Paddy playing this type of footy, obviously enjoying himself, and helping this Swans team as they surge toward September…

… it almost brings a tear to an old bloke’s eye. I hope he goes onto bigger and better things with this team.

 

TACKLING MACHINES

I touched on Sam Reid’s defensive efforts a little, but without looking, if there was another player you’d expect to have double figures in tackles, who would it be?

If you know your footy, and you know the Swans, your guess of Callum Mills would have been correct.

When I saw him line up on the wing to start the contest, I started to wonder whether we’d see a repeat of last week, where Mills was hardy-sighted for long stretches of the game, but that was soon squashed as Mills worked his way through the middle and started applying the pressure.

He finished with 16 tackles to go with his 23 touches, seven marks and a goal, once again leading by example.

The thing I admire most about Mills is that he is effective without the flash. He does the hard work – the blue-collar stuff, but when it is time to execute a risky kick inboard, he backs his skills to make it. And more often than not, he does make it.

He is the sort of player that others follow, and if I make this comparison, I do so in the most respectful and positive manner… but there is a bit of Joel Selwood in the way he goes about it. No fanfare, no bells and whistles, just grunt work and the benefits of doing the grunt work well.

He is the type of player I would not hesitate to follow into battle, and truth be told, there simply are not that many of them around.

 

THE HEART AND SOUL OF THE DOGS

I was a big fan of Tony Liberatore. Yeah, I know he was considered dirty by some… I get it, but I could not help but love the bloke as he did his time in the Under 19 league (winning the award for best player in the competition), then the reserves (winning the award for the best player in the competition), and then the AFL (you guessed it… winning the award as the best player in the league).

He played with heart and desire, as evidenced by his tackling, and in terms of his son, the apple has not fallen that far from the tree.

Libba Jnr is a warrior. Whilst you could look at quite a few Western Bulldogs players in this contest and wonder how much they wanted it, you could never do that where he is concerned. You already know the answer.

Libba is one of those blokes that just always looks as though he cares. Irrespective of the score or the time left in the game, you can expect Libba to be burrowing in, looking to clear the footy. With 23 touches and nine clearances in this one, he is one of the Dogs that could hold his head high.

 

GOING DIRECT WITH NO BULLSHIT

I know that’s an unsophisticated way of putting it, but I reckon it is an apt description of the way Chad Warner goes about his footy. And the scary thing is – he is getting much better very quickly.

As the Swans piled the pressure on the Dogs in the first quarter, it was Warner finding the ball between centre and half-forward, pounding the footy inside 50 six times in one quarter alone. Let’s take a closer look for context, shall we?

Over the course of the entire game, Marcus Bontempelli and Tom Liberatore had six inside 50s each.

Those blokes were the best behind Warner, and he matched their output in the first bloody quarter!

The Chad finished with 11 i50 deliveries for the game, resulting in ten score involvements and two goals of his own. I’ve written a couple of times that his name was one that seemed to be left out of the chatter last year when the young Swans emerged, but nobody is missing what he does anymore. Warner is starting to get to that point where being a rising star in the league is a little beneath him. The way he is playing at the moment is more akin to a star, and on a team with players like Franklin, Heeney, Papley, and Mills, calling Warner a star is not at all an overstep.

 

PROTECTING THE LIZARD

I cannot go any further without commenting on one of the best sights in the game – Nick Blakey tucking that footy under his wing and taking off down the middle of the ground.

I must stress – I don’t support the Swans, but when Blakey takes off from half-back, I almost feel like I should start cheering him!

This is the type of footy people pay to see, especially when you have a bloke like Buddy Franklin hovering around attacking 50, waiting to benefit from the dare demonstrated by Blakey. Buddy took five contested marks in this game, but a couple of them were as the result of Blakey taking the game on and getting the footy moving forward at a rate that sends the defence into panic mode.

The other aspect I loved from this Swans team was the way the Lizard’s teammates immediately ran in to block and shepherd for him as soon as he started motoring up the guts. They know the value of his run and carry, and it is obviously a directive from Longmire to ensure their running man gets every opportunity to break away from his direct opponent.

Sometimes, it is the little things that enable you to break a game open – the run from Blakey is great and we all love seeing it, but without the blocks and shepherds, the run is cut short. The little things add up to big things.

 

 

HATES

 

SOFTNESS

If you’re skimming, just looking for Western Bulldogs content, buckle up. If you’ve read the above section, this is a natural follow-up to the section on Sam Reid.

What the hell is Tim English doing in the ruck?

I’ve been patient, waiting for him to start to impose himself on contests and this was a golden opportunity for him to do just that. Matched up against Peter Ladhams, whose most notable contribution to the Swans this season was his deplorable efforts against Port Adelaide a while back (I know, that’s harsh… he was good in a couple of games earlier this season), English should have been primed and ready to take over.

However, even before Ladhams’ injury, English was being bullied in the ruck contests in a way I have not seen since he played Brodie Grundy from 2018-2019.

Now, I am sure some of you may look at the stats and wonder what I am on about – English had 27 hitouts, took six marks and kicked a goal, right? Allow me to explain.

Early in the game, James Brayshaw on commentary called English the “modern prototype” for ruckmen. If that’s the case, then God held the ruck division.

English is a great athlete and when he is permitted to run and jump at the footy, he often gets first hands to it, but when the opponent was allowed to body up to him and initiate contact, English was simply pushed off the footy too easily. Before he was hurt. Ladhams managed to do it as he picked up ten hit outs, but the kicker was the way Sam Reid continually bustled English out of position and not only won taps, but also won clearances – seven of them.

Meanwhile, English, who really should have made this game his own, continued to make the same errors and copped the same punishment. Look at the stats all you like – he was belted in this contest and this is the bloke the Bulldogs have invested the future of their ruck division in? Hell, maybe they should have allowed him to explore options back west and looked to work with Jordon Sweet or something if this is the level of output English could muster against a fill-in ruckman.

I know that is harsh, and if he was playing hurt, then that’s another matter entirely – he really should not have played. He was just coming back into the side this week, so it is fair to assume he was going to take a week to get his feet under him again, but once Ladhams was hurt, this game was ripe for the picking.

The way I look at it, every ruck in the league would be aware of how English refused to engage in decent physical contact in this game’s ruck contests, and every time there is an opportunity to move him out of the way, it should be taken. That the Dogs’ midfield was able to stay close in the clearances is testament to just how hard blokes like Dunkley and Libba work at the coalface, because they are getting sweet bugger-all service from English around the ground.

If I am tired of waiting for him to play like a ruckman, I can only imagine how frustrated Dogs fans would be.

 

INCONSISTENCY

This is almost a retrospective hate, so bear with me.

The Swans’ best is some of the best footy in the league, and games like this emphasise just how potent this side can be. Without expecting this type of output every week, there is a certain standard that needs to be maintained if this team is going to make any noise in September.

As it stands, the Swans sit four points and a small amount of percentage outside the top four. If they play this type of footy, they are quite capable of muscling Freo out of that fourth spot, but the difference between their best and worst is still a wide one.

In the past three weeks, we have really seen a Jekyll and Hyde version of the Swans, with a dominant win over the Saints bookending a very poor loss to an Essendon team they should have stitched up.

Again, I am not expecting this team to be firing on all cylinders at all times, but there is one area that should be a non-negotiable. That area is pressure.

The Swans brought it in this one and that now becomes the benchmark to measure against for the remainder of 2022.

Anything less than what we saw in this game in terms of effort and commitment should be assessed harshly. Their best is close to THE best, but just a small drop-off quickly brings this group back to the pack. If this was the real Sydney Swans, they need to bring this heat each and every week from here on – a top four spot is on the line.

 

DOGS’ DEFENSIVE DEFICIENCIES

I’ll just make a statement that may rankle a few Swans supporters, first.

Lance Franklin is not a good contested mark.

There, I said it. Sure, he takes them here and there, but it is not the strongest aspect of his game and never has been. So, when he manages to take five of those marks against you, you know something is up, right?

The Dogs played Ryan Gardner on Buddy in this one, and Franklin must have been licking his lips. Gardner is a solid defender, but he is not built to combat the force of nature that is Franklin. Nor is Alex Keath, for that matter – he is an intercept marker masquerading as a key defender because the Dogs don’t have anyone else to fill the role.

The Dogs brought in Tim O’Brien to help in defence (and dropped him this week), have Zaine Cordy floating around somewhere, and have swung Josh Schache back there to help out on occasion – those names don’t exactly instil a heap of confidence, do they?

In short, this Dogs defence, bolstered by mid-size defenders like Ed Richards, who is forced to play tall, and others like Bailey Dale, Caleb Daniel, Hayden Crozier, and Bailey Williams simply lacks size and power. It is amazing that the Dogs have had the success they have to date with this formation in defence.

At the top of their shopping list this off-season should be a key defender – one with a bit of size and a lot of grunt to them. Everyone they have in the role now seems to be playing out of position, attempting to make things work.

 

And that may have to do me this evening. A dominant win to the Swans that should have been well and truly over by quarter-time. They get their chance at a top four spot next week when they head out west to take on Fremantle. Meanwhile, the Dogs run into the Saints in a contest that could mean curtains for them… or possibly even St Kilda.

As always, massive thanks to our members – without your support, there is no Mongrel Punt. Cheers

 

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