Western Bulldogs v Melbourne – The Analyst’s Corner

On a Saturday night under the roof at Avengers (Marvel) Stadium, the rematch of the 2021 Grand Final rematch is upon us. Because they already had the first rematch, you see?

The Dees are sitting in second on the ladder, continuing their push for back-to-back flags, and the Dogs are in a, excuse the pun, dog fight for a place in the top eight. Superstars in Clayton Oliver and Aaron Naughton return for their respective clubs, and much is on the line. What were the key moments? Keep reading to find out.


Battle of the Midfields

Six goals to zero – these were the numbers from direct centre clearances. The Demons dominated from centre bounce, winning 20 of these clearances to 13, but the longer the game went on, the more the Dogs took control around the ground, winning the overall clearance battle 45-38.

Clayton Oliver, returning from a broken thumb lead the game with 13 clearances (from 28 disposals – 21 contested), followed by Marcus Bontempelli with ten clearances (26 disposals, 19 contested, 1.2 on the scoreboard). They were assisted by various teammates, but were the dominant clearance players on the night. The Dees controlled the hit outs 52-23 with Max Gawn winning 40 of his own, and capitalised from the middle. But the Dogs mids, when the game needed a lift, were able to respond. Jack Macrae finished with a game-high 29 disposals after being held to just four disposals to halfway through the second quarter.

The Dees had the early ascendancy, but the workmanlike Dogs won the dog fight by the end of the game. As they got on top at the coal face, the Dogs were able to limit the effective entries of the Dees and then get better looks themselves.


Scoring Efficiency

All night, the Dees were slick when it came to moving the footy forward and getting into scoring areas. Think Rocky Balboa in Rocky 3 and his training to generate speed in order to win back his title from Clubber Lange (aka Mr T) – that was the Dees from stoppage and from turnover. They were ruthlessly efficient in scoring from their entries. Up until three-quarter time, they had 21 scores from 36 entries, compared to the Dogs 18 from 46. At this point in the game, you could make an educated assumption that the Dees’ efficiency inside 50 would help them get over the line. If you made that assumption, you were wrong.

In a flip of the efficiency switch, similar to Happy Gilmore learning how to putt, the Dogs were rampant in the last quarter. They kicked 5.2 from 13 entries – going at better than 50%, while the Dees struggled to manage 1.3 from 14 entries. In many respects, the game was won here. The Dees – primarily Kosi Pickett – had opportunities in the last. Kosi kicked the Dees’ only final quarter goal, but he also put one out on the full, and a straight-in-front set shot through for a behind. I don’t want to single out Kosi, as he was great in the last quarter at bringing his teammates into the game and applying some serious pressure. In light of efficiency though, he had some moments where we didn’t see the best of him.

We are seeing a great trend in 2022 of free-flowing footy, especially from stoppages. The starting positions at centre bounces seem to have helped this and the teams who can be efficient going forward, are going to find success in this high-pressure game.


The Making of the Man

As a Cats fan, the 2011 Grand Final has fond memories – not just because we won – but because it was the day that Tom Hawkins the boy became Tom Hawkins the man. Tonight, while not a Grand Final, it was the night that the boy became a man – that boy, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan! He may have only had ten disposals for the game, but half of those were goals. His 5.0 is a new career high for goals.

Over recent weeks, Jamarra has started to show more confidence in himself – whether it be through flying for marks, his ability to stay engaged in more contests, or just simply using his body to initiate contact. Like a measly caterpillar emerging from the cocoon as a butterfly, so did JUH tonight show why the Dogs believe in him, and why the slow game of building his confidence and getting kilometres in the legs is vital.

He launched at the footy, and in a tense final quarter when the game was on the line, it was he who kicked three decisive goals – including the sealer in the final minute. The third of his goals was the best of the lot, as he collected the footy, and off a couple of steps, nailed a sensational goal from 50. He was mobbed by his team, and being close to the boundary when kicking, was able to celebrate with his fans. Tonight is the night that JUH arrived. Let’s see if he can continue from here!


Finally, Someone Wants 8th!

We’ve been waiting for a side to take their place in the top eight – and tonight, the Dogs did just that. And while they’ve done everyone a favour by moving Richmond to their favourite ladder position – 9th – they’ve also reminded everyone why they are a scary prospect in the run to the cup. They can turn it on and because of their clearance dominance, they can never be counted out.

The Saints have the chance to go level on points with the Dogs as they clash with the Eagles in the west, but now, the Dogs can stake their claim for a place in the top 8.


Fool Me Twice …

In the 2021 Grand Final, Bayley Fritsch kicked six goals and the Dogs defenders had no answer to the Pidgeot lookalike. In the first half tonight, it looked like the Dogs had learned nothing as Fritsch kicked four to half time. However, in the second half, he was rarely sighted as the pressure applied up the ground meant there weren’t as many clean Demon entries. Buku Khamis and his mates also did a great job in limiting the space Fritsch had and ensuring that he couldn’t impact the scoreboard with the same level of freedom. He finished with 4.1 for the night, still emphasising that when you get good looks, the Dogs defence is vulnerable.


Short Takes

Sam Weideman had a great night. Like Jamarra, he only finished with ten disposals, but eight of those resulted in direct scores to his team – including three goals off his own boot. He had an opportunity tonight to lay claim to a position inside the Dees forward 50 and he went a long way to securing that.

I’d be remiss to not mention Marcus Bontempelli. His fourth quarter was exceptional. Like all the great captains do, he put his team on his shoulders and said “follow me, boys!” and the response was telling. Whether it be chase down tackles, key marks, and setting up scores, the Bont was everywhere!

May-Day! What is normally a distress call, was one for Steven May late in this contest. While he took a great intercept mark – and he was a one-man wall in the last quarter – he then picked out the Bont with a misplaced kick, which then resulted in a Dogs goal. A costly error (one of the game’s key moments) on an otherwise solid outing for the Dees defender.

If I was making a video of defensive acts and the desperation required to succeed at AFL level, I’d be showing a number of moments belonging to Alex Neal-Bullen tonight. He was regularly pushing up the ground to assist his defence, and laid a number of momentum-shifting tackles, halting Bulldog attacks. That desperation is what you need.

Tim English was great all night. The highlight though – his running goal in the third quarter. It’s rare for a ruckman to ask for the handball receive. It’s even rarer still, that someone will dish the handball. In this case, English called for the ball, got it, ran through 50 and sent the ball straight through the middle. Max Gawn in 2021 has now got ruckmen believing they can do anything on a footy field and it’s glorious when it comes off!

Finally, props to Riley Garcia. In game number 14, he did a number of really nice things and was constantly clean. His composure was also highlighted with a final term goal to give the Dogs the lead.


A cracking game under the roof as the Dogs snuck into the 8 and laid to rest some Demons from last year’s finals series – and handing the Dees their second loss in three games. However, the Dees lost to the Dogs in this same fixture last year, only to not lose again for the rest of the season. Will this happen again? Anyway, there are still four weeks of home and away footy to go yet.

Next week the Dees travel across the Nullarbor to face the Dockers on Friday night with both needing wins to solidify their top 4 credentials and positions. Meanwhile, the Dogs head down the highway to Cat Park (GMHBA Stadium) to take on the ladder leading Cats in prime time on Saturday night!


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