How you choose to view this one depends largely on which side you follow.
If you’re a Dogs fan, you look at the first three quarters and ignore the last, as the team was obviously not cracking in with the same level of intensity as it was earlier in the game. If you’re a Kangaroos fan, you look at the first quarter and the way the side was able to hang with a team very capable of making some September noise, and you look at the last quarter and the play of some of the kids.
However, if you’re a neutral, you saw a high-class team in the Western Bulldogs run over the top of a North Melbourne team that was carrying way too many inexperienced players with immature bodies.
But I guess that’s exactly what this time of year is for – to find out where you sit in the pecking order. The Dogs walk away knowing that had they dropped the hammer in the last, it could have been messy, and the Roos walk away happy that they didn’t.
Let’s jump into the stand-out and stand-down plays and players of this one.
Uh oh… paywall. We’re gonna cover as many practice games this weekend as technology and lack of sleep will allow for our members. All preseason game coverage will be restricted and will not open up like our Home and Away reviews. Of course, these reviews are only a couple of thousand words. H&A season… I’ll get the game face on. Want to join us?
When you’re coming up against the Dogs in 2023, what sort of weather are you hoping for?
A nice still day, without a breath of wind?
No, that would be the exact opposite of what you’d want, because the Dogs are absolutely STACKED with tall talent. This preseason, there has been so much noise made about the move of Rory Lobb that many simply forgot to factor in the organic improvement of Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Sam Darcy – both of these blokes clunked big contested grabs during the game as a way of letting you know that this multi-pronged attack of the Western Bulldogs is capable of kicking a biiiiig score.
Naughton finished with four and gave one away. Jamarra kicked three and missed an easy one, and Darcy snagged two.
I heard someone on commentary state that Lobb was the one who didn’t fire, but he really didn’t have to. He snapped a goal out of a ruck contest, manhandling former teammate, Griffin Logue in the process, and handed off two of his own. I am not a huge fan of Lobb, but he did his job in this one and it should be acknowledged.
A very powerful quarter, but I wonder whether they play all four consistently, especially on the heavier grounds once the cooler weather hits. A nice bit of rain and a bit of wind… that’s what I’d be crossing my fingers for when coming up against the Dogs.
THE ENGINE ROOM
At one point in the game, renowned thinker, Jonathon Brown remarked that “when you think of metres gained, you don’t think of Bontempelli.”
Johnno… have you not watched this guy play? He doesn’t pissfart around with the footy, you know? He has that cannon attached to his leg for a reason and he uses it to go long and direct every chance he gets. When I think of Bont, I think of centre breaks, five or six strides, and then a long ball inside 50.
And that all adds up to a heap of metres gained when he is playing well.
With 615 metres gained, Bont had a ripper, and his other numbers jump off the page. Ten inside 50 deliveries, 12 score involvements, ten clearances… this was mid-season form for the Bulldogs’ captain, and it was on display in the preseason!
He was ably backed up by the host of usual suspects. Adam Treloar, Tom Liberatore, Jack Macrae, and Bailey Smith, who I will get to in a second, combined for 125 disposals, at an average of 31.25 per player – remarkable.
Both Bont and Libba slotted a couple of goals apiece, as well, as though they needed to do anything else, and demonstrated just how potent this team can be when it starts moving the ball quickly and going long and direct. If the Dogs are permitted free rein at any point this season, it could be carnage.
KNOWING YOUR OPPONENT
I mentioned Bailey Smith, above, but this is just a quickie.
I don’t think Bailey is ever going to get an invite to MENSA, but some of his play in this game was quite intelligent. I focus on two moments in particular – both involve Josh Goater, of North.
I like Goater – he has a bit of go in him, but when he attempted to tackle Smith on two occasions, the mulleted Bulldogs swatted him away like an annoying fly. Now, I am not sure Smith tries that on Ben Cunnington or Jy Simpkin, but when he looked up and saw a blue and white jumper coming at him on two occasions, he made the split-second decision to take him on…
… and win.
In that tiny moment, Smith was able to recognise that the would-be tackler was one of the North kids, and unable to overpower him, so he just made him look insignificant as he brushed him off. I am sure moments like that will stick with Goater. When he is in the gym and needs a bit of motivation, he should picture those two moments – they should drive him to be bigger and stronger, so that when Smith tries it again in the future, Goater can give hi a bit of a Dikembe Mutombo finger wave and say “not today”.
Of course, it was nice to see Goater rag-doll Caleb Daniel late in te game and win a free kick. Undaunted by the other experiences, he went back for more and third time was the charm.
THE LIAM JONES SHOW
Coming into this season, I made a post on one of our socials remarking how great it was that Liam Jones was able to return to the league. It copped a bit of crap from people who saw his decision to step away from football as selfish – or perhaps a criticism of their own choice. Far enough, but I was celebrating the fact that one of the better intercept/contest killers was getting another chance at the big time, back where he started. On the surface, that was the story and with this performance, he added to it by promising the Dogs a reliable, powerful presence in defence who is capable of completely owning the defensive 50.
He owned the air in this one, notching 13 intercept possessions, of which seven of them were marks. He read the play better than his direct opponent (sometimes Nick Larkey, sometimes Charlie Comben) and gave Alastair Clarkson a bit of homework for the next time North play the Dogs.
So, to save everyone a bit of trouble, I have compiled a cheat sheet that gives players the dot points. Saves ya doing it, yourself, Clarko.
1 – Do not kick aimlessly into attacking fifty. If you’re absolutely forced to, do not kick high and long. That ball belongs to Liam Jones.
2 – When kicking to your forward, NEVER kick it to the side where Jones has the advantage. He is a mature body and is nigh-on impossible to move off the spot. If you don’t give your forward a chance to start in the best position, he is not going to outmuscle Jones to get it.
3 – Get some antiseptic and prepare your forehead, because if you screw up rule one or two, I am stapling these rules to your thick head.
Seriously, North played into Jones’ hands so often, it was almost embarrassing. He was dominant, and though Larkey got out to kick three goals (two kicked when NOT opposed to Jones), North looked all at sea when going forward. This was largely due to the presence of Jones, who was indefatigable all game.
If you’re not happy to see him back for reasons other than footy, more power to ya, but from a pure footy standpoint, what a fantastic pickup for the Dogs in a position they desperately needed a big presence.
If I were coaching against the Dogs, there is absolutely no way in hell I’d allow Bailey Dale to run around unimpeded. He is so damaging off half-back that playing a defensive forward on him seems way too logical.
Great to see Cunners out there doing the work again for North. He was really prominent early on but fell away in the second half. Saving himself for the real stuff, or still struggling to build that big fitness base? I hope it is the first option.
The rent is due for Bailey Scott at North. I really find him to be a middling type of player at the moment. He does some things well, but nothing at an elite level. His attempt to tackle Toby McLean in the third quarter was, as per my notes, anaemic. Almost as bad as Kayne Turner’s ridiculously poor attempt to tackle Anthony Scott just moments later.
How important are fundamentals in footy? They’d have to be number one – just above fitness. Maybe that’s reversed in the modern game, I don’t know, but I do know that if you cannot get the fundamentals right, you’re gonna get smoked.
And North got smoked due to poor fundamentals. If you have this game recorded, rewind to the dying moments of the second quarter. North are pushing hard and have a scoring chance. They just have to hit a target by hand at half-forward. They have three tries at it and fail each time. THREE TRIES to hit a teammate with a handball, but every one of them is short or off to the side, forcing their teammates to fight at ground level, or backtrack to pick up the footy. By the time they got themselves sorted, the siren blew and the opportunity was lost.
Fundamentals – I am pretty sure North didn’t take the fun, but they did drive me absolutely mental with that passage of play and the missed tackles, listed above.
Josh Bruce in a defensive role was okay – nothing special, but not great, either. He ended up with eight intercepts, which is a nice day out for a defender and could be a very handy role player back there.
Hard to assess Griffin Logue in this one as he was under siege for a lot of the game. The Dogs were hammering the ball inside 50 and the talls from the Whitten Oval were all “on”, however, Logue was able to win some one-on-ones and looks like an absolute beast at times. They will be a better defensive unit when Aidan Corr returns.
The Taylor Duryea neck injury didn’t look like much, but to then see him in a neck brace… it’s always confronting. Hopefully, he gets the all-clear and is back quickly. Ditto for Cam Zurhaar, who sat out the second half with calf tightness.
And to finish, a great indicator as to how good the Dogs were with their pressure was to look at the tackles inside 50. A whopping 16-5 advantage demonstrates that they were far more determined to lock the ball in for second chances than North were.
And that’ll do me. A 58-point win won’t be cause for great celebration for the Dogs, but nor should it be cause for despair for North, particularly when there is plenty of room for vast improvement. Right now, there are a few in the side that will not be best 22 in a year’s time, as Clarkson shapes the list he wants.
For the Dogs – they were fun to watch and should, health permitting, be a force in 2023. And forget Brownlow betting, chuck a few bucks on Bont to be named MVP. The opposition respects him and they vote for the winner – he will take it out again this season if he stays on the park.
Massive thanks for supporting The Mongrel. Gonna be a biiiig year, baby.