As the days ticked down to Round One, you got a bit of a feeling that people thought the Dogs were a red-hot chance in this game.
No Jack Viney, no Bayley Fritsch, and then when Steven May was ruled out, I would not have been surprised if a few people started speculating with their tips. This was the Bulldogs’ chance to get the Demons early, but what we saw gave every indication that either the Dees were far too good, or the Dogs were not up to the task.
Perhaps a bit of both.
It may not be a popular opinion, but from the moment Kysaiah Pickett put Bailey Smith on his backside, the momentum in the game swung toward the Dees. By that stage, the Dogs had kicked three of the four goals for the quarter. From there, the Dees piled on five unanswered snags to steal the lead – a lead they would not surrender for the remainder of the game.
Through the second half, the Dogs made small challenges. They stayed around the mark but never seriously threatened Melbourne – kind of reflective of the team they were in 2022, if we’re being honest. Good, but not good enough.
Anyway, I’m going to jump into the review and start with Kysaiah Pickett. Members… you get it a good while before anyone else. I hope you enjoy , and/or don’t hate me for this take.
WAS KYSAIAH PICKETT THE DIFFERENCE-MAKER?
Absolutely, he was.
Some may point to the ruck duo. Others may give the nod to Christian Petracca, or the defence, but for me, Kysaiah Pickett had a hand in everything that turned out to be excellent for the Dees.
Yes, Pickett was reported and given the nature of the AFL and the jumpiness around head knocks, will likely be suspended, but if you ever doubt that a player can swing the momentum of a game with physicality, you simply need to watch Kysaiah Pickett play football.
I’m not just talking about the way he barreled into Bailey Smith, giving away a downfield free kick in the process – no. And I am not glorifying the brutal nature of some aspects of the game – again, no. I am referring to the way he goes about his footy and the pressure he places the opposition under, the way he works to lock the footy in the forward half, and the way he works harder than anyone else on the field to close down a player when an easy defensive exit should be on the cards.
Sure, the focus coming out of this game will be his hit on Bailey Smith – the media will likely lead with it because a) it looked nasty, and b) it was on a media darling, but there was so much more to like about the work of Pickett in this game. To focus on the one negative would be neglectful.
In one instance early in the third, it looked to be a foregone conclusion that the Dogs were going to clear their defensive fifty. It was an easy three step kick down the line to buy the Dogs some time, but with Kysaiah Pickett closing down the space and the need to get rid of the footy quickly now apparent, the result was a rushed kick that went out on the full and offered another scoring chance for the Dees.
Pickett finished with 19 touches, eight tackles (seven of them inside 50…. that’s nuts!!! The Dogs had just nine as a team!) and had 11 score assists in one of the best games you’ll see from a small forward. He pressed up into the midfield, offering pace from the stoppage, and if after watching this game, your main takeaway is that he hit Bailey Smith high, then you’re really missing out.
My guess is that the Dogs would love someone to do for them what Kysaiah Pickett does for Melbourne. I know I would love to have him on my team.
And just for the record, I hope he gets off. I doubt he will – I think he’ll get a week, maybe even two – it’s all about ‘the look’, you see, but I’d love to see him trot out again next week to apply some more of the same pressure he did in this one. He was truly the difference-maker.
HOW GOOD WAS ADAM TOMLINSON?
You likely won’t hear much about his game, given the starring roles others played, but what a luxury to have a player like Adam Tomlinson waiting in the wings for an opportunity like this to arise.
I don’t think any of us believe that he will keep Steven May out of the side, but to come in, slot into the defensive structure, just like he did back in the days before Harrison Petty truly arrived on the scene, and completely obliterate Rory Lobb to the point I actually started to feel sorry for the former Docker… that is a great way to keep your name at the front of mind for Simon Goodwin.
Whilst Petty took on the big job of keeping Aaron Naughton quiet, Tomlinson wandered over to Lobb, who despite being a bit of a perceived whiny runt (no spelling error) actually played some great footy last year. That was not that case in this one, as Tomlinson repeatedly used his body to angle Lobb out of marking position as though he was born to do it.
Some of Tomlinson’s effectiveness may come down to the fact that Lobb was at a new club, first-up, and unfamiliar with the structures, but to put it all down to that would be a huge cop out. Lobb finished with six touches for the game, and only one of them came inside 50. That was all the work of Adam Tomlinson and he deserves a shipload (also not a spelling error) of credit for stepping in and making one of the big Bulldog recruits look pretty bloody ordinary all game long.
DO WE GET 2021-LEVEL JAKE LEVER THIS SEASON?
It was a promising start, wasn’t it?
I’ve gotta tell you – when I heard that May was going to be missing in this game, my thoughts immediately turned to Jake Lever. I wondered whether he would be able to put the woes of 2022 behind him and elevate his game in the absence of his defensive partner.
Those worries were put to rest pretty early, as Lever flew in to take two intercept grabs. He ended up with 13 intercept possessions for the game as he controlled the air and positioned himself beautifully to mop up any errant kick inside 50 from the Dogs… and there were plenty of errant inside 50 deliveries from them.
Combining with Angus Brayshaw, Trent Rivers, and Harrison Petty, Lever was the defensive standout for the Dees as they repelled attacks that may have penetrated the defence of a team not as well-drilled.
Can he be 2021-level this season?
So much hinges on him getting close to it. His ability to read the footy in the air and bring teammates into the game once the ball hits the deck can turn Melbourne from a good team to a very good one, very quickly. Add May back in and the twin towers of Melbourne may be just about ready to lead another assault on a flag.
Big statements early on, I know, but you had to like what you saw in this game.
WHY WAS I NOT OVERLY-IMPRESSED WITH CALEB DANIEL IN THIS GAME?
I’m looking at the stats as I write this, and my gut feel goes against everything I am taking away from those numbers.
29 touches is good, right?
But what did he do with them? There were a couple of horrible turnovers in the back half that were completely out of character for for him. I know the commentators made excuses for him at one stage, stating that he was screwing up because he was attempting to be creative, but that line didn’t work for the 18 year old me with my girlfriend at the time, and I’ll be damned if I am going to let it fly for Caleb Daniel now.
He is in the Bulldogs team for his precision off half-back, but his sure hands and brilliant foot skills deserted him at periods in this one. He did not cover the ground like I’m used to seeing, and there were points where he simply looked slow.
Add to that the fact that Bailey Dale had some fumbly moments (sometimes on the back of Daniel having a poor disposal) and their efforts invited increased pressure. That back six is so reliant on slick ball movement from Daniel and Dale (sounds like a crap teen movie – Ball Movement from Daniel and Dale… I’d probably watch it) that when it doesn’t occur, it creates pressure for everyone around them.
And simply put, the troops they have back there to help are not up to it in terms of being able to bail them out.
HOW DID TIM ENGLISH GO AGAINST THE RUCK BULLIES?
This section goes back a fair way. Bear with me.
From 2018-20, Brodie Grundy abused Tim English in the ruck. Flat out molested him. So decisive were his wins over this period that I believe he collected nine Brownlow votes in three games matched up against English. I wondered at the time whether English would be mentally scarred by the severity of the lessons he was being taught, but I am glad to report that he seems to have come out the other side a better player, all-round.
But that doesn’t mean he won the battle.
Not at all.
The Grundy/Gawn combination gave the Dees a 15-8 centre clearance advantage, with Petracca, in particular, reading the tap work like my daughter’s take home reader… which I might add was particularly easy yesterday because they gave her the same book twice in a row.
English battled on around the ground, but if we’re being honest, what he was able to do paled in comparison to the work of Gawn, particularly early in the game when the Melbourne captain seemed to be everywhere.
Grundy kicked one and should have had two for the game, whilst Gawn snagged a couple, himself, looking like a great leading/marking forward at one stage. Okay… great might be a stretch, but definitely a decent one.
And how did English’s backup, Rory Lobb go?
Oh, he added three hit outs for the game. As expected.
English fought hard, but the ruck bullies won the day, here.
HOW DID THE DOGS GO COVERING THE LOSS OF JOSH DUNKLEY?
I genuinely thought they missed Lachie Hunter more than they missed Dunkley. That’s not a knock on Dunkley at all – with a midfield of Bontempelli, Liberatore, Smith, Macrae, and Treloar, the Dogs were always going to have the numbers to cover Dunkley’s loss, but I felt they lacked that little bit of run on the outside to get on the end of the work in the middle by those mentioned above.
Hunter didn’t exactly set the world on fire for the Dees (12 touches), but in an unfamiliar system, will be better for the run.
The biggest beneficiary of the Dunkley departure was probably Treloar, who got to spend a lot more time running through the guts, although I don’t think he did a hell of a lot to hurt the Dees. When you compare what he did to the work of Petracca, it quickly becomes apparent that Treloar is a player who is nice to have running around for your team, whereas Petracca is irreplaceable.
I have no doubt that at some stage this season, the Dogs will gel in the midfield and run some teams off their legs – we saw little bits of it in this one as Bont or Macrae took off for a canter through the middle, but the Dees were able to close them down more often than not – their defence wasn’t rated so highly last season by accident. The Dogs’ disposals didn’t help matters much either. Macrae, Smith, and Bont went at 61%, 52%, and 60% efficiency, respectively.
Until they get the balance right, however, they will continue to experiment with players out wide (Anthony Scott, Bailey Williams, Oskar Baker) to replace Hunter. Run and carry is so important in the modern game – the Dogs need to cultivate a good, hard-running wingman, and use him often.
HOW DOES AN UNCO LIKE BEN BROWN KICK GOALS?
I don’t know about you guys, but from where I sat, there was a lot of baby giraffe about Ben Brown in this game. You can’t argue with the results – four goals is a great return – but the manner in which he went about collecting he football at stages… I was surprised he didn’t tangle himself into a knot like he got caught in one of the Scooby Gang’s traps.
Brown seems to be one of the AFL’s genuine nice blokes, so I’m saying the above in good nature – he obviously knows what he is doing, but I just wish he looked a little more streamlined and balanced when he attacks the footy. I almost get scared he’s going to trip, fall, and take out an entire pack as he lopes toward the contest.
WHO GOES OUT FOR MAY, FRITSCH, AND VINEY?
Damn.. you know they’re all good enough to walk straight back in, right?
Sadly, Adam Tomlinson will likely be relegated despite how good he was in this one. It’s Steven May, after all.
Jake Melksham looks the likely out for Bayley Fritsch, with Melk starting as the sub in this one.
And in the middle, as much as I like what James Harmes brings to the table each and every game, I can see him sitting with the sib vest on as Viney returns.
IS BAILEY SMITH TOO WASTEFUL WITH THE FOOTY?
I want to say yes, but I am remembering multiple times where he was forced to offload the footy whilst under pressure. That said, I also remember him kicking the footy hurriedly, as though he was expecting pressure every time the ball came to him.
We didn’t get to see much in the way of run and carry from Bailey in this one, but we did see him jam the ball on his boot often enough to collect nine inside 50s and over 600 metres gained. Of course, when only 14 of your 27 touches are effective, and seven of those 27 touches go directly to the opposition, there is a strong argument that he needs to become better with his decision-making.
In the footy world, the hardest part is getting the footy – Smith has no issue with that, but the composure he has displayed in the past seemed to be missing in this one.
The Liam Jones injury really upset the defensive apple cart for the Dogs, with a lighter, and presumably weaker, Alex Keath forced straight back into a key defensive role. I am scouring the internet for more info about the injury, but am coming up with doughnuts at the moment… and my experience is that doughnuts are only detrimental to my health.
I liked the way Naughton and Ugle-Hagan looked as a combination. Jamarra could have really drawn some of the heat away from Naughton in the first half, but it seemed as though he went into his shell after missing a few shots.
I didn’t mind seeing Oskar Baker on the wing. – I reckon with time, he could become to the Dogs what Tom Atkins is to Geelong, but you’d have to insert him in where the action is, and I am not sure the Dogs have the space. Not sure he is the answer, long-term on the wing – maybe a half-back, lockdown type of role?
Heard a couple of people stating Tom McDonald struggled. Interesting – I see him as someone in the team to present up between 50 and 80 metres out. The smalls know where the footy is going and move to position to crumb his contests. Happy with his output in this one, though I am sure people would like to see more scoreboard impact.
Loved Alex Neal-Bullen standing in the hole in front of Tim English and copping he punishment for the team. That was tough. Everyone basically missed it, but it was bloody excellent from ANB.
And that might do me. Powerful win for the Dees, first up. They were red hot at the start of 2022 as well, though, remember? Slow down, Dees… it’s not sex!
As for the Dogs… they looked slow in this one. They may be better for the run… you’d hope they’d be, but there is a lot of improvement in the team. No need to panic. Not yet, anyway.
Massive thanks to all those who support The Mongrel.