Western Bulldogs v St Kilda – A Different Lens


The Zaine Cordy Cup was up for grabs under the roof at Superhero Stadium. The Saints, with their makeshift forward line, coming in riding the wave of momentum and emotion from their stirring round one win with old new coach Ross Lyon, while the Dogs were bruised from a heavy defeat from the Dees and needing to respond. What would happen under the roof? Would the Saints start 2-0 or would the Dogs get on the board for 2023? Let’s find out.


Momentum vs Pride

Momentum is a big thing in footy – and so is pride. The Dogs have a lot to play for, as a side that was bundled out of the finals early in 2022 after a Grand Final decimation in 2021. They are a team full of talented players who have grit and determination. You’d expect that pride to shine through – but save for an 11-minute period in the second quarter, it didn’t. The Dogs were second to the ball for most of the night and their foot skills left much to be desired. They have gone into the season with high expectations but are yet to deliver. Will that pride for the jumper kick in or are the Dogs off the pace in 2023?

For the Saints, they built some momentum in Round One. And that momentum was evident from the first bounce. There was, and is, an air of confidence and belief in this team. They are young, untried, and, frankly, not expected to do well until their injury list starts to shrink. But momentum and belief can do interesting things to one’s psyche and we are seeing that with this Saints team. They dare to dream, they have the need for speed, and they want to be fun to watch. While they lacked polish at times, they were fun to watch for much of the contest.


Saints Navigating List Gaps

Speaking of the Saints and their injury list – no Max King, no Tim Membrey, no Jack Hayes … and that’s just the tall forwards. All the questions heading into the season were around their ability to score and where would the goals come from. The answer: an even spread of contributors.

Tonight, saw Mitch Owens and Mattaes Phillipou both kick a career-high three goals. Anthony Caminiti kicked two as well. These young blokes were leading the line for the Saints. They showed zip, poise at times, and a willingness to take responsibility in front of goal. While all of them may not remain in the side as others return, this experience will no doubt benefit them as individuals, but also the Saints team as a whole in the long run.

It’s great to see young players come in, have an impact, and play with freedom, trusting their ability.


What is Going on at the Kennel?

It’s a valid question. We know the talent that is on the Dogs’ list. We recognise a game as a Doggies game, when they freewheel with the footy, and the game is setup around the ball. But there’s something not quite right with the Dogs at the moment. They aren’t winning the ball around the contest and the execution going forward isn’t great either. So where are things breaking down?

As a starting point, teams may have worked out how to stop the Dogs in some capacity. When you match them at the contest, when you don’t allow space for Bontempelli, Bailey Smith, and Jack Macrae to get the ball to or on the outside, the disposal is hurried. So, teams come hard at them at the contest. This then forces the Dogs to rely on their defence – often cited as a weakness – to win back the footy and be the basis on which they move the ball forward. It, therefore, means the midfielders getting on the move more and having a willingness to go harder. Perhaps it’s time to put some new faces around the ball to see if they can have an impact.

Something also needs to give in terms of their forward line. Naughton, Darcy, and Ugle-Hagan were all up forward – and Rory Lobb would be if he wasn’t injured. That’s a lot of height. While some of them are competent below their knees, they don’t have the speed or agility to adequately lock the ball inside 50 or force turnovers and repeat entries. Their forward mix seems built for Marvel and the smooth deck, but even that couldn’t save them from the pressure applied to the kicker – and the inaccuracy of their forwards.

Luke Beveridge would have to be under pressure. Can he get this list functioning well enough to contend? Does he still have the playing group? Is it time to press the reset button? While it is only round two and my club are starting the year 0-2, and I know flags aren’t won in March, there seems something a little off with the Dogs and it’s essential they find their mojo and quickly, before the season is too far gone.


From the Viewing Gallery

For all the negativity about the Dogs, I thought Hayden Crozier and Taylor Duryea were good, all things considered. With the weight of ball entering the Saints 50, both of these men fought hard in the contest but then also got the ball moving forward. Whether it was biting off the corridor or simply trying to get the ball forward, they gave it their all.

Shout out to Anthony Caminiti for kicking his first AFL goal tonight – and didn’t his fan club in the stands love it! He looks a likely type and someone who can build into a solid career.

Jack Steele and Brad Crouch were hard around the contest all night. Whether it was their vice-like tackling, feeding the ball out to the outside runners, or their general gut running, they helped set this game up for the Saints.

The ruck battle between Rowan Marshall and Tim English was a fascinating watch, Marshall was on song early, and consistent for the rest of the match (he led the game for clearances with 9 and contested possessions with 15), whereas English built into the game. He was influential in the Dogs getting back into the game in the second term (along with Bont) and kept at it for the rest of the night.

Mason Wood continues to improve. His ability to find space and get into the right spots to win the footy are great traits for wingers. He’s building consistency and an ability to regularly hit the scoreboard. He is another that can help shape the Saints’ fortunes.

Bailey Smith, while not at his most damaging best, still ran the lines well, leading the game in metres gained and leading the Dogs in disposals with 28.

That’s all from Marvel. Ross the Boss has the Saints looking defensively sound and willing to take the game on to score. He’s building belief each and every week. They look ahead to next Saturday night at the ‘G against the Bombers, while the Dogs, who need to respond and show some fight, don’t have to wait too long, as they host the Lions at Superhero Stadium on Thursday night.


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