On a Thursday night under the roof of Marvel Stadium, the Western Bulldogs breathed life into their 2023 season, with a tough, dour win over the visiting Brisbane Lions.
With Marcus Bontempelli and Lachie Neale going head-to-head in the middle, Josh Dunkley taking on his old team, and both sides with plenty to prove, it promised a heap and delivered… well, it delivered some of what was promised, I suppose.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the game, overall, is it? I’m sorry, but I won’t lie to you – it was an average outing that should have been excellent.
The Lions fumbled way too often early in the game and some inaccurate kicking at goal kept them chasing the Dogs for most of the evening, however, in the end it was the old firm of Bont, Libba, Macrae, and Treloar – the quartet that probably prompted Josh Dunkley to look for a less congested midfield to occupy – that won the day.
The Dogs now sit level with the Lions at 1-2, and will be feeling that their best is as good as any in the competition, particularly if they get some inspiring play from their captain.
Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Big Questions from the game.
WHO WON THE BONT V NEALE CLASH?
It’s easy to look at the scoreboard and hand the win to Bont – my guess is that there’ll mostly be Dogs supporters reading this, however, I cannot get the feeling out of my head that Neale was every bit as important as the Bulldogs captain.
There wasn’t too much separating the two, with Bont better with the long ball and penetration inside 50, and Neale better in close all evening. Neale was probably unlucky not to receive a fifty-metre penalty late in the game that may have had a pretty significant influence on the result. After an intercept mark in the middle, a head clash with the closing Anthony Scott dropped him, but the umpire deemed it accidental and made Neale take his kick from the middle.
What could have been, huh?
For Bont, he often put himself in the hole, picking up eight intercept possessions as he consistently found the footy and setup his teammates’ run and carry. We even got a glimpse of the front-of-stoppage break from Bont, as he dug in, ran to 55 and launched at goal. Had he converted then and there, it may have broken the Lions’ hearts on the spot, but the miss left the door open. Still, that type of play is peak Bont and I’m here for it if he can replicate it.
If I were forced to choose which player was more prominent, I would likely go with Neale. His efforts propped up the Brisbane midfield, whilst I get the feeling that the Dogs are rapt to have Bont playing at this level, but have the talent around him to cover if he’s having a quiet one. Brisbane doesn’t have this, at all.
HOW BIG WERE JAMARRA’S FIVE GOALS?
Two of them were very big.
Two were from iffy free kicks.
And one was after the siren with the game already won.
I’ll just get my calculator out… carry the one… spell boobies upside down… that’s about 40% big, if you ask me.
We have all heard about Jamarra’s torrid week, after being subjected to racial taunts by the Saints fans last week, and to see him come out and kick five is something that could be construed as character-building. Maybe character-defining – boy becomes a man kind of stuff.
After one goal, Ugle-Hagan emulated the famous Nicky Winmar pose, pulling up his guernsey to point to his skin. Either that, or he was showing off a pretty fair set of abs! He looks in great nick!
Jokes aside, Jamarra ran at a goal under every two kicks, which is a phenomenal rate, and if people doubted that he was going to be a star of the game, their fears should be laid to rest as he continues to perform at this level.
I’m not sure how tough Ugle-Hagan did it this week. I’m not sure how much the taunts affected him last week. I tend to steer clear of stories such as this as they detract from my enjoyment of the game, but what I do know is he responded in the best possible way. His performance in this contest was his way of standing up and staring down those who would ridicule and deride him, and to do it so emphatically speaks volumes about what this young man is made of.
Go well, Jamarra – onwards and upwards.
DID WE SEE THE LOOPHOLE IN DANGEROUS TACKLES IN THIS GAME?
We sure did. We saw Anthony Scott throw himself on the turf as he tried to spin out of a tackle, and poor bloody Zac Bailey got pinged for a dangerous tackle he had only minimal responsibility for.
Let’s get this straight – AFL players walk a fine line between intelligence and stupidity like no other athlete on the planet. On the field, they live in the moment, attempting to do everything in their power to extract a free kick and gain an advantage for their team. They duck their head into contact, throw themselves forward into marking contests to gain an in-the-back free kick… they do all types of stupid stuff to get an easy win in the moment. Given that, I don’t blame Scott for trying it on and throwing himself on the deck to win a free kick if that’s what he was doing – he is manipulating a system ripe for the picking.
For the record, I don’t think that’s what he was doing. I think he was trying to manoeuvre out of the tackle, but let’s put that aside for a bit.
The umpire saw a spinning, almost slinging action and pinged Bailey for the offence. He did nothing wrong.
And it proves that the system has a long way to go.
Everyone is jumpy about concussions and protecting the head, but in watching the footage back, I am completely convinced that Scott caused this action, and was rewarded for his efforts with the free kick.
So, AFL players will be watching and will probably do it, themselves, right? Because Scott was smart enough to get it to work once, and most others are dumb enough to think they’ll get away with it the next time… and they’ll probably concuss themselves in the process.
The AFL have obviously swung way too far in the direction of saving players from each other. Now, can they save them from themselves, as the players intelligently do stupid things to gain an advantage?
I hate the trigger-happy response to dangerous tackles. Absolutely hate it. I hated this one even more because it was a player at fault being rewarded. The AFL and the umps need to be better. Once one gets away with it, those intelligent idiots will all think they can.
And well done by Daisy Pearce for having the guts to call it out, as well.
HAS ANYONE SEEN THE BRISBANE FORWARD LINE?
Jack Gunston would like to know where the rest of his teammates in the forward line went to. If you find them, could you please return them to a very concerned Brisbane Lions so they can make the flight back home?
Atrocious is the word that leaps to mind when I think about what the Brisbane forwards, Gunston aside, dished up in this game. With Joe Daniher, Charlie Cameron, and Eric Hipwood delivering a whole bunch of bugger all, the Lions looked inept forward of centre, often second to the ball and chasing like men with no legs as their opponents almost sauntered out of defence.
Daniher wasted shots at goal, missing two early, and then completely burnt Charlie Cameron in the last quarter, opting to spin and hoist a long ball toward goal instead of doing the team thing and giving his small man the scoring chance. It’s not often you see Charlie upset, but he was pissed at Daniher for that poor effort.
Hipwood couldn’t get near it, finishing with one goal from his six touches, and Charlie Cameron kicked one from his eight touches. None of them appeared to threaten their direct opponents too much, allowing the Dogs to move the footy out of defence way too easily.
Chris Fagan attempted to get things going in the second half, moving Cam Rayner from defence to attack, but his impact was minimal, as well. Only Gunston – 31 years old and all – managed to show signs of life, snagging three goals in the third quarter to give the Lions hope, but with the team held to just one goal in the last, you could solidly argue that this Brisbane team thoroughly deserves its 1-2 standing.
Lincoln McCarthy was another that looked out of sorts – he had some contests where he attacked it hard, but he lacked explosiveness, finishing with eight touches of his own.
At least Charlie Cameron made an effort defensively, with four tackles inside 50 placing the Dogs’ defence under some pressure, but it was nowhere near enough. On paper, this is one of the most potent forward setups in the game, but in this one, they were anything but.
Impotent… that’s the word to describe the way the Lions forwards performed in this one. Flaccid and impotent – the Joe Ganino special. It’s not a great combination.
AND SHOULD WE GIVE SOME CREDIT TO THE DOGS’ DEFENCE FOR THAT?
Yes… yes, we should.
When you have a powerhouse forward line, as the Lions do, it takes a disciplined backline and midfield to hold them to just seven goals under the roof, and that is exactly what the Dogs did.
Liam Jones, Alex Keath (who sometimes appears like he doesn’t know what he’s doing, but genuinely does), and Josh Bruce were all good against the big blokes, whilst Ed Richards and Bailey Dale provided excellent run and carry. The latter two combined for 18 intercepts and 55 disposals, as they ducked, weaved, and sprinted through a Brisbane defensive web that looked like it was constructed by a cockeyed spider.
When you throw in Jason Johannisen playing a defensive role on Charlie Cameron, AAAAAND it actually working, you have a defensive unit that should be applauded.
They likely won’t be – not in public, because the AFL media will like to focus on who kicks the goals, but this overall defensive effort from the Dogs is just as worthy of praise. And they’ll get it from the coach and those in the inner sanctum, because they deserve it after this effort.
WHAT DO THE DOGS DO WITH RORY LOBB?
Was there a cooling off period with Freo? Maybe they’d like to reconsider.
Lobb finished with two goals in this one – one from a nice contested mark inside 50, which you have to give him credit for, and the other from a panicky handball from Keidean Coleman in the second quarter, which was pretty much a gift.
For the remainder of the game, Lobb managed just two touches before being subbed out for Robbie McComb, who played for a total of 16 minutes.
Lobb came to the Dogs with a huge “buyer beware” tag around his neck. He has the potential to tear games apart, as we saw at points in 2022, but he also fails to impact the game far too often, as the Dogs are seeing right now. At 207 centimetres, he barely wins a ruck tap and wanders around the forward fifty as though the world owes him lace-out delivery. There is simply no urgency about him. If he were 20cm shorter, he would not be playing. He’s basically the AFL version of a 1990s NBA centre, in the league because he has been blessed with height.
I am not sure how much rope Luke Beveridge is willing to give this bloke – being subbed out of the game sends a message, even if they cited ankle soreness, but is the message strong enough? Do they need to send this bloke back to the VFL and make him earn his place?
With Jamarra kicking goals, Naughton working as his counterpart, and Bont able to sneak forward to play the third marking target, perhaps it is time Rory Lobb starts earning his place in the team. I do not believe it is a position he’s been in often in his AFL tenure, but if the Dogs want to be a good side this season, they’ll need three marking forwards playing well and playing in harmony. They cannot carry deadwood.
And in this one, Rory Lobb was deadwood.
HOW DID DUNKLEY GO AGAINST THE OLD MOB?
He was really solid. Played a very contested style of footy, put his body on the line, and was made to earn plenty of his touches, as you’d expect.
With 24 touches and six tackles, he did the hard stuff, but found it difficult to win the footy at stoppages all game, finishing with just four clearances.
The Dogs seemed to enjoy giving him the occasional hard tackle, but there was nothing over the top, and as stated above, I can see why he opted to leave the Whitten Oval to get the guaranteed opportunity at the Lions.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the Dogs fans have to be pleased about it, does it?
HOW FAR AWAY FROM BEST ON GROUND HONOURS WAS HARRIS ANDREWS?
He was brilliant in this game. His combination of intercept marking and contest killing was just about perfect, with his efforts repelling multiple attacks from the Dogs. God only knows where the Lions would be without him.
He finished with 21 touches, 16 marks, and the standard ten one-percenters, as he ruled the skies in defensive 50 and got some pretty good help from Jackson Payne. As for Darragh Joyce… hmm, maybe the less said, the better? He looked out of his depth several times, and his actions led to several shots at goal for the Doggies – in a close game, those shots are diamonds. Darragh Joyce was the coal.
Loving what I’m seeing of Ox Baker as part of the bullies. Never takes a backwards step and will mix it up with anyone. He played a bit of half-forward in this one, but I prefer him on the wide-open spaces of the wing.
Another classic Libba game… with a twist. I=Usually in and under, doing the tough stuff, the situation dictated he play a bit more on the outside in this game, so he did. And he did it bloody well, too. With 29 touches and nine tackles, he was one of the best on the park… what a clubman he has been over the years.
Speaking of wingmen, was it just me, or did Hugh McCluggage look like he was playing with a cake of soap in the first half? Both he and Jarrod Berry fumbled far too often for midfield players and their double grabs cost their team momentum on several occasions.
Decent start from Bailey Smith, with targets hit and it was appearing as though he was going to have a big day. But just six touches through the second and third quarters, combined, saw him drift right out of the game. He finished strong, with seven touches in the last, but I want to start seeing four quarters from him.
Can someone explain to Zac Bailey that he is not the strongest bloke at Brisbane, please? Mate, you cannot break tackles like you’re playing in the Under 16s.
Like what I saw from Darcy Wilmot. He genuinely seems to give a shit about things – love seeing a player that wears his heart n his sleeve.
I reckon the senior side might give a send-off to Riley Gar-seeya after his brain farts and associated 50-metre penalties late in the game. Just a little overzealous, the young fella – could have cost his team dearly, though.
Great to see Aaron Naughton come to life late in the game. He struggled against Jackson Payne most of the game , so to stand up and take that big clunk late… I reckon he needed it for his own confidence.
And that might just do me for this one. Credit to the Dogs – the Lions came at them in the second half, but they had the composure to stave them off. With the Tigers next up, it should be a belter.
As for the Lions, they’d be really disappointed across the board. Way too many passengers and way too many of those passengers in the front half. With Collingwood on the horizon, I get the feeling we could see quite a few people questioning this team in a week’s time.
Massive thanks to those who support The Mongrel. As always, without you, there is no us. Sincerely – thank you.
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