It took just nine minutes of the first quarter to establish that the Western Bulldogs meant business in this game.
Opening up a four-goal lead, the Dogs looked ‘on’ from the outset, hitting their targets with precision, running harder than their opponents, and tackling harder on the rare occasions they weren’t controlling the footy. With Jamarra Ugle-Hagan bursting out of the blocks to snag four first-quarter goals, it was looking like it could get very messy and I am sure Dogs fans hoped it would.
In one of the tightest races to September we’ve seen in a long while, what we witnessed at Marvel Stadium was a contender versus a pretender. It may hurt Tiger fans to read those words, but watching this game without yellow and black glasses, you’d be hard-pressed to believe that Richmond can make a run at the eight and do something meaningful in the finals.
The Dogs, however… now, when they play this type of footy, you have to wonder who are capable of stopping them, right?
Marcus Bontempelli was exquisite, Libba was working the inside, and Liam Jones returned to the defence to control the back half. Things clicked for the Dogs and whilst the Tigers got better in the second quarter (it’s not like things could have got any worse), it was a matter of it all being too little, too late.
The game was over by quarter-time, with the Dogs slotted nine goals to two, walking into the huddle with a 44-point lead. They kicked ten goals to the Tigers’ eight from that point, ending up comfortable 55-point winners.
Plenty of things to cover about both sides from this one. Let’s jump right on into The Mongrel’s Big Questions.
WAS THAT FIRST QUARTER ‘PREMIERSHIP FOOTBALL’?
The First-Quarter Slaughter… copyright The Mongrel Punt, 2023
I’m sure there were a few watching it and thinking the Dogs can win the flag with this type of play.
Were you one of them?
The nine-goal blast from the Dogs sent a message to the big boys – this team’s best is as good as anything any team in the league can dish up.
There are a few things to consider when we watch the way the Dogs dismantled the Tigers in the opening stanza.
1 – Richmond were missing Cotchin, Martin, and Grimes. That’s a heap of experience from the team that played last week.
2 – Richmond were coming off a five-day break, so the legs may have been a little heavy.
3 – The game was at Marvel, where Richmond had not won in their last six attempts.
4 – Richmond were still in the hunt for the top eight, so disregard the first three points and wonder how on Earth the Dogs were able to completely blow them off the park with apparent ease, putting the game out of reach after 30 minutes of footy.
The Dogs’ midfielders made the Tigers look like they were standing still, bursting out of the centre with the footy on centre breaks, and either forcing the Tigers out the back, or wrapping them up for repeat stoppages with tenacious tackling.
It was a clinic.
And yes, it was just about as good as any team has conjured against quality opposition all season.
Are the Dogs for real?
After watching that, I’m leaning toward YES. And with the Hawks and Eagles over the next two weeks, they should be cherry ripe to hit September with a head of steam.
IS THERE ANYTHING MARCUS BONTEMPELLI CANNOT DO?
Underwater bike riding, maybe? I don’t know if he’s tried. Make my daughter eat broccoli? Tough ask.
On a footy field, however, I am not sure there is. He did it all in this one – won the hard footy, picked up clearances, ran with a purpose, pushed forward and clunked marks, and tackled like a demon.
But you know what? It wasn’t any of those things that impressed me most. Nope, it was his ability to take the ball cleanly every time it came into his vicinity. Yes, it was a dry night under the roof at Marvel, but in watching the game, pressure made a heap of players double-grab at the footy – Bont was not amongst them. Whilst they fumbled and tried to get the footy under control, his pick-ups, his tapping the footy to his own advantage, and his understanding of when to grab the pill and how to manoeuvre himself out of trouble were head and shoulders above everyone else on the park. He was hitting the footy at speed in traffic, taking it while he took contact, and dishing off to a teammate in space. It was an absolute joy to watch from a player who now seems to be at the peak of his powers.
That he went forward in the third quarter and almost single-handedly snuffed out any hopes of Richmond working back into the contest, with three telling goals was like the icing on the cake.
Sure, the commentators spoke about the potential for a Brownlow Medal, and given he is playing better footy than in 2021 when he finished runner-up to Ollie Wines (and hasn’t he fallen off a cliff….), they may very well be spot on.
Is this the year of The Bont? Already a league MVP as voted by his peers, and a recipient of the AFL Coaches Association Champion Player of the Year Award, this year might just be the one that Bont adds Charlie to his trophy cabinet.
If anyone else grabs the three votes in this game, send the umps to Specsavers.
WITH THE DOGS FORWARD LINE SO DOMINANT, COULD NOAH BALTA STILL GET VOTES?
Geez, he was good.
I suppose some will look at Aaron Naughton kicking three and wonder whether you can justify handing him votes given that, but I am not sure Naughton kicked any of his goals when directly matched up on Balta. I am pretty sure they came against Nathan Broad.
How much could this margin have blown out had the Tigers not had Balta in defence? I know the Dogs failed to put their foot on the throat of Richmond in the last quarter, but a 100+ point win would have been on the cards had the burly Tigers defender not been part of their defence.
In the second half, Balta simply refused to concede front spot to Naughton, forcing him to play from behind and often leaving him in trailing behind as he attacked the contest and made intercept after intercept.
I have been critical of Balta at times in 2023 – I have watched him do something great, only to undo it in the very next instance by doing something stupid, but there was nothing stupid about his game in this one. He was hard at it, displayed confidence in his own ability by backing himself to win in the air, and his follow up work at ground level was very solid, as well.
In terms of votes… I am not sure he squeezes in given the size of the margin. The Dogs had plenty of winners all over the park, but I am not sure the Tigers had too many. Noah Balta was one of them, though – he has come along beautifully this season and I reckon this may have been his most complete game of the year.
OR WOULD YOU GIVE THEM TO LIAM JONES?
There was a passage of play in the third quarter where Liam Jones worked all the way up to half-forward to claim an intercept mark – one of his ten intercepts for the game. He pumped the ball back inside 50, but with the weight of numbers giving the Tigers the advantage, the ball came back out and Jones found himself in no man’s land, between the kicker and the target on the wing.
Whilst the commentators continued talking about Marcus Bontempelli… and I understand why they were, Jones worked his tail off to get back and spoil the footy out of bounds, making big defensive plays back to back for the Dogs. It was one of his ten one-percenters for the game, notching himself a double-double in his return game.
Whilst I am sure the usual suspects in the media will cover Bont and Libba, and Naughton and Jamarra, spare a thought for Jones, who was absolutely crushed in the media a couple of years ago after opting to retire from the game. He did no media and made no statements. He just went about his business and played in Queensland until the AFL came knocking again.
Upon his return to the Dogs, I immediately thought that his acquisition and not that of Rory Lobb would be the one to make a huge difference this season. An injury may have curtailed his return, but performances like this remind people exactly why his presence could be vital in September.
Jones has the capacity to hold his own in a contest with the AFL’s big forwards, or zone off and aid his teammates as an interceptor. He did both in this game, punishing any poor kick inside 50, particularly in the first half as the Dogs set up their win.
The Dogs have been forced to rely on Alex Keath and Josh Bruce to play the key positions as Jones recovered, but with him now back in the mix, the Dogs have this contest-killing, intercepting big man that can put himself in the most dangerous spot on the field and cover his own man whilst making those around him breathe a little easier when it comes to their own matchups.
Jones may not be the best recruit of the home and away season, but with the Dogs looking highly likely to be part of September action, he may yet become the most pivotal recruit when it matters most.
HOW LONG UNTIL JAMARRA PLAYS FOUR QUARTERS AND THE REAL ‘BUDDY’ COMPARISONS START?
Let’s face it – he should have kicked seven in this one, with two very gettable shots missing in the second half, one of them seeming to hold up in a non-existent breeze and drop straight down onto the goal line contest.
Jamarra is a unique matchup. He is great in the air, quick on the deck, and has a bit of that old-school full-forward’s nous when it comes to knowing where the big sticks are. In a lot of ways, he is as natural a forward as Aaron Naughton is not. They’re like the Inside 50 odd-couple.
Ufgle-Hagan finished this game with five snags and had 12 score involvements, as well, as he continued to work high up the ground to remain involved.
Will the Buddy comparisons come? They were trotted out not long after he was drafted, but since then, things have simmered. However, with Jamarra now looking increasingly dangerous in front of goal, I am positive someone like Kane Cornes will see headlines in the comparison and start making them again.
If this bloke can start playing four quarters and end up with a few bags and I don’t think this result is too far away – he is going to make the jump to hyperspace from kid with a bucket-load of talent to genuine superstar of the game.
WHAT IS GOING ON WITH NOAH CUMBERLAND?
Not a lot, seemingly.
Noah looks like a player desperate to impress someone. You know when you’re watching someone try too hard, right? It feels like he has somehow let the club down this season and he is desperate to try to make amends, yet, every time he attempts something, it seems to backfire.
He is the Wyle E Coyote of the AFL at the moment, with his plans consistently blowing up in his face… I seriously hope he doesn’t try strapping a rocket to himself to get more pace, or catch a road runner – it won’t end well.
With eight turnovers from 13 touches, and one goal from four shots, Cumberland is doing the hard part – he is finding the footy – but it seems as though he is trying to do too much. It looks like he is saying “See, Coach McQualter… I can play… I can play… I can… oh no, I screwed up again”.
A good, hard preseason and a large amount of dedication from Cumberland should see him improve out of sight next year, but from now until the end of the season, I would be tempted to pull him aside, tell him to go out there and play his natural game, and let me worry about the consequences.
We’ve seen what he can’t do. It’d be good to see what he can.
HOW DID HE GET OUT OF THAT?
You hear the commentators ask this question about Tom Liberatore and how he manages to get an arm free, or a boot to the footy after looking as though he has been well and truly wrapped up in a tackle.
The answer is quite simple.
Libba doesn’t settle.
When you watch as much footy as I do, which borders on an unhealthy obsession, you notice things that some players do that everyone else just doesn’t. And Libba does this all the damn time.
The tacklers come and they wrap him up – two arms around him and he doesn’t go to the ground. He continues to stand. They might usually be tempted to sling him, but the current interpretation means they’re shitscared to do so, and this works in Libba’s favour. That, and the fact he is as strong as an ox.
So, they hold him there and wait for the whistle. Other players would accept their fate and wait for the whistle, as well.
Not Libba. As I said, he doesn’t settle. He continues to fight through the tackle. He tests them – how long can you hold me? How good are you? He fights and fights, he gets an arm free, and he releases the damn footy in a situation where most other players would be content with a stoppage.
I have no idea why other players don’t do this. It takes a heap of physical strength, and Libba has plenty of that, but it also takes a heap of desire to want to fight it out until the whistle. There should be a heap of players doing exactly what Libba does.
But there’s not.
And that’s what makes Libba special.
WANNA SEE AN OVERREACTION?
Head on over to one of the social media platforms and have a read. There is one in particular where the hive-mind takes over and any comments contrary to what quickly becomes the official line get downvoted into oblivion.
During the game, a bloke in the crowd patted Marlion Pickett on the shoulder a couple of times when he was on the boundary line. It wasn’t all that friendly, but neither was it violent or threatening. Pickett turned to him, probably told him to simmer the hell down, and knocked a drink out of his hand before going about his business, but on this social media platform, people wanted the bloke in the crowd banned for life.
Seriously… banned for life.
That’s what the hive-mind decided.
Look, I don’t want supporters reaching out and touching players at all, either – it’s wrong and we all know it. However, some segments of AFL fandom seem to be inhabited by those who sleep with the lights on. A lifetime ban for touching the player?
My guess is some of these people have never been touched at all… and maybe for a good reason.
Whilst security had a word with the bloke in the crowd, that’s about as far as it should go. At worst, he should have been booted from this game – i would be on board with this outcome, but a lifetime ban?
Lovely goal by Shai Bolton in the third quarter, but I am wondering why he was not in the midfield for the majority of the game. Look at the Richmond mids – Taranto, Hopper, Prestia, Graham… they’re plodders. Bolton was a point of difference, but I feel he was used sparingly. He had 17 centre bounce attendances out of 34. I would have had him in there for as many as possible.
A couple of excellent back-arching runs from Adam Treloar through the guts. When he finds space and drops the hammer, as long as the next disposal is an easy one, he can be a real weapon.
Not sure Richmond should persist with Ivan Soldo. I am just not a fan of his plodding around out there. Not that Nank did a heap, either, but Soldo goes up and down on the one spot and was easily covered by Liam Jones when he rested forward.
Not the greatest outing from Tim Taranto this week, but he had plenty of mates. Lots of dinky, nothing-kicks from him this week.
The head knock of Jacob Hopper… hmmm, I wonder whether Docs are being particularly stringent on these matters this week in the wake of the Port Adelaide fine? Hopper’s jolt to the head was – how do I say this – not overly impactful? It was impact on the jaw, and whilst I am sure it hurt, I reckon my son headbutts me that hard every second night when he sneaks into our bed. He’s got a pretty big head.
It got me to thinking – how far are you willing to go to win a flag? Would you be willing to take someone high or hit them with a dangerous tackle to rule them out for the game if you know they won’t be able to come back on if they don’t pass a concussion test? Are players, teams, and clubs that ruthless?
If you think about it, Hopper sat that bench for three quarters – if that was a Grand Final and you were facing the Dogs, would you clean Bont up if you had the chance, knowing you’ll be suspended later, but rule him out of the game on the biggest day of the year? I think I am an asshole… because I would.
Anyway, I don’t want to see it happen, but premierships don’t come around that often. Someone may fancy themselves as a modern-day Mark Yeats. I wouldn’t want to be the bloke playing the part of the modern Dermott Brereton.
Two contested marks to Caleb Daniel in this one – what an aerial display! The little man did some really nice things and finished with a couple of goals, but got a little lazy with his disposals – a little cute, perhaps – in the second quarter.
It was interesting to watch the Weightman v Rioli matchup. Even before he left the ground, the Tigers got no run from Rioli in the first quarter and I thought Weightman had the better of him. That changed after Rioli came back, as he provided some gutbusting runs out of defence, but it was too little, too late for the Tigers.
Richmond’s last seven games at Marvel have resulted in no wins, one draw, and six losses. Get your acts together, people – this is the dumbest curse in the game.
And that might just about do me.
The Dogs are now looking the goods. They get the Hawks next week, followed by the Eagles, before taking on the Cats to finish off the season. They’ll win at least two of them, and will be safe in the eight.
Meanwhile, the Tigers now find themselves a full game out of the eight with teams able to put some distance between them and the Punt Road boys. They get the Saints next week, followed by the Roos, and the Power. They’d have to win them all and hope some results fall their way.
I don’t like their chances, now.
As always massive thanks to those who are supporting this work. Got some nice messages during the week from some players, so it is good to know that they appreciate us offering something a little different. One bought a membership “for his mum”. Yes mate… for your mum – of course it was. Haha.
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