Melbourne v Western Bulldogs - The Good, Bad and Ugly

The Demons are the talk of the town, and they withstood a spirited first quarter from the Bulldogs to run over the top of them and win by 49 points at Docklands Stadium.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

THE GOOD

The big Melbourne forwards

Jesse Hogan and Tom McDonald are fast becoming the most feared one-two punch in the competition.

They were quiet early, with the Dogs’ pressure through the middle really impacting their ability to get their hands on the ball, but it didn’t take them long to get going. Both guys were able to capitalise on some terrible Bulldog turnovers to get out the back and get easy goals. These guys are good enough to earn their goals, let alone be handed them by poor turnovers and boneheaded decisions by defenders... sigh.

Hogan had the chance to finish with six, but missed on the siren. Still, ten in a fortnight isn’t a bad return for the Hulkster, and he’ll most likely be slotting right into The Mongrel’s rolling All-Australian Team when we update it on Monday.

McDonald took six contested marks today, and just looks a cut above most defenders unlucky enough to play on him. He is a beast, and his 13 contested possessions prove it. His four goals could’ve been more, as his unselfishness was almost too unselfish at times. The Dees will want to re-sign him as soon as possible. He’s a match winner.

Jordan Lewis

Lewis made one poor decision all day, and that came when the game was done and dusted in the last quarter. Prior to that, I was really impressed with how much time he seemed to have whenever he had the ball, and the quality of his decision making.

There has been points over the last 12 months where some have questioned the recruitment of Lewis, but today demonstraed exactly what he can do for the Demons. There were times today when he knew what he was going to do with the ball before it got to him. As defenders bore down on him, he released a handball or short pass through the middle to set a teammate in motion.

It’s funny – Clayton Oliver and Angus Brayshaw both had 10 and 11 more touches than Lewis respectively, but I’m not sure their touches were more important. Lewis had 28 touches and just looked in control every time he had it.

Neville Jetta

The best small defender on the ground owned the first half of footy. He had 13 touches up to half time, and seemed as though he did not lose a one on one contest at all.

Of his 24 touches, 11 were contested, and his intercept mark in the second quarter was perfect. He may have been aided by a kick with a little too much on it, but hey – it isn’t Jetta’s fault that the Bulldogs kicked like mules today.

Matt Suckling

In a game where his team’s skills were sorely lacking, Suckling’s trusty left foot still managed to hit targets and create opportunities.

He had 26 disposals as the designator kicker from off half back, and snuck forward to slot a goal himself as well. When you’ve got a kicker like Suckling on your team, he has to hit targets, and he did that again today, travelling at 85% efficiency.

With a wave of Demons rolling towards him in the third quarter, he put his body on the line and crashed into Christian Petracca on the wing. The Dees still won the ball due to weight of numbers, but Suckling’s actions held the ball up just long enough for the Dogs to get some numbers back.

The gusty inboard kicks.

This is the big one – it is what separates the very good teams from the ordinary ones.

Last night I watched Carlton – a very ordinary team. They had no one with enough guts to look inboard from half back and spent the entire game looking down the line, terrified that they’d turn it over and be scored against on the rebound.

The Demons are not scared of that. They trust their skills, they trust their decision-making, and they trust their teammates.

Jake Melksham was the standout for this in the third quarter. In the space of a couple of minutes, he did it twice. He took the game on and hit Angus Brayshaw with a long bullet over the defence from the half back flank. Brayshaw then found Hogan out the back, and the Hulkster ran into the open goal.

He did it again, this time hitting Bayley Fritsch in the middle, who marked and earned a 50 metre penalty against Caleb Daniel to bag another goal. This was the difference in this game. Forget the big forwards if those up the ground don’t have the guts to trust themselves. Melksham did, and those two goals were direct results of his willingness to back yourself and trust your skills.

There’s a few teams that could learn from the Dees.

Bayley Fritsch

If he were 25 days younger, he'd be a lock for this week's Rising Star nomination. 

Fritsch had a game-high 14 marks, and was supreme in the air. His run and his work ethic allowed him to get on the end of a lot of passes from teammates, and his terrific hands mean that his teammates know that if they put it in his vicinity, he’s a good chance to clunk the mark.

The form of Fritsch (and Charlie Spargo) is apparently keeping Jeff Garlett out of this side, and the way Fritsch is playing, I wouldn’t expect Garlett to leapfrog him any time soon.

The Dogs’ early pressure.

Credit where it’s due. The Dogs worked their backsides off early, and were particularly effective in nullifying the ruckwork of Gawn. Their mids were fantastic early, bodying up their Melbourne counterparts, and applying intense tackling pressure.

Toby McLean was particularly impressive, getting his hands on the pill 12 times in the first, but like a high school romance, it didn’t last. The Melbourne mids lifted their intensity in the second, and the Dogs wilted.

THE BAD

The Bulldogs bigs

We spoke about the Melbourne big forwards earlier, and how good they were can be directly compared to how ordinary the Bulldogs’ big guys were.

I looked at the Bulldogs team at half time, and there we had Tom Boyd doing very little with three touches, Josh Schache with four touches, and Jordan Roughead with four as well. Unless four or five of those touches result in goals, that is nowhere near enough output from big guys playing in pristine conditions under a roof.

Boyd has had his issues, and Schache is a youngster, but you only need to make excuses when things aren’t going well. They’re not going well for the Dogs’ big guys at the moment. Hopefully Aaron Naughton is back next week to hold down a key defensive spot, and Tim English continues to recover from his foot injury – both showed enormous promise.

THE UGLY

Poor kicking skills from the Dogs

I think one sequence highlighted the Bulldogs’ kicking today.

Early in the last quarter, with the margin at about four-five goals or so, the first goal was always going to be important. Caleb Daniel had the ball on the wing with a forward leading toward him. For the season, Daniel has averaged just over 20 touches again, and travelled at 75% efficiency. On this occasion, he was 0%.

Daniel missed the leading forward completely. A standard 25 metre pass drifted sideways and rendered the leading forward redundant. This is bad on many levels. The poor foot skills from a player who should be one of the better deliverers in the team is one thing, but if you’re the forward, why would you bother working your backside off to get open if that’s what is going to be served up to you?

To make matters worse, the Dees were able to grab the misdirected kick, and rebound toward their goal. Max Gawn roved a marking contest, handballed to Jesse Hogan, who slotted a great goal from the forward pocket.

Caleb Daniel had a lot of mates today. The Bullies’ kicking skills left a lot to be desired as a team, and it is probably unfair to highlight his error, but it did lead to the first goal of the last quarter, and left no doubt as to how the game was going to play out. Those kinds of kicks are head-droppers. They’re the moments that a team realise they’re going to lose.

The Jake Lever injury

I have my fingers crossed for him, but those non-impact injuries are always scary. Lever was really settling into his role over the last month, and he’d had a couple of really good games, reminiscent of his efforts at Adelaide.

Selfishly, I was really looking forward to seeing him and Bont go at it. The absence of Lever would be a huge blow, long term.

OTHER BITS

Roarke Smith fumbled a lot for the Bulldogs. I know he’s only a young fell, and is coming back from a significant injury, but that little extra grab at the ball, and failure to be clean creates pressure. Get him in close to work on those hands.

Bontempelli forward is something I’ve been a bit critical of, but it worked early for the Dogs. He looked good, and there was a fair bit of Mongrel in him today. He looked like he wanted to take on the contest. His two handballs in the contest paved the way for the first goal of the game.

I’d like to have a look at Gawn’s hit outs to advantage in the first quarter. I counted one, as the Dogs roved to him beautifully early on. Gawn usually runs at 36.7% for hit outs to advantage. I’m going to guess that was way down in the first. Boyd did well against him by at least providing a contest – it wouldn’t last.

I remember my dad saying “They’ve backed themselves” when watching games when I was a kid. If players betting on games was allowed, the Dogs played like they’d backed themselves to be leading at quarter time.

Great one on one win by Clayton Oliver on Jason Johannisen in the Dogs’ forward line. Perfect use of the body to get rid of JJ, and then cleared the ball himself. He’s just a wonderful contested ball player.

No idea why Dahlhaus didn’t go to a one on one with Bont and Lever right before the incident where Lever was hurt. They were isolated inside forward 50 and he waited and waited, and when he finally released, Jetta was able to cut it off. Why wait? Trust your best player!

Loved the clunking mark from Tom McDonald for the Dees’ first goal. Can I call him TMac? Yeah, he deserves a nickname. He’s good enough to have one.

Melbourne really started to find their feet as the Dogs started to fatigue in the first. All of a sudden they were hitting targets and finding space. The Bulldogs were good early, but the Dees absorbed like a good fighter, and then counterpunched late.

Great read of a miskick by Neal-Bullen to mark among three Bulldogs to kick the first of the second quarter.

I don’t rate Johannisen as a forward. There, I said it.

How good was the run from Charlie Spargo to create space? The kick from Bernie Vince was great, the Spargo run was scintillating and the finish from TMac was… a miss. Deserved better.

I hate protected zone 50 metre penalties. A player running parallel to the kicker makes little difference.

Lachie Hunter’s round the body kick outside 50 to Bont was perfect. Such a difficult kick to execute but he did it brilliantly.

Neville Jetta – take a bow for your effort at half back, refusing to take the ball out of bounds, as basically every other player on the ground would’ve done. He ran hard, kept it in and pushed it forward to Hannan who found Hogan. Sadly, he couldn’t finish with a goal, because I wall ready to make that a feature of this bloody article! Still, Jetta’s effort was incredible.

The Dees back six really adjusted well after Lever went down. Michael Hibberd was fantastic today. His effort in the third quarter to beat two Bulldogs was so impressive.

Biggest clanger of the day? Toby McLean’s handball back into traffic, ten metres out from the Melbourne goal. Petracca made him pay.

Big Max just hates those shots in front about 30 metres out, doesn’t he? He should lead to the boundary a bit more. Sure he might cop the occasional earful from a fan, but he kicks them from there!

Speaking of Max, he had a good last quarter this week but he didn’t have the usual impact around the ground prior to that, aside from his tackling, which was top notch again. Still, the lazy 57 hit outs isn’t a bad day’s work.

Finally, how could I leave Angus Brayshaw and Clayton Oliver out of the good category? There was just too much good going on! They were both wonderful today, and the fact that there was enough other highlights to fill out the good category isn’t a bad thing – it’s a great thing for the Dees. Those two, and Viney, are the engine room, and if you’re a Melbourne fan, you’d be pretty happy with how the machine is running.

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