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The Two Halves - Western Bulldogs v Sydney

The Dogs were wearing Thor-inspired guernseys, and it was a superhero performance from their stars as they were able to withhold a late Sydney surge and power on to victory. Buddy was kept quiet by Easton Wood, as the Dogs remained composed when in attack mode. A goalless second quarter from the Swans allowed the Dogs to take a 33-point lead into the half but to Sydney’s credit, they pestered and forced themselves back into the game. A few costly misses at the end, and a top display from the team out west in the dying stages put the result beyond the team from the harbor city.

First half:

The Dogs were relentless in their ball movement and played in a hurry but remained composed. Their run through the middle in the first term was excellent as they found short passes up the ground and when they took a mark, quickly turned to find the next option.

In saying that, the Swans defence were always willing to attack the contest when possible, spoiling many times within the first quarter after the Dogs 19 inside 50s. Allir Allir and Jake Lloyd are stars and will improve together with the experienced heads of Heath Grundy and Jarrod McVeigh supporting them.

Precision kicking was a staple all throughout the game, but none more so that in the first quarter. The Dogs did this magnificently, lowering their eyes with short, bullet passes. Sydney did so on occasion too, but the Dogs were able to manufacture goals as a result of hitting targets by foot.

Isaac Heeney could yet have taken Mark of the Year early in the season again. The 2018 MOTY winner, Heeney leapt at the right time to ride the shoulders of Bailey Williams and stick the grab. The elevation was timed to perfection and he managed to kick the first goal of the game as a result.

Ed Richards had a great first half, and his willingness to challenge every contest was highlighted a couple of times. In the seventh minute of the game, he got the ball on the wing, took a bounce before giving it off but it was his running into the forward 50 still that allowed him, a few possessions later to receive a free kick in front of goal, which he converted. Again, two minutes later, on the half forward flank, Richards dropped a mark but shielded his opponent to scoop up that ball cleanly, run a short distance before hitting up Tory Dickson lace out.

The Swans gave up, or almost gave up a lot of goals in the second quarter. Harry Cunningham missed a target from a kick in which was intercepted by the outstretched hand of the man minding the mark. Fortunately, the Swans scrambled to get it away and into their 50. Later, Lewis Melican gave away an ugly free against Josh Schache; a deliberate shove as the ball was travelling to the contest. A bit of panic must’ve set in, with Melican having no eyes for the ball when it in the act – it was a free any day of the week. To make matters worse, Schache converted nicely.

Second half:

The Swans were still in a manic state, and Sam Reid epitomized this the most. Just minutes earlier, he’d snagged himself a goal, but after an uncontested mark 15m out the decision to handball over the top was met with a lot of fumbling as Dogs players swooped in and thwarted them. In the end, Blakey was able to get his foot to the ball for a minor score, but it really should’ve been a Reid goal - even if he isn’t the best set shot, it would’ve been difficult to miss that one.

Lance Franklin only had two disposals to the start of the fourth quarter but stepped up in that final term when the Swans needed the momentum. The Swans needed a spark, and they needed Buddy to provide it. Beaten by Easton Wood for majority of the game, Buddy knew what was needed in a last gasp effort. His rundown tackle on an unaware Sam Lloyd was the intensity that we love seeing from him.

He too played a team game when he passed to Reid when usually, Buddy would go back for any set shot. Had an opportunity to really make things interesting as the scores could’ve been levelled, but he took too long to get set in taking his shot, was called to play on, and he hit the post.

With the Swans knowing they had to roll the dice and go on an all-out attack to have a chance in the last, they had several players flying for the same ball, and the Dogs were forced to contest in the air with just as many to bring it to ground.

On one occasion, it allowed Reid, who dropped a mark overhead and fumbled, to somewhat gather the loose ball and find enough room to release a handball over the top to Heeney who kicked truly from inside the goal square. The game was heating up, and the Dogs went man-for-man to try to contain the Sydney run, taking them out of the system that got them the lead in the first place. It hurt them in this instance, especially when it means a guy like Heeney gets a chance in one-on-ones.

For all the plaudits the Dogs received for their first half delivery in the first half, Sydney’s pressure after half time caused the Dogs’ inside 50 delivery to suffer greatly; it was the complete opposite of their composed, poised delivery earlier in the game. Had they have taken a few extra seconds to line themselves up, look for targets, and allow players to get back into position, it would have been much cleaner and the Swans possibly wouldn’t have been able to get themselves back into the contest.

A glaring question presented late in the game - why would you leave Buddy alone with nine minutes to go, and when there’s 11 points in it? It would be one the Bulldog faithful would be asking had Sydney reeled them in. Luckily, winning wallpapers over cracks such as that.

While the 6-6-6 rule is brought in to stop loose men going back into either end, the Swans played defensively to a full extent in the final quarter. Heath Grundy played the goalkeeper role whenever the Bulldogs had a quick kick toward goal, and cut off their desperate attempts to score. Sydney spread well out of defense and beat the Bulldogs in the first half of the fourth quarter.

The Swans created chances late through Franklin and Zac Jones but failed to convert. They appeared almost a little too rushed, and trying to kick it along the ground and out of mid-air didn’t help their cause when calm, cool heads were required.

The Dogs’ last four minutes were probably the best they’ve played in a long time. With the margin reduced to just four points, it was the superstars of the Dogs that stepped up to seal the game for the Dogs.

Marcus Bontempelli stood up in the last half alone and with under four minutes to play his goal out the back completely swung momentum back to the red, white and blue, and was the catalyst for the renewed Bulldog attack. You could see what it meant to the team to have their superstar step up when he was required. Bont was called upon, and Bont responded - a classic response by the Dogs in a game they almost let slip.

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Full time:

Caleb Daniel is fast approaching becoming a key component of the Bulldogs lineup, however isn’t talked about over the likes of the dynamic midfield rotations the Dogs use. Daniel is so smart when he has the ball in his hand. It may appear like he’s flustered but his natural running style is short steps, and his small frame allows him to burst suddenly from a contest. The kick in he took five minutes into the second term was special as he sidestepped two Swans forwards before a precise kick to Williams at half back. He continuously puts his body on the line which is always a delight to watch, and an inspiration to his teammates.

How good was it seeing corridor movement, especially when it’s done in quick succession end-to-end? The spread from both these clubs provided some thrilling footy, and it created a string of chances both ways. A full forward leading up is a sight to behold these days and it’ll go a long way to seeing, hopefully, more bags of goals. Too many times, the ball gets held up on the wings as they go inboard and the game can become stagnant, but with a more open forward line, the temptation to go long and direct must be tantalizing.

Clever usage of the ball was what won the Dogs this game. They didn’t rush, but they kept the ball moving when they had possession. The handball linkage was spot on. The kick ins were effective down the middle and the Dogs turned quickly to see where their next target was.

In the second, Sam Lloyd’s chase was excellent as he lofted a kick off the ground to Aaron Naughton who then found Marcus Bontempelli in the forward arc. The game plan of the Dogs worked, making decisions on the move, and was a big reason they were able to run away like they did early. When Sydney were on the verge of wresting control of the game, the Dogs were able to fire back with quick replies, such as the reply from Sam Lloyd in the third term.

When the Swans were on the back foot, it seemed that there were too many players in their forward 50. It looked clustered and when a player has it on the wing and looks up to see as many as five leads all heading in the same direction, you wonder where to go or who to pick out – not only were they leading into each other’s space, they were dragging additional defenders into the area as well – a bit of work on those forward structures is required.

The Dogs did the exact opposite, finding loose players in their forward 50 by clearing out and using well-drilled leading patterns.

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The Bont is ready to take the mantle of their number one midfield spot and has good support in Jack Macrae and Lachie Hunter. He continuously worked hard and kept a clear head under pressure. With Tom Liberatore back too, the Dogs have good rotations and are a cohort of guaranteed ball-winners.

Aaron Naughton has played in defense his entire short career aside from a very brief dalliance up forward late last year, but Luke Beveridge’s love for versatility sees Naughton up forward to start 2019. If he performs like he did tonight, Beveridge deserves plaudits. Naughton looks like a ready-made forward, his height and leap at the ball, combined with the ability take contact without losing balance is what the Bulldogs are looking for right now. He finished with three goals (a career high) with five marks inside 50.

The ruck battle was intriguing all night and the Bulldogs may have found a ruckman who can hopefully stick in that role, in Tim English. Their versatility in that department lately has hurt them in recent seasons, but English looks good. He had 19 hit outs tonight and ran onto the ball and pressed well, also having seven tackles. Callum Sinclair had a monster game with 44 hit outs and six marks and was, for the most part, all over English, pushing him out of the way of contesting ruck contests to give Sydney some glimmers of clearances, but he was unable to take the ball cleanly out of the ruck which should’ve been a tactic the Swans wanted to exploit against the slightly-built English.

It’s quite concerning to see Sydney coach John Longmire perhaps slow to respond to the Dogs pressure, especially in the first quarter. Heeney started forward, but he and Mills could’ve come into the midfield sooner to give the Swans a bit of leg speed. They are both good users of the ball and can break from a stoppage. When there were as many inside 50s as there were for the Dogs, Longmire really needed to address that from the centre, and his two young stars were the answer to the question he was presented with.

The club debutants were a delight to watch in their first outings, whether that be new or experienced AFL players. For the Swans, Nick Blakey and Ryan Clarke remained in the game with Blakey not giving up even though he dropped a few marks. He finished with 10 disposals and kicked his first goal in the third quarter. Ex-Kangaroo Clarke had 17 disposals at 82% efficiency.

For the Dogs, ex-Tiger Sam Lloyd knows Sydney well and had 19 touches as he played all around the ground and kicked two goals in his debut for the red, white and blue. Ex-Hawk Taylor Duryea was another fine contributor on the night collecting 15 possessions, six of which were intercepts - he too scored a goal. Bailey Smith wins on mullet alone but had eight disposals and gave away a free when the Bulldogs were looking to press late in the game.

A great, unexpected win for the Dogs, and the kind of win that will imbue the club with hope for the remainder of the season. For the Swans; they’ve suffered from slow starts in recent memory, and if they can’t reverse the SCG trend of last season against Adelaide next week, the heat will be on them.

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