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Western Bulldogs Mow Down Kangaroos On Good Friday

Written by Josh Lloyd (@redrock_bball) on 16 April 2017

History was made. Footy made its debut on Good Friday, and it isn’t going anywhere. North Melbourne has been campaigning for this marquee fixture for close to 25 years, and with their partner, the Western Bulldogs, they are well on their way to making it a permanent part of the AFL landscape. Although, at half-time social media was alight lampooning the quality of the scrappy affair, in which just six goals were kicked. But, in the second half, the intensity and skill level was ratcheted up numerous notches, and the Bulldogs survived a scare after a furious comeback to get the four points and move to 3-1 for the season with a three-point victory.

After two horrendous starts in the past two rounds, the Bulldogs got on the board first, but after two first quarter snags, it took until the second half for them to register another major. It didn’t help that Tom Boyd was lost for the game about ten minutes into the first quarter due to a concussion after a collision with Scott Thompson, leaving the Bulldogs without a second ruckman and one rotation down for the game. To compound matters, Tom Campbell also left the ground in the second quarter with an ankle injury, and the Dogs entered the break with the distinct chance of not having a ruckman for the second half. Campbell was able to play on, and did so manfully and was a key factor in the Dogs’ turnaround, although his status for Round 5 is still up in the air. Remember, an ankle injury is what kept him out of the beginning of the season. Campbell had 37 hitouts and the only other Dog to register one was Boyd, who had two. TC also had six tackles and was perfect with his disposals, a change from last week's, shall we say, adventurous attempts.

A five-goal burst in the third quarter put the Bulldogs in front just before three-quarter time, and after that, the lead went back and forth between the two combatants. Despite looking like the Dogs had the game in the bag, a late Jack Ziebell goal got the Roos back to within four points, and the Bulldogs were forced to endure watching a Lindsay Thomas shot for goal with under ten seconds to go in the game float left, to give them the narrow victory.

Injury Woes Again

With Jordan Roughead, Dale Morris, and Tory Dickson all out with long-term injuries, the Bulldogs add Travis Cloke to the list as the 250-gamer will miss the next 4-6 weeks after a late hit by North Melbourne captain Jack Ziebell. Cloke went to hospital post-game and he was diagnosed with broken ribs, which looked fairly obvious as he struggled from the ground. It will be interesting to see if Ziebell is forced to have a holiday as he has one of the worst disciplinary records in the AFL and made no attempt to spoil Cloke's kick, instead, charging straight into his body and catching him flush in the ribcage. Boyd and Campbell are both in doubt as well, while Stewart Crameri lasted just a half in his return to VFL football. It could mean we see Tim English in line to make his AFL debut Saturday against Brisbane at Etihad Stadium.

New Players Are Old Stars

For the first time in 2017, the Bulldogs saw two premiership heroes, Josh Dunkley and Clay Smith, running around in the jumper, and both players did enough to hold their spot in the team. Dunkley was solid, kicking an easy goal square goal in the third quarter and taking two marks inside forward 50. He was also the recipient of a controversial free kick at the end of the third quarter due to the horrendous third man up rule. Regardless of whether the rule was officiated correctly, which it apparently was, the rule is a disaster, and it was something that never needed to be brought in. It, along with the horrendous contact below the knees rule, need to go and are antithetical to the AFL wanting to improve the game.

As for Clay, he had perhaps the best eight possession, scoreless game of all time. Smith laid 15 tackles, or more than Caleb Daniel and Shane Biggs had combined in the first three rounds. Smith’s pressure around the ball resulted in numerous turnovers and gave Jake Stringer the goal that Bulldogs’ back in front for the final time. His manic pressure has not waned, and he will remain in the team.

Best On Ground

It couldn’t go to anyone other than Luke Dahlhaus, although Marcus Bontempelli wasn’t too far away, with his strong marking and creative ball use. Dahlhaus had a team-high 32 disposals, and he kicked two second half goals to go with six tackles and four clearances. He also had 15 contested possessions, another team-high. Dahlhaus has transformed himself from a goal sneak to a legitimate elite AFL midfielder, - a path that players like Toby McLean and Dunkley would like to follow.

What Went Wrong

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a worse 17 disposal half than what Matt Suckling dished up in the first half. In the space of about ten minutes, Suckling was caught twice holding the ball (side note, the Bulldogs received exactly zero holding the ball free kicks for the game despite laying 81 tackles), turned it over heading inside forward 50 on a shank kick, overrun an easy ball on the wing and just looked insipid and uncommitted. But to his credit (and I don’t think he is in the Bulldogs’ best 22), Suckling roared back in the second half, kicking a bizarre 45-meter banana kick from directly in front to score his first goal and the first of five unasnwered for the Dogs, and then kicked the sealer, with the rare contested mark inside forward 50. By rare, I mean rare. Suckling took three contested marks all of last season. I often say, if Suckling isn’t converting at over 80 percent, he has no use in the team, and he went at 69 percent for his 26 disposals in as bad a good game as you will see.

Lin Jong has some of the worst peripheral vision in the team. Jong does a mountain of work in the contest and in laying tackles (usually - he had just one Friday), but when he is streaming through the centre, it is a 50-50 proposition as to whether he will find the open player or deliver into a hive of opponents. He showcased both Friday, and if the Dogs are looking to bring Daniel or even someone like Bailey Williams or Bailey Dale back in, Jong’s place could be in jeopardy.

Toby’s Best

Was this Toby McLean’s best game for the club? It must be close. McLean had 27 disposals, including nine in the opening term and showed off tremendous hand skills in tight, being a key link man in many attacking chains of football. He didn’t trouble the scorers, but he played a more midfield role and had seven score involvements during the game. It was the most disposals he has had in an AFL game.

Quick Hits

  • Although Ben Brown kicked four goals, Fletcher Roberts was still outstanding. Brown got two cheapies out the back and Roberts, once again led the game with nine one-percenters. He is developing into a key defender the Dogs’ truly need with Joel Hamling in Fremantle and Dale Morris resting at home.
  • Tom Liberatore had just 14 disposals, but laid nine tackles and kicked a key goal, getting on the end of a Travis Cloke kick to slot one in the fourth. His role is very different this season, with Lin Jong taking a lot more of the centre square duties, but Libba is doing everything he needs to in a much more defensive role.
  • Jack Macrae was superb, but I only really noticed just how good he was by watching the game a second time. He is cool with the ball, takes a quick step backwards in order to survey the landscape of what is available to him, and almost invariably finds the right option. He was hard (seven tackles, team-high four clearances) and went at 96 percent, meaning just one of his 23 disposals was deemed ineffective. His impact is underrated, game to game. He also kicked a goal, a complete rarity.

Next Week

The Bulldogs take on the Brisbane Lions at Etihad Stadium on Saturday to celebrate Bob Murphy’s 300th game. They will definitely be without Cloke, and both Boyd and Campbell could struggle to come up. As I mentioned, Lin Jong is not a guarantee to hold his place. Daniel, Dale, Williams and Lukas Webb each played well in Footscray’s first game of the season and rookie Patrick Lipinski booted four goals, and he could be called upon to replace Cloke, particularly since Crameri appears unlikely to be ready.

Final Scores





North Melbourne




Western Bulldogs




Goals: Stringer 2, Dahlhaus 2, Suckling 2, Cloke, Bontempelli, Murphy, Liberatore, Dunkley, Macrae.