Tonight, the Western Bulldogs will be out to break a couple of streaks against Geelong as they visit Simonds Stadium to tackle the Cats in what should be another thrilling Friday night showdown. The Dogs will enter in tonight's game as the favourites, but history will say that their backs are against the wall.
The Bulldogs have lost the past 10 games against the Cats, which dates back to the Finals Series of 2009, but more astoundingly is that the Bulldogs' record at Geelong. They have not won a match at Kardinia Park since round 16, 2003, which was the year the Bulldogs finished the season as the wooden spooners. Since that game in 2003, the Dogs have visited Geelong seven times, and have lost each encounter.
But tonight, the Bulldogs have a good chance to bust both of these streaks. After starting the year winning the first five games of the season, the wheels have looked like beginning to fall off at Geelong. After losing games against Collingwood and Gold Coast - games they probably should've won on paper - they were absolutely appalling against Essendon. Despite only falling to the Bombers, much has been talked about the Cats' lack of pressure, only recording 13 tackles up to half-time and finishing the night with 40 tackles, as opposed to Essendon's 81 tackles. Geelong coach Chris Scott was absolutely furious about his side's inept tackling display on Saturday night, and at home, I expect them to be fired up against the reigning premiers, who will be up and about themselves and they will not be looking to drop three games in the span of four weeks.
But to do that against the Cats tonight, they need to address their slow starts and horrendous kicking for goal. They have lost every first quarter this year since round one, last week's first quarter against West Coast proved to be the difference in the end, as the Eagles piled on four goals to one, as the Dogs found themselves playing catch-up footy for the rest of the evening, and despite the last-quarter fightback we've seen over the past month and a bit, the Dogs were unable to find a way to take the lead when it mattered the most.
Which leads me to the next point, which is the club's atrocious kicking for goal. As it stands, the Western Bulldogs are the least efficient team in front of goals, sitting last in the AFL for goal-kicking with 98.120, with every game, except the opening two rounds, has seen the Dogs kick more points than goals, and it has cost them victories against sides that will be up there come September. Geelong on the other hand, are second for goal-kicking accuracy, slotting 133.85 so far this year.
A loss for the eighth-placed Bulldogs could potentially see them out of the eight at the conclusion of round nine, but a win is desperately needed to keep them in contention with a top four spot. The fifth-placed Geelong also are in danger of slipping away from the top four if the Dogs hand them their fourth-consecutive loss tonight.
IN: Dale Morris, Robert Murphy, Travis Cloke, Mitch Wallis, Tory Dickson
OUT: Tom Liberatore, Zaine Cordy, Fletcher Roberts, Toby McLean (All Omitted), Matthew Boyd (Shoulder)
B: Dale Morris, Marcus Adams, Jason Johannisen
HB: Robert Murphy, Easton Wood, Bailey Williams
C: Lachie Hunter, Luke Dahlhaus, Jack Macrae
HF: Caleb Daniel, Travis Cloke, Clay Smith
F: Lin Jong, Jack Redpath, Liam Picken
FOL: Tom Boyd, Marcus Bontempelli, Mitch Wallis
INT: Matthew Suckling, Lukas Webb, Tory Dickson, Bailey Dale
EMG: Toby McLean, Jordan Roughead, Fletcher Roberts
Following their eight-point loss to West Coast, coach Luke Beveridge has swung the axe at four players, the most notable of the bunch being 2014 Charlie Sutton Medallist Tom Liberatore, and given how Beveridge is with good players when they're out of form, this omission doesn't come as a shock. After starting the year so well, Liberatore's form has dropped off badly in the last couple of weeks, to the point that he could only manage eight disposals last week. I think I can speak for everyone when I know he can play much better footy than eight disposals. Also omitted include key defensive pair Zaine Cordy and Fletcher Roberts as well as Toby McLean, whilst Matthew Boyd will miss with a shoulder injury.
But the list of players coming into the side tonight is enough to make any Bulldogs fan salivate. Captain Robert Murphy will come back into the team after the club decided not to take him up to Perth last Friday night, whilst another veteran in Dale Morris will play his first game since round one, when he fractured his leg. Travis Cloke also comes back into the team after his recovery from broken ribs back in round four, whilst Tory Dickson and Mitch Wallis will play their first games of 2017. Dickson comes into the team after missing the start of the year with groin issues and Wallis will make his first appearance since round 18, 2016 - the night he horrifically broke his leg.
IN: Scott Selwood, Lachie Henderson
OUT: Rhys Stanley (Knee), George Horlin-Smith (Omitted)
B: Tom Stewart, Tom Lonergan, Zach Tuohy
HB: Jake Kolodjashnij, Lachie Henderson, Andrew Mackie
C: Mark Blicavs, Joel Selwood, Cameron Guthrie
HF: James Parsons, Harry Taylor, Steven Motlop
F: Daniel Menzel, Tom Hawkins, Nakia Cockatoo
FOL: Zac Smith, Patrick Dangerfield, Scott Selwood
INT: Jed Bews, Mitch Duncan, Sam Menegola, Mark O'Connor
EMG: George Horlin-Smith, Jordan Murdoch, Tom Ruggles
The Cats have made two very important ins, naming Lachie Henderson and Scott Selwood into the team tonight, replacing George Horlin-Smith and the injured Rhys Stanley, who did kick a career-best five when the two teams last met. Henderson has been a crucial part of the Cats' defensive structures and has been sorely missed the last two weeks with injured ribs. Scott Selwood would provide another handy midfield option in a Geelong midfield that is dominated by the 'Dangerwood' combination that is Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood.
Are the Cats too reliant on this pair? Geelong average 388 disposals a game, with both Selwood and Dangerfield combining to average 57 possessions a game. Out of the other midfielders in the team, only Mitch Duncan (28 disposals per game) and Sam Menegola (24 disposals per game) average more than 20 disposals. Compare that to the reigning premiers, they have half a dozen players who predominantly play midfield and average 20 disposals or more.
Recent History (Past 10 Meetings)
Round 19, 2016 - Simonds Stadium: Geelong 16.7.103 def Western Bulldogs 11.12.78
Round 13, 2016 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 5.13.43 def by Geelong 16.4.100
Round 16, 2015 - Simonds Stadium: Geelong 10.12.72 def Western Bulldogs 9.10.64
Round 16, 2014 - Simonds Stadium: Geelong 10.9.69 def Western Bulldogs 7.14.56
Round 5, 2013 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 13.8.86 def by Geelong 15.17.107
Round 22, 2012 - Simonds Stadium: Geelong 16.11.107 def Western Bulldogs 11.7.73
Round 9, 2012 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 11.9.75 def by Geelong 14.11.95
Round 11, 2011 - Simonds Stadium: Geelong 23.10.148 def Western Bulldogs 13.9.87
Round 20, 2010 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 9.6.60 def by Geelong 25.11.161
Qualifying Final, 2009 - MCG: Geelong 14.12.96 def Western Bulldogs 12.10.82
Players To Watch
How exciting is it to have Mitch Wallis back in the team tonight? It's been nine months since his horrific broken leg. In 2016, Wallis averaged 22 disposals, four clearances and three inside 50s. Over the last few weeks in the VFL have been consistently brilliant, averaging 30 disposals in only three games for Footscray this year. I wonder whether or not Luke Beveridge will use him to tag one of Selwood or Dangerfield? I know that Beveridge doesn't like the tag, but it worked for a half of footy the last time these two played.
Another one back in the team tonight, and will resume hostilities with an old foe in Tom Lonergan, who's given Travis Cloke an absolute bath on more than just one occasion, Cloke has only managed to kick 29 goals in 17 games against Geelong. It'll be also very interesting to see how Cloke can co-exist with another big forward in Jack Redpath, who was very impressive in his first game back from an ACL injury during last week's loss to the Eagles.
It'll be very interesting to see how he plays up forward tonight, given the star defender's recent struggles to find the ball. Taylor was moved up forward to give more support to the Cats' number one key forward Tom Hawkins and so far he has failed dismally, only kicking two goals in eight games, but Dogs fans will remember that he did kick a bag of five on the red, white and blues a few years ago.
The 2016 Brownlow Medallist has endured a rough start to 2017, despite averaging nearly 30 disposals a game. There has been a lot of talk about how he's playing hurt, which I think could worry Geelong supporters and the lack of midfield depth they possess. Relished playing against the Bulldogs last year, recording 33 possessions and three goals in one and 37 possessions and two goals in the other. Can Dangerfield get back to form tonight?
Streaks were made for a reason - to be broken. I can sense a big Bulldogs victory coming up if they can get a good start on the Cats, otherwise it'll be a very scrappy contest much like last week, but I still think the Dogs can win. Geelong were awful last week against Essendon, and I don't think they'll have two awful weeks in a row, they're going to be fired up for this encounter, and they've brought it to the Bulldogs over the years.
I have the Bulldogs winning this game, because I think their tackling numbers will be a very important factor. The Dogs are the number one tackling team in 2017, averaging 75 per game, as opposed to Geelong who are the 16th-ranked tackling team in the league, but they have got to find a way and stop them in the fourth quarter, because the Cats have won six of eight fourth quarters so far this season.
Western Bulldogs By 14 Points
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