In the context of their 2017 premiership campaign, Sunday afternoon's encounter at Etihad Stadium is a big as it gets for the Western Bulldogs as they look to take on fellow finals contenders Melbourne. As of Friday, the Dogs sit in ninth place, following West Coast's win over the Cats and are in serious danger of falling behind the pack if they lose to the Demons Sunday.
Following such a dismal performance against the Swans in Sydney last Thursday night, a lot of questions were raised about the Bulldogs' aspirations to go back-to-back and their hunger for the ball throughout the week. Jason Johannisen also copped a fair bit of criticism from the media after he was targeted by several Swans players last week and went into his shell for the entirety of the match.
Facing a 10-day break, the Dogs should be raring to go against a Melbourne side that is facing some consistency issues of their own. Their best footy has seen them knock off a premiership favourite in Adelaide and record convincing wins over Essendon, St. Kilda and Gold Coast, but they have also dropped games they were favoured to win, losing to Hawthorn, North Melbourne, and Fremantle.
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Last Monday, Melbourne had to fight back from a 28-point deficit midway through the second quarter to eventually defeat Collingwood by four points in an epic Queen's Birthday match, making it two wins in a row, but combine their six-day break with their poor history at Etihad Stadium and against the Western Bulldogs, the Demons face a very tough assignment on Sunday to get their third win in a row.
Since 2007, Melbourne have only defeated the Dogs three times in 15 matches, and haven't beaten the Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium since round 19, 2007. The Dogs have yet to lose a game at Etihad Stadium this season, and the last time these two teams went head-to-head under the roof, the Bulldogs dominated the Demons, sealing the game by the first break with an eight goal to none first quarter, en route to 98-point win.
Can the Dogs bounce back from a horrid game last week? or can the Demons finally break through and beat the Bulldogs at Etihad? We're set for a massive game Sunday.
IN: Dale Morris, Zaine Cordy, Tom Boyd, Tom Liberatore, Mitch Honeychurch
OUT: Travis Cloke (Soreness), Marcus Adams (Foot), Matthew Boyd, Tim English, Fletcher Roberts (All Omitted)
B: Dale Morris, Zaine Cordy, Jason Johannisen
HB: Shane Biggs, Easton Wood, Matthew Suckling
C: Lachie Hunter, Jack Macrae, Tory Dickson
HF: Caleb Daniel, Tom Boyd, Toby McLean
F: Lin Jong, Jake Stringer, Liam Picken
FOL: Jordan Roughead, Marcus Bontempelli, Mitch Wallis
INT: Luke Dahlhaus, Tom Liberatore, Mitch Honeychurch, Bailey Dale
EMG: Tom Campbell, Lukas Webb, Bailey Williams
Luke Beveridge has made five changes to the side that got dominated by the Swans last Thursday night, with veteran Bulldog Matthew Boyd the latest big name to be handed the infamous 'Beveridge Axe', after omitting big names such as Tom Liberatore and Jake Stringer over the past 12 months. Boyd was set to break the all-time games record by a player who started his career on the rookie list. Boyd is currently equal with West Coast legend Dean Cox on 290 games, but will have to wait until next week before he's given the opportunity to break the record. Two-game veteran Tim English and premiership defender Fletcher Roberts have also been dropped.
Travis Cloke will sit out with general soreness and Marcus Adams could potentially miss the rest of the year after he suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot, just a year after he was diagnosed with a similar injury on his right foot, causing him to miss the rest of the 2016 season. The Dogs though have named a few big ins.
Tom Liberatore has been named to make his first appearance since the round eight loss to the Eagles in which he could only manage eight disposals, prompting many to question his appetite for the contest, but since his omission he's been solid at VFL level, averaging 20 disposals and eight tackles in three appearances for Footscray. Also coming in after some solid form is Mitch Honeychurch who will play his first game since round 13 last year and his third game since the 2015 Elimination Final. Dale Morris is a more-than-welcome addition in the backline, after he missed last week with an ankle complaint, Zaine Cordy will fill in for Adams in defence and Tom Boyd comes back into the team after missing last week with a back injury.
B: Oscar McDonald, Tom McDonald, Neville Jetta
HB: Michael Hibberd, Sam Frost, Bernie Vince
C: Jayden Hunt, Jordan Lewis, Nathan Jones
HF: Clayton Oliver, Jack Watts, Mitch Hannan
F: Tomas Bugg, Christian Petracca, Jeff Garlett
FOL: Cameron Pedersen, Dom Tyson, Jack Viney
INT: Christian Salem, Jake Melksham, Alex Neal-Bullen, James Harmes
EMG: Sam Weideman, Jake Spencer, Ben Kennedy
Following their big win over Collingwood, the Demons will go into the game on Sunday unchanged, opting against playing Ruckman Max Gawn, who was back at full training this week. Gawn hasn't played since round three when he suffered a major injury to his hamstring. Jake Spencer, who has returned from a shoulder injury he sustained back in round five, looked like he was primed for a return given that their number one ruck option was the undersized Cam Pedersen, but Simon Goodwin has decided to go against that, leaving Pedersen and Jack Watts to spend time in the ruck against Jordan Roughead and Tom Boyd.
Recent History (Past 10 Meetings)
Round 8, 2016 - MCG: Melbourne 12.10.82 def by Western Bulldogs 17.12.114
Round 20, 2015 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 24.9.153 def Melbourne 8.7.55
Round 8, 2015 - MCG: Melbourne 15.13.103 def Western Bulldogs 9.10.64
Round 15, 2014 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 14.7.91 def Melbourne 13.7.85
Round 8, 2014 - MCG: Melbourne 12.11.83 def by Western Bulldogs 15.9.99
Round 23, 2013 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 16.11.107 def Melbourne 13.9.87
Round 14, 2013 - MCG: Melbourne 15.13.103 def Western Bulldogs 15.10.100
Round 4, 2012 - MCG: Melbourne 9.13.67 def by Western Bulldogs 13.10.88
Round 15, 2011 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 19.13.127 def Melbourne 8.15.63
Round 7, 2010 - MCG: Melbourne 9.12.66 def by Western Bulldogs 10.10.70
Players To Watch
If there was anybody that has gone stone cold in recent weeks it is the man who won the club best and fairest last year. In front of goals, he has only managed 1.8 in the past month which is very uncharacteristic from a man who has proven to be a match-winner. Last week's effort against Sydney was perhaps one of the worst games I've seen from the Bont since he began his AFL career, he was hardly sighted, and missed a very simple kick in the last quarter. Bontempelli has had pretty good history against the Demons, kicking two match-winning goals back in 2014, and his most recent performance against the Demons earning him three Brownlow votes.
Last week, Jason Johannisen was targeted by Sydney players after he had been the driving force in the Bulldogs' success against the Swans. He was effectively shut out of the game and produced an absolute stinker of a game. Melbourne have made it known that they will attempt to use the same tactics on him this week. Not only must he stand up to the adversity, but he needs the support of his team mates that was virtually non-existant last week if the Dogs are any chance of a victory on Sunday.
Not since watching Jack Macrae in 2014, have I seen a second-year player that can play as good as the elites like Clayton Oliver has. He only played 13 games in 2016 and averaged just under 20 disposals per game. This year he is averaging over 30 disposals, nearly seven clearances and six tackles per game and has played all 11 games this year.
Some diehard Bulldogs supporters will remember this high-flying forward playing for Footscray last year. Hannan kicked 21 goals in 15 games as the 'Scrays claimed their second VFL flag in three years, it was enough for Melbourne to draft him last year, and has been a real find for them in 2017, playing all but one game for the Demons, kicking 14 goals in 10 starts, and is forming a solid forward partnership with the in-form small forward Jeff Garlett.
The Dogs need to respond after such a woeful effort last Thursday night. Melbourne are going to be really fired up for this game, they'll see it as an opportunity to get one on the reigning premiers whilst their down, even with Jesse Hogan out as he recovers from testicular cancer, their forwards are going to be dangerous. Jack Watts always seems to have an impact against the Dogs, whilst Jeff Garlett and Christian Petracca are in really good form.
Their scoreline of 6.6.42 was the Dogs' lowest score since round 4, 2013 and have now dropped them into the bottom four in scoring in 2017. We know that Geelong about a month ago were challenged for their efforts before coming against the Bulldogs. I'm expecting the reigning premiers to respond to all those that have put them under the microscope - The Bulldogs to keep their unbeaten streak at Etihad in 2017 intact in a tough contest.
Western Bulldogs By 21 Points
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