For the second time this season, the Western Bulldogs and the West Coast Eagles will square off, but with nine games to go in the regular season and the competition for spots in the top eight at an all-time high, wins are extremely crucial for both teams. Saturday afternoon at Etihad Stadium could potentially shape up where these two teams finish at the end of the 2017 season.
The Western Bulldogs were welcomed back onto the winners' list last Saturday night as they defeated North Melbourne, but anybody who thinks that the reigning premiers are 'back' need to take a step back. Compared to the previous fortnight, in which they were thumped by fellow finals contenders, the Bulldogs were outstanding in terms of endeavour and hunger for the footy, but they still gave up a 26-point lead midway through the last quarter to the 17th-placed Kangaroos. Very fortunate to get their seventh win last week, the Bulldogs still remain outside the eight - sitting ninth - just on percentage.
It's been six weeks since the Dogs were up at Domain Stadium to play the Eagles, and whilst the Eagles remain in the top eight, their form over the last five games has been very down, having lost four of their past five. Last week, the Eagles went down to a red-hot Melbourne outfit in the dying seconds of an epic contest, thanks to an under pressure Tom McDonald goal that luckily hit his boot in the right direction as he was being slung down in a tackle.
Their only win in that five-week span came on the back of an impressive performance against top four contender Geelong, in which West Coast kicked 7.9 to 2.3 in a dominant first half. But since then, the Eagles have had their depth tested at times, and Saturday afternoon will be no exception, with over half a dozen of West Coast's best 22 unavaliable due to injury.
The Bulldogs need to win this game to give themselves a real chance at defending their crown and it doesn't come any better than playing the Eagles away from Perth. It has been well documented that the Eagles don't play well when they are travelling, particularly when they come to Melbourne, having only won one match from four games in Melbourne in 2017 - that win coming all the way back in round one.
To add further woes to the Eagles' encounters in Melbourne, their last encounter at Etihad Stadium wasn't a pleasant experience, when they went down to Essendon in round nine by 61 points. The Eagles were blown apart in the first half, and was indicative of their unfavourable record in Melbourne over the past decade. The Bulldogs have not lost to the Eagles at Docklands since round one, 2012, winning the past three meetings under the roof.
It promises to be another exciting match-up between two sides that were considered premiership contenders before the season began, but with both teams underperforming at 7-6 as we head into the back-end of the season, will we see one of these two teams turn their season around?
IN: Robert Murphy
OUT: Tom Liberatore (Cork)
B: Dale Morris, Jordan Roughead, Jason Johannisen
HB: Shane Biggs, Easton Wood, Matthew Suckling
C: Lachie Hunter, Jack Macrae, Robert Murphy
HF: Tory Dickson, Jake Stringer, Luke Dahlhaus
F: Bailey Dale, Zaine Cordy, Liam Picken
FOL: Tom Campbell, Marcus Bontempelli, Toby McLean
INT: Mitch Wallis, Mitch Honeychurch, Caleb Daniel, Jack Redpath
EMG: Matthew Boyd, Clay Smith, Fletcher Roberts
Only the one change for the Bulldogs' side that won last Saturday night, will see club captain Robert Murphy back in the team since injuring his hamstring in the round 10 victory over St. Kilda. He will replace Tom Liberatore who was reportedly sore after the North game, but there have been rumours that swirled around that he was dropped after another mediocre performance that saw him record only 13 disposals. But it is not the case, Liberatore has been given the week off as the Dogs prepare for the back-end of the year.
I like that coach Luke Beveridge hasn't altered his side dramatically over these past few weeks. A lot of the lesser-named Bulldogs have taken their opportunities with both hands. Mitch Honeychurch has looked dangerous as a small forward-type player, Bailey Dale has had a few good games since coming into the side and Tom Campbell played one of his best games in his career last Saturday night, comprehensively beating an All-Australian ruckman in Todd Goldstein.
However, I start to wonder if there will be a spot in the side for Matthew Boyd at the end of the season? Even with a 34-possession, nine mark performance in the backline last week for Footscray in a best afield display, Boyd has only been able to make the emergencies for this game, which certainly speaks volumes about where he's at. Many have questioned whether or not he's played one season too many, but Boyd recently came out and said that he's 'enjoyed his experience with the young crop of players'. Boyd is still stuck on 290 career games, 10 shy of being the eighth Bulldog in the history of the club to make 300 games.
West Coast Eagles
IN: Sharrod Wellingham, Chris Masten, Jack Redden, Sam Butler
OUT: Matt Priddis (Soreness), Josh Hill (Ill), Shannon Hurn (Concussion), Will Schofield (Hip)
B: Brad Sheppard, Eric Mackenzie, Sharrod Wellingham
HB: Liam Duggan, Tom Barrass, Thomas Cole
C: Andrew Gaff, Sam Mitchell, Chris Masten
HF: Lewis Jetta, Jack Darling, Dom Sheed
F: Jamie Cripps, Jeremy McGovern, Drew Petrie
FOL: Nathan Vardy, Elliot Yeo, Luke Shuey
INT: Jack Redden, Sam Butler, Mark Hutchings, Malcolm Karpany
EMG: Luke Partington, Scott Lycett, Kurt Mutimer
The Eagles have been forced to make four changes to the side that defeated Melbourne last Saturday night, with Matt Priddis missing due to soreness and captain Shannon Hurn concussed last week, the major outs heading into this weekend's massive game. With star ruckman Nic Naitanui still on the mend from an ACL injury he sustained late in 2016 and star full-forward Josh Kennedy still a week from returning from a calf injury, it certainly doesn't aid West Coast's chances of a rare victory in Melbourne. An illness has also ruled out Josh Hill from making the trip to Melbourne to play his old side, whilst Will Schofield, who successfully won his fight against a one-week suspension for a rather soft hit on Melbourne's Clayton Oliver, failed to overcome a hip problem during the week.
However the inclusions will definitely help the Eagles and their injury issues, with all four men boasting a wealth of veteran experience and should patch up the gaps in the midfield and . Former Brisbane midfielder Jack Redden and Chris Masten have been recalled after some solid form for West Perth in the WAFL, whilst experienced defenders Sam Butler and Sharrod Wellingham have also been given the recall after some solid form in the WAFL.
Recent History (Past 10 Matches)
Round 8, 2017 - Subiaco: West Coast 9.15.69 def Western Bulldogs 8.13.61
Elimination Final, 2016 - Subiaco: West Coast 7.10.52 def by Western Bulldogs 14.15.99
Round 11, 2016 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 12.11.83 def West Coast 11.9.75
Round 21, 2015 - Subiaco: West Coast 25.12.162 def Western Bulldogs 13.7.85
Round 1, 2015 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 14.13.97 def West Coast 14.3.87
Round 1, 2014 - Subiaco: West Coast 21.8.134 def Western Bulldogs 11.3.69
Round 18, 2013 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 16.15.111 def West Coast 13.11.89
Round 6, 2013 - Subiaco: West Coast 21.11.137 def Western Bulldogs 10.7.67
Round 1, 2012 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 12.15.87 def by West Coast 21.10.136
Round 19, 2011 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 15.5.95 def by West Coast 15.13.103
Players To Watch
This weekend, we're putting the spotlight onto Tory Dickson, who perhaps put in a game he would rather forget, going scoreless off of only six disposals and two marks. It isn't the lack of effort, because Dickson was working as hard as anyone, he just didn't get it his way. However, Dickson came into the side in round nine after battling a number of groin issues, but has struggled to play solid consistent footy so far in 2017, only putting in five goals in five games so far. Has to get a bag this weekend, otherwise the pressure will continue to mount.
Since being introduced to a heavy tag by opposition forwards, the 2016 Norm Smith medallist has struggled to make any impact whatsoever on games, but last Saturday night, he looked like he was going in the right direction, recording 19 disposals and four rebound 50s, despite copping a lot of attention from the North Melbourne forwards, but he's starting to show that dash from half-back that Bulldogs' supporters have enjoyed the past 24 months.
West Coast Eagles
There is no doubt that Andrew Gaff is in scintillating form for the Eagles right now. Last time the Bulldogs played the Eagles, he was arguably the best player on the ground, with 35 disposals, 15 marks and a goal. He is averaging 31 disposals and six marks per game in 2017 in what is another superb season from the 2015 All-Australian. On top of his hot form in 2017, Gaff's form against the Western Bulldogs is also super impressive, averaging 28 disposals and over 5.5 marks per game across his 10 meetings with the Bulldogs, and you could almost pencil him in for another massive game.
It feels like so long ago now that Lewis Jetta was a pivotal piece in Sydney's 2012 premiership. That season saw him slot 45 goals in 25 starts in what looked like a breakout year in what could've been a stellar career. Since crossing over from Sydney at the end of 2015, Jetta has been in and out of the side consistently, but he's been in some good form as of late, kicking six goals in six starts this season and averaging 19 disposals. He will want to make up for that failed shot on goal that eventually cost the Eagles the game last week against Melbourne, and there's no better time than against the reigning premiers.
There's a lot of signs that point to the Bulldogs' winning this game on Saturday, I'll back the Dogs to go two in a row and here's why.
Given West Coast's injuries to key stars - Priddis, Kennedy, Naitanui, Hurn and even Mark LeCras, I don't think they can get enough support for the likes of Shuey and Mitchell in the midfield and I'm not convinced a forward line that consists of an ageing Drew Petrie and the inconsistent duo that is Jack Darling and Jamie Cripps will kick a winning score.
Secondly and more importantly, the Eagles struggle to play at Etihad well, we take a look at the last few times West Coast took on the Bulldogs under the roof, the Doggies have looked the better side each time, I don't know if it's a mental issue or not, but the Eagles cannot consider themselves a genuine contender unless they can start winning games on a consistent basis in Melbourne. That's not me saying I don't give them any chance of a win,
I think this going to be another close match-up between the two teams. I think the Eagles are a big chance if the trio that is Jeremy McGovern, Andrew Gaff and Elliot Yeo get going, but the Doggies are better placed in terms of player depth and in Melbourne where the Doggies do get the better of the Eagles, I'm backing them in to get the job done in another scrappy match.
Western Bulldogs By 13 Points
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