Tonight's clash at the Adelaide Oval shapes up as a season-defining game for the Western Bulldogs as the reigning premiers travel up to the city of churches to take on the premiership contending Adelaide Crows. What sounded like a mouth-watering match-up at the start of the 2017 year, might sound like a mismatch right now if you consider the form of the visiting Doggies, but the truth is, it might be a lot closer than you think.
The Crows started the year 6-0 and comprehensively thumped everyone that was in their path. Their ball movement was a joy to watch at the best of times, before facing an unlikely 10-goal loss to North Melbourne in round seven. Since then, the Crows have often had to fight hard for their wins, their last win came at the hands of Carlton last weekend, but the Blues made them earn it every step of the way.
They will no doubt set themselves up for this clash with the Bulldogs as a game that they can use to firmly re-establish themselves as the team to beat. The Dogs have been thoroughly disappointing this season and could become the first team since Hawthorn of 2009 to miss the AFL Finals altogether after winning the premiership last year.
Last week they were showed up by a West Coast outfit for three quarters, whose troubles interstate and particularly in Melbourne, have been well documented. This is a contest in which the backs of each Western Bulldog player are well and truly against the wall, and if there's one thing I reckon a Luke Beveridge-coached team is good at, is playing as the underdog. At 7-7 with eight games to go, the Dogs must win tonight to keep their chances afloat for at least a week.
I expect another great encounter between two teams that have had a lot of history with each other, dating back to the late 1990s. But it's been their recent encounters that have been a thrill to watch. The Bulldogs took the points the last time these two sides met, as two goals in the dying minutes was got the Doggies over the line. In 2015, these two sides squared off in what was one of the most epic Elimination Finals I've certainly seen in recent memory, with the Crows coming out on top by seven points.
The Bulldogs face the Crows at the Adelaide Oval tonight for the first time since the stadium was introduced into the league, but the Dogs are 1-2 at the Adelaide Oval from their encounters with Port Adelaide. The Bulldogs have not defeated the Crows in Adelaide since 2010, will they be able to break their Adelaide hoodoo tonight?
IN: Matthew Boyd, Tom Liberatore, Clay Smith, Fletcher Roberts
OUT: Shane Biggs (Calf), Robert Murphy (Hamstring), Tom Campbell (Abdominal Strain), Tory Dickson (Omitted)
B: Dale Morris, Zaine Cordy, Jason Johannisen
HB: Easton Wood, Fletcher Roberts, Matthew Suckling
C: Lachie Hunter, Mitch Wallis, Jack Macrae
HF: Mitch Honeychurch, Jake Stringer, Luke Dahlhaus
F: Bailey Dale, Jack Redpath, Liam Picken
FOL: Jordan Roughead, Marcus Bontempelli, Toby McLean
INT: Matthew Boyd, Clay Smith, Tom Liberatore, Caleb Daniel
EMG: Lukas Webb, Lewis Young, Bailey Williams
The Bulldogs have named four changes for tonight, with the four players featuring in the Doggies' premiership victory last year. However they have been dealt with three injuries since last week's agonising loss to West Coast. Captain Robert Murphy will sit out with another hamstring strain after he just came back into the team last weekend, whilst Shane Biggs and Tom Campbell will miss after suffering calf and abdominal injuries respectively - both men have been in good form recently so it's still considered a bit of a blow. Tory Dickson has been handed a spell in the VFL after constant poor performances.
Coming into the team include key defender Fletcher Roberts, who will take on one of Adelaide's tall forwards, Clay Smith will be expected to play the forward role and will be that menacing, tackling presence. Tom Liberatore comes back into the side after missing last week with soreness, whilst Matthew Boyd will finally break the record of AFL games played by a former rookie-listed player after weeks of playing for Footscray in the VFL.
IN: Andy Otten, Scott Thompson, Charlie Cameron
OUT: Kyle Hartigan (Hamstring), Jonathon Beech (Omitted), Hugh Greenwood (Rested)
B: Jake Kelly, Daniel Talia, Andy Otten
HB: Rory Laird, Jake Lever, Luke Brown
C: Brodie Smith, Matt Crouch, Riley Knight
HF: Richard Douglas, Mitch McGovern, Charlie Cameron
F: Eddie Betts, Taylor Walker, Josh Jenkins
FOL: Sam Jacobs, Rory Sloane, Brad Crouch
INT: Scott Thompson, David Mackay, Rory Atkins, Wayne Milera
EMG: Jonathon Beech, Paul Seedsman, Hugh Greenwood
The second-placed Crows have made three changes to the side that defeated Carlton by 12 points last round, with the most notable inclusion being that of 307-game veteran Scott Thompson, who is only playing his first game of the 2017 season after spending the entire year to date playing at the SANFL. It's a big in as Thompson should aid the midfield influence of Rory Sloane and both of the Crouch brothers. Charlie Cameron comes back to the team this week after missing with injury, as does the versatile Andy Otten, who has been somewhat of a forgotten man before the year commenced, as his last senior game before the start of this season was back in round 20, 2014.
Key defender Kyle Hartigan will miss up to six weeks with a hamstring injury, mature-aged rookie Jonathon Beech was dropped after only three games since making his memorable debut against St. Kilda back in round 12, whilst another mature-aged rookie-listed player in Hugh Greenwood has been rested after a string of impressive performances that has seen the former US college basketballer kick five goals in six games and average 16 disposals a game.
Recent History (Past 10 Meetings)
Round 7, 2016 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 18.15.123 def Adelaide 17.6.108
Elimination Final, 2015 - MCG: Western Bulldogs 14.18.102 def by Adelaide 16.13.109
Round 4, 2015 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 18.17.125 def Adelaide 10.8.68
Round 6, 2014 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 12.11.83 def by Adelaide 13.14.92
Round 21, 2013 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 20.11.131 def Adelaide 17.12.114
Round 4, 2013 - AAMI Stadium: Adelaide 12.8.80 def Western Bulldogs 4.4.28
Round 2, 2012 - AAMI Stadium: Adelaide 11.16.82 def Western Bulldogs 9.10.64
Round 13, 2011 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 14.16.100 def Adelaide 10.10.70
Round 19, 2010 - AAMI Stadium: Adelaide 7.11.53 def by Western Bulldogs 8.13.61
Round 5, 2010 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 18.13.121 def Adelaide 10.12.72
Players To Watch
After what I considered was a slow start to his 2017 campaign, I feel that Lachie Hunter's performances over the past month has him slowly recapturing that 2016 form that saw him average nearly 28 disposals per game. His average this year has lowered a fair bit, but he's hitting the scoreboard more which is what we need to see from this side - goals. So far he has kicked a personal best 11 goals across 14 games for the season. Has averaged 26 disposals and seven marks a game in the past couple of meetings against the Crows. could play a factor.
Since coming back into the team, Zaine Cordy has been a very solid contributor in the back-line. Last year he made a name as a makeshift premiership forward, but those who know Cordy well should know that his go is as a defender, averaging 16 disposals and just under six marks per game, whilst being a steady hand in defence. Big job tonight for him on one of Taylor Walker, Josh Jenkins or even the underrated Mitch McGovern.
You can argue that Rory Sloane would be in the same catergory as Jason Johannisen. At the start of the year, he was electric and was the star of a midfield brigade that was running dangerously hot. But over the past couple of months, Sloane has copped a hard tag similar to what Johannisen has recieved at the Bulldogs and when he doesn't impact, the Crows struggle to win. In Adelaide's four losses this season, Sloane has averaged only 18 disposals and five tackles per game in a season in which he's averaging 25 and eight tackles. Would love to see Liberatore get stuck into him pre-game.
He is one of my favourite non-Bulldog players at this present time, the way he accumulates possessions across half-back and actually make them count is a big part of why I like watching him play, and he can also play the defensive role really superbly. In 2017, Laird has average over 31 disposals and five rebound 50s per game in what is a career year for the former rookie-listed Crow. He is a dead-set star and one that the Bulldogs will have to keep an eye out for.
It's hard not to back against the Crows here. They are the number one scoring side in the AFL, averaging 114 points per game. The Bulldogs are nowhere near that level, averaging only 83 points per game. The Dogs will need to get their goals from somewhere, watch out for Jake Stringer as he enjoys playing the Crows, kicking 13 goals in five games.
A lot of people will expect Adelaide to win by a landslide, but I think the Dogs will give them a massive scare. Right now, Luke Beveridge should be installing the players with a 'Nothing to lose' mindset, because there are already a ton of experts and AFL supporters writing them off of this game and that's where they thrive the most.
Unfortunately, I think the Crows have a bit more power than the Dogs on every line going on form and they should win this one, putting the Dogs' chances of playing Finals in 2017 in even greater jeopardy, but I'm still confident it will be an exciting game to watch.
Adelaide By 21 Points
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