It's undoubtedly the game of the round on Sunday afternoon, as the Western Bulldogs host the Essendon Bombers in what is a must-win game for both teams as they look to secure a place in the AFL's final-eight at the conclusion of the home and away season. With percentage only seperating the eighth-placed Bombers from the 10th-placed Bulldogs a loss from either side on Sunday could make it very difficult to make Finals as we approach the final month of the home and away season.
The Western Bulldogs ran away in the fourth quarter in last week's match against the Gold Coast, cruising to a nine-goal win, making it back-to-back victories for the reigning premiers for the first time since rounds four and five this season. However coming across the Bombers on Sunday, they're playing a team who is clearly a level ahead of both Carlton and Gold Coast.
Since 2006, these two sides have met eachother 16 times, with the Bulldogs just ahead, with nine wins to Essendon's seven. The Bulldogs have won the past two clashes, but it's the Bombers who have won seven of the past 10 encounters, and the Bombers, wherever they sit on the ladder when they clash against the Dogs, are hardly to be taken lightly.
The Bombers are on a three-match winning streak, but before that, gave up impossible leads against both Sydney and Brisbane - having coughed up a goal after the full-time siren to lose to the Swans by a point back in round 14. A week later they were 27 points up to the last-placed Brisbane Lions early in the last quarter before blowing the lead and another four premiership points.
Since then, they were really good to watch against both Collingwood and St. Kilda, but watching them play a very young North Melbourne side last week, they looked second-best in the first three quarters to a batch of North's younger and more inexperienced players, but were able to take advantage of the Kangaroos' lack of endurance in the final quarter. They can't afford to bring that sort of intensity into Sunday, the Dogs could potentially run all over them.
I'm so excited for this game, it has the feel of an Elimination Final to it - win it and you stay in the hunt for a spot in the finals. What can we expect when these two sides collide at Etihad Stadium Sunday? There is not a doubt in the world that this is the must-see game of the weekend.
IN: Travis Cloke, Tory Dickson
OUT: Jack Redpath (Suspension), Dale Morris (Arm)
B: Shane Biggs, Zaine Cordy, Jason Johannisen
HB: Easton Wood, Lewis Young, Matthew Suckling
C: Lachie Hunter, Mitch Wallis, Bailey Dale
HF: Toby McLean, Liam Picken, Tory Dickson
F: Robert Murphy, Marcus Bontempelli, Luke Dahlhaus
FOL: Jordan Roughead, Tom Liberatore, Jack Macrae
INT: Travis Cloke, Mitch Honeychurch, Bailey Williams, Caleb Daniel
EMG: Fletcher Roberts, Lukas Webb, Tim English
Two changes to the Western Bulldogs from last week's win to the Gold Coast Suns sees the return of two big-name forwards in both Travis Cloke and Tory Dickson. For Cloke, this marks the first AFL game he's played in since the round 12 loss to Sydney and his first AFL game since he took time away from the game, suffering from depression. For Dickson, this is the first game he's played since the round 15 loss to West Coast. Both men have been playing exceptional footy at VFL level.
Cloke will replace key forward Jack Redpath as he was handed a one-week suspension for a jumper punch on Tom Lynch as the AFL cracks down on jumper punches, whilst Dale Morris could potentially miss the rest of the AFL season after a horrific fall in a marking contest last weekend resulted in a broken arm.
B: Andrew McGrath, Michael Hartley, James Kelly
HB: Martin Gleeson, Michael Hurley, Mark Baguley
C: Zach Merrett, Brendon Goddard, Darcy Parish
HF: Jobe Watson, Cale Hooker, Dyson Heppell
F: Orazio Fantasia, Joe Daniher, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti
FOL: Tom Bellchambers, David Zaharakis, Travis Colyer
INT: James Stewart, David Myers, Jayden Laverde, Conor McKenna
EMG: Josh Begley, Kyle Langford, Matt Dea
With the Bombers travelling nicely at the moment, winning their past three games, coach John Worsfold has made no changes to the side that defeated North Melbourne last Saturday, opting to leave out the promising Kyle Langford, the ex-Tiger Matt Dea and denying first-year player Josh Begley an AFL debut.
There was word that the Bombers were going to play without the in-form key defender Michael Hurley as he pulled up from the North Melbourne game sore. Although named, there is still a bit of doubt about whether or not he will play. Hurley has been outstanding since returning from a year-long suspension last year, averaging 25 disposals, seven marks and seven rebound 50s per game and a withdrawal would be a massive blow to the Bombers and in turn, a massive boost to the Bulldogs.
Recent History (Past 10 Meetings)
Round 22, 2016 - Etihad Stadium: Essendon 7.11.53 def by Western Bulldogs 14.9.93
Round 18, 2015 - Etihad Stadium: Essendon 5.10.40 def by Western Bulldogs 19.13.127
Round 18, 2014 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 14.10.94 def by Essendon 15.11.101
Round 7, 2014 - Etihad Stadium: Essendon 10.13.73 def Western Bulldogs 9.11.65
Round 16, 2013 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 14.6.90 def by Essendon 18.13.121
Round 14, 2012 - Etihad Stadium: Essendon 21.14.140 def Western Bulldogs 8.8.56
Round 21, 2011 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 15.11.101 def by Essendon 23.12.150
Round 1, 2011 - Etihad Stadium: Essendon 16.17.113 def Western Bulldogs 8.8.56
Round 22, 2010 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 17.5.107 def Essendon 11.12.78
Round 10, 2010 - Etihad Stadium: Essendon 15.9.99 def Western Bulldogs 14.6.90
Players To Watch
A massive task for the Western Bulldogs' defensive group coming their way Sunday afternoon, with Zaine Cordy and the young sensation that is key defender Lewis Young set to battle the in-form Joe Daniher and Cale Hooker. Cordy's 2017 campaign has been impressive after winning a premiership as a forward, averaging career-highs in marks, disposals and one percenters.. An interesting battle awaits in the Essendon forward line. Are this young defensive duo capable of the big challenge?
Another one of the young pups that looks set to flourish as a Bulldog, the Edithvale-Aspendale product has poured in some really good performances as of late. He had 27 disposals and two goals against Carlton, he kicked three crucial goals last week against the Gold Coast Suns, but this is the game that he needs to perform in if he wants to solidify himself in this Bulldogs team. The Bulldogs need players to step up in the road to September, can this young man keep his good form up?
The tall Essendon forward is enjoying a breakthrough 2017 campaign and is well on track to kicking 50 goals in a season for the first time in his short career, already slotting 47 goals in all 17 games this season. He is also averaging career-highs in disposals (16 per game), marks (seven per game) and inside 50s (three per game). The Bombers do boast an exciting forward line, but Daniher is the one that the Bulldogs have to stop on Sunday.
After a breakout season in which Merrett averaged just under 30 disposals per game for an understrength Essendon team, Merrett has backed it up in 2017 and with a bit more support as well, averaging 31 disposals, six tackles, five marks and five clearances per game. An interesting midfield battle awaits on Sunday.
This is another massive game in which the Bulldogs find themselves as the underdog in this game. I don't just think the reigning premiers will stick with the Bombers, I think they can beat them, but there's a lot of things they'll need to do if they're to do it.
The first thing they've got to do is neutralise their forwards. Joe Daniher and Cale Hooker have proven that on their day that they can kick a match-winning bag of goals. Orazio Fantasia has proven this season that he is a massive threat in front of goals if he is taken off the leash, and likewise to Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti who is electric and dangerous whenever he's near opposition defenders. It's a big task for the defenders and the loss of Dale Morris to a broken arm doesn't help.
But the Dogs will be reminded that they are in a position where they have everything to play for and they will be reminded of how capable this team can be. Tory Dickson and Travis Cloke need goals, and it would be nice if Liam Picken is able to replicate his stunning game from last week. All in all, it should provide an exciting game to watch.
Western Bulldogs By 10 Points
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