Round 20 kicks off tonight with a return match of one of hottest rivalries in the AFL today, as the Western Bulldogs host the Greater Western Sydney Giants under the Etihad Stadium roof, with so much on the line for both sides.
With GWS holding one of the top two spots on the ladder, a win over the Bulldogs would further enhance their claims for not only the double chance, but a home final for the first couple of weeks. Despite all the injuries to their key personnel, the Giants have managed to stay up at the top end of the ladder without looking too convincing.
But all that changed last weekend when Melbourne rolled up to Manuka Oval, after a start that saw the Demons kick the first three goals of the match, the Giants blazed by with eight goals in 16 minutes, opening up a 35-point lead at quarter time, after that they were hardly troubled. If the Bulldogs run into that Giants team tonight, they might find it a hard task to manage.
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Since losing to the Adelaide Crows last month, the Bulldogs have managed to win four games in a row, granted, three of them came from teams in the bottom four, but the bottom line is that they're winning games of football and their aspirations of going back-to-back are still alive. Last week's trip to Brisbane saw them take the win against the Lions - the first time they've won in Brisbane for nearly a decade. It wasn't a convincing win, but the Lions up at home have proven at times to be no pushovers.
The Bulldogs should've won in the last encounter between these two sides back in round six, but the saying 'Bad kicking is bad football' couldn't have been any more accurate, with the Dogs kicking a woeful 19 behinds from 63 inside 50 entries. It's been the story of the Bulldogs' season, ranking last in the league for goal-kicking accuracy, last week they kicked 14.19 on the Brisbane Lions and could've easily have lost that game if the Lions weren't so inexperienced.
A second loss to the Giants won't be the end of the Bulldogs' 2017 campaign, but it will make it bloody difficult to play finals, with games against Port Adelaide and Hawthorn still to come. The Dogs haven't been able to string five wins in a row in the same season since the 2010 season, when they were also a real premiership threat.
So much is on the line tonight, Can the Giants keep a hold of a top-two spot? or will it be the Bulldogs who continue their winning ways towards September? Either way, this game promises to be a beauty.
IN: Tory Dickson, Jake Stringer, Josh Dunkley
OUT: Easton Wood (Hamstring), Clay Smith, Lukas Webb (Both Omitted)
B: Shane Biggs, Zaine Cordy, Bailey Williams
HB: Robert Murphy, Lewis Young, Matthew Suckling
C: Lachie Hunter, Mitch Wallis, Bailey Dale
HF: Toby McLean, Travis Cloke, Liam Picken
F: Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Redpath, Tory Dickson
FOL: Jordan Roughead, Tom Liberatore, Jack Macrae
INT: Luke Dahlhaus, Jake Stringer, Josh Dunkley, Caleb Daniel
EMG: Clay Smith, Fletcher Roberts, Lukas Webb
Following their 14-point win over Brisbane at the Gabba, the Western Bulldogs have made three changes ahead of tonight's clash, welcoming back sharpshooter Tory Dickson after he missed last week's game with a quad complaint, as well as the club's leading goal kicker Jake Stringer, who has missed the past three games with a hamstring injury, whilst Josh Dunkley will play his first AFL game since round 7, when he injured his shoulder against Richmond.
The Bulldogs will be without Easton Wood for at least three weeks after he suffered a 'high-grade' hamstring injury in last week's win against the Lions, however it does not require surgery and should be available for the Bulldogs' finals campaign if they make it to September. Lukas Webb and Clay Smith are unfortunate to make way for the forward pair that is Stringer and Dickson.
Jason Johannisen, who was a late out for the Bulldogs last weekend, with a hamstring complaint, didn't get through training this week and will be sorely missed, given in his last game, he kicked four match-winning goals against fellow top-eight contenders Essendon, however the 'travelling emergency' from last week, Dogs' captain Robert Murphy, reportedly pulled up well from the game on Saturday and will play tonight.
IN: Jonathon Patton, Toby Greene
OUT: Devon Smith (Knee), Shane Mumford (Suspension)
B: Aidan Corr, Nick Haynes, Nathan Wilson
HB: Adam Tomlinson, Phil Davis, Josh Kelly
C: Lachie Whitfield, Dylan Shiel, Heath Shaw
HF: Brett Deledio, Harrison Himmelberg, Steve Johnson
F: Tom Scully, Jonathon Patton, Callan Ward
FOL: Rory Lobb, Stephen Coniglio, Jacob Hopper
INT: Zac Williams, Matt de Boer, Toby Greene, Matthew Kennedy
EMG: Dawson Simpson, Harry Perryman, Daniel Lloyd
The Giants have named two big ins ahead of tonight, naming key forward Jonathon Patton after he was a late out last week with a hamstring complaint, whilst All-Australian forward Toby Greene will come back into the side after serving his two-match ban for striking Richmond's Alex Rance. Both men will add some much-needed firepower down forward with Patton kicking 36 goals for the season and Greene kicking 33 goals.
Shane Mumford will be forced to sit out this game after he was handed a one-week ban for his hit on Melbourne's Max Gawn last week, leaving part-time ruckman Rory Lobb to shoulder most of the ruck duties tonight, with some probably assistance from the young Harrison Himmelberg. Devon Smith will also miss with a knee injury, the out-of-contract Giant still yet to sign with the club beyond this season, could we have seen his last game in the orange?
Recent History (Past Eight Meetings)
Round 6, 2017 - Manuka Oval: GWS Giants 11.9.75 def Western Bulldogs 9.19.73
Preliminary Final, 2016 - Spotless Stadium: GWS Giants 12.11.83 def by Western Bulldogs 13.11.89
Round 9, 2016 - Spotless Stadium: GWS Giants 15.8.98 def Western Bulldogs 10.13.73
Round 9, 2015 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 16.17.113 def GWS Giants 11.2.68
Round 23, 2014 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 15.19.109 def by GWS Giants 18.7.115
Round 4, 2014 - Manuka Oval: GWS Giants 12.11.83 def by Western Bulldogs 17.8.110
Round 15, 2013 - Manuka Oval: GWS Giants 12.11.83 def by Western Bulldogs 13.9.87
Round 5, 2012 - Manuka Oval: GWS Giants 9.8.62 def by Western Bulldogs 15.14.104
Players To Watch
The stage is set tonight for Marcus Bontempelli to kick a match-winning bag of goals on the Giants after a past fortnight that has seen this man, despite some horribly inaccurate showings in front of the big sticks, has proven he is very difficult to stop up forward with 2.3 a fortnight ago against Essendon and 2.4 against Brisbane last weekend. With the likes of Dickson and Stringer coming back into the side tonight, we might see more midfield minutes from The Bont tonight, but if he's up forward tonight, the Dogs simply need his kicking boots on if the reigning premiers are to win.
With Shane Mumford out of this game tonight, it provides Jordan Roughead an opportunity to exploit GWS' ruckman. Rory Lobb does his best footy as a key forward, but it'll be interesting to see how this ruck battle transpires. Roughead has only averaged 16 hitouts per match in 2017 after missing the start of the season with a major hamstring injury, but I can sense he's starting to get back to his form of last year, which was critically instrumental in the Doggies' flag success.
I cannot wait to hear the reaction from the sea of red, white and blue tonight when Toby Greene takes on the Dogs. Last time these two sides met, Greene was hit with a two-week suspension for what some say was a cheap shot on the league's smallest player on Caleb Daniel. I can anticipate he won't be given the warmest reception, from not just the crowd, but from the opposition as well. His best footy can really hurt a side, but if the Dogs can get stuck into him early, his temper could get the best of him yet again and that goes a long way in deciding a match.
Joined a long list of superstars to announce their retirement at the end of this season this week, and honestly, what a career from Steve Johnson, a three-time premiership player at Geelong, a three-time All-Australian, a former Norm Smith Medallist and a two-time leading goalkicker at Geelong, Stevie J has had a storied career and with his 290th game tonight, I can sense a big game in him before his retirement, hopefully it's not against the Bulldogs.
This is going to be a really hard game to predict this one. If it's judged on form from last weekend, you'd have to go with the Giants, but before last week, Greater Western Sydney had only won two games from six meetings, including two draws to Hawthorn and Geelong.
They also have a few big names out. Shane Mumford's suspension is huge as he plays a big role in the midfield, and the goal-kicking power of Jeremy Cameron will also hurt, but the Giants have the talent to cover those losses. It will be interesting to see what Brett Deledio can do in his second game in GWS colours after his debut as a Giant against Melbourne.
The Bulldogs need to be on from the first bounce and if they can maintain a consistent four-quarter effort, and not butcher the footy in front of goal like they have done for most of the season, they are a huge chance to beat the Giants on their home turf. It's an interesting fact that GWS have lost all three games in Melbourne this year, I think this form will continue for the Giants, I am tipping the Bulldogs in an extremely close game, making it five in a row and hopefully send the rest of the competition on notice.
Western Bulldogs By 1 Point
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