It wasn’t pretty for the full 120 minutes, but there were enough sublime passages of play for the Western Bulldogs to take more than just the four points out of their Round 1 victory over Collingwood.
I know for myself, as someone sitting in the stands watching, there was a level of apprehension. The Pies had gotten close twice last year, and could easily have come away with two victories, and with five new faces in the team from last year’s Grand Final, a question of on-field chemistry had to be answered. Those questions may have been answered, but a few more questions came up.
The Bulldogs struggled around the clearances, in part due to the institution of the third-man up rule, the most baffling piece of sporting legislation to be introduced since the sub rule. Without their first choice ruckman, Jordan Roughead, part-timers Tom Boyd and Travis Cloke battled but were beaten by Brodie Grundy and Mason Cox. That’s something for Luke Beveridge and the coaching staff to work out during the week and it’s an issue he acknowledged post-game. They can’t afford to get smashed 43-25 in the clearances next week against Sydney.
The major difference in the game, though, was execution. The Dogs hit their targets, and Collingwood didn’t. The premiers hit 77 percent of their targets, a solid number, while Collingwood went at under 75 percent, and in a departure from last season, the Bulldogs were extremely efficient in converting their inside 50s into shots at goal. That sort of precision is why the game never really felt like it was in too much danger despite the Pies hitting the lead to open up the third quarter.
It was two bursts of play that got the Dogs over the line, along with stout defense. The five-goal bursts in the first and third quarters, kicking to the city end, showed the class and damage the premiers can do when their pressure is up, and their skills are on, but it needs to happen for more than 25 minutes a night.
All eyes will be on Dale Morris who crumpled in a heap at the final siren after seemingly copping a knee to the calf. He was able to get up and walk off with his team, but we are awaiting more news. The good news is that it doesn't appear to be anything structural and we should hope it’s just a cork, rather than a muscle strain.
Jake Stringer appeared to hurt his leg in the third quarter, just after he centered the ball to Robert Murphy, who then handballed to Stewart Crameri for his first goal since 2015. He never looked 100 percent comfortable after that, but it doesn’t appear to be anything significant.
Speaking of Bob, he got through the game unscathed.
Goals Coll: Fasolo 3, Sidebottom 2, Pendlebury 2, White, Mayne, Treloar, Goldsack, Hoskin-Elliott
Goals WB: Hunter 3, Johannisen 2, Bontempelli 2, Picken 2, M. Boyd, Stringer, Cloke, Liberatore, Crameri, McLean
Let’s take a look at all 22 players and how they performed first up in 2017.
Matt Suckling: 17K, 2H, 11M, 2T, 5R50, 5I50, 90%Eff
There is no doubt that Suckling’s numbers look fine. He led the term in rebound 50s and inside 50s and went at a team-high 90 percent with his disposal efficiency. But I have concerns about Suckling’s defensive abilities. He seems like the black sheep in the team in terms of putting on the manic pressure that the Dogs have become so well known for. He gets out positioned too easily, which happened a few times Friday night and didn't make the second and third efforts that are always necessary. If he keeps hitting targets at 90 percent, utilising his left foot weapon to it’s full potential, then he has a spot, but if you are converting your kicks at the same rate as Jason Johannisen, which is where he was last year, I’m not sure he does enough to stay in every single week. 5/10
Robert Murphy: 15K, 7H, 6M, 1T, 2R50, 5I50, 86%Eff, 2GA
Murphy looked like he hadn’t missed almost an entire season, doing things that we saw through his All-Australian year of 2015, slicing up the opposition with precision kicking. In a new twist, Bob played a decent chunk of the game up forward, and that’s what is going to happen when you have approximately eight running half-backs in your team. But, Murphy’s stint up forward was successful, as he set up Stewart Crameri and Toby McLean for vital third quarter goals, and also set up a Jason Johannisen goal midway through the second term. He will feel a lot better after getting through his first game back in the red, white, and blue. 7/10
Marcus Bontempelli: 8K, 14H, 3M, 4T, 3R50, 4I50, 82%Eff, 2.0 Goals
After playing just one game in the preseason, the Bont spent a lot of time up forward, lessening his impact in the middle. He had just one clearance, an unusually low total after averaging over four per game last season, but did manage two vital goals and one assist. Most disposals he had were creative and dangerous, and he led the team in contested possessions, but it was definitely not his grandest performance. 7/10
Matthew Boyd: 14K, 12H, 2M, 2T, 1R50, 1I50, 73%Eff, 1.1 Goals
Boyd, donning the helmet for the first time after his gruesome ear injury, bobbed up to be an unlikely early goal kicker after delivery exactly zero goals last season. He did what he normally does - provide a steadying defensive presence, fake about half of his disposals to one side of his body before going the other way and butchered a couple of kicks, including a goal which could have made the lead unassailable in the fourth quarter. 5/10
Luke Dahlhaus: 9K, 15H, 4M, 7T, 1R50, 2I50, 67%Eff
It was a pretty stock standard game for Dahlhaus, aside from a couple of errors. He dropped an easy mark in the third quarter inside the forward 50 and missed a quite gettable goal in the same quarter, but was industrious around the packs, registering the equal third most amount of tackles on the team. 6/10
Lachie Hunter: 13K, 8H, 6M, 2T, 3I50, 76%Eff, 3.0 Goals
Hunter is neither a prolific or accurate goal kicker, and you would’ve gotten long odds on him being not only our first goal scorer but second goal scorer and leading goal kicker on the night. Like so many players, he spent more time in the forward line than we are used to seeing, and he ran hard for the duration of the game. A successful season debut, which included a career-high three goals. 7/10
Stewart Crameri: 8K, 9H, 4M, 4T, 2R50, 2I50, 77% Eff, 2GA, 1.0 Goals
No doubt Crameri would’ve been feeling the nerves, running out for his first game since his 12-month suspension, but it didn't really show on the ground. He moved well and positioned himself as a nice link player in the forward-centre section of the ground, as evidence by his mark and pass to Lachie Hunter for his second goal. Perhaps more impressive is the way he pushed down into defense and registered two rebound 50s. His touch was not 100%, but he slotted back into the team fairly seamlessly and will improve as the year goes on. 6/10
Jake Stringer: 11K, 3H, 7M, 4T, 2I50, 57%Eff, 1.3 Goals
We could be singing a different tune had Stringer had the same accuracy he displayed against Gold Coast a couple of weeks ago, but when you miss your shots, it doesn’t count. Even on a night where he didn’t inundate the scoreboard or stat sheet, Stringer contributed. He presented a one out option for fast break footy and provided good pressure when he moved to the middle and flashed some game breaking ability when he moved into the centre. It was a pleasing, without being a great, performance. 5/10
Easton Wood: 9K, 5H, 8M, 2T, 3R50, 86% Eff
Wood made a couple of blunders early with some skill errors, but overall, he was a part of a Bulldogs defense which restricted Collingwood to a woeful inside 50 conversion rate with timely marks and spoils. 5/10
Jack Macrae: 15K, 10H, 7M, 7T, 4R50, 80%Eff
This was just a typical Macrae game. He is harder than almost anyone gives him credit for, and was up there in the tackle numbers again, but then he does so much on the way out, with deft foot skills and visionary handballing. A first quarter handball inside defensive 50 showed off the type of vision and hand skills that Macrae possesses. He barely made an error and played like it was round 15, and he showed no signs of rust. 7/10
Zaine Cordy: 10K, 4H, 2M, 2T, 4R50, 1I50, 79%Eff, 7 1%ers
After spending most of last season as a defensive forward, Cordy moved back to his more natural position in defence and acquitted himself well. Registering the third highest one-percenter figure on the team, Cordy was a little fumbly when the ball hit the ground, but nobody should be concerned with his disposal and his ability to get a fist into a contest. Solid work and did the job he needed to do. 5/10
Travis Cloke: 12K, 2H, 6M, 1T, 3I50, 57%Eff, 2GA, 1.0 Goals
It was a huge moment when Cloke marked a Marcus Bontempelli kick on the 50-metre line at the end of the first quarter. The crowd was hollering at him, and it looked like he hadn’t gone back far enough on the mark, but proceed to slot his first goal in Bulldogs colours, after which he was covered by blue, red, and white jumpers, converging from all around. He was totally serviceable, but did have some shocking turnovers heading toward the forward 50, and provided enough first up to justify the move. 4/10
Toby McLean: 8K, 5H, 5M, 7T, 3I50, 69%Eff, 1.0 Goals
It was only a 13 disposal game, but Toby McLean was useful. He was hard around the ball and creative with his kicking and provided a very solid target as a marking option. It wasn’t a game to stop people suggesting that he will be out of the team when Tory Dickson returns, or that he shouldn't make way for Clay Smith or Josh Dunkley, but it’s hard to fault too much of his game. 4/10
Tom Boyd: 1K, 4H, 1M, 2T, 1I50, 80%Eff, 24HO, 6 1%ers
Tom Boyd provided key, inspirational performances in the ruck in September 2016, but it wasn’t his night. He battled hard in the one-on-one duels in the ruck but didn’t make his presence known around the ground enough, aside from one strong mark to end the second quarter, deep into Collingwood’s attack. He did the hard things and competed all day, but he needed to provide more of an option, and he will only be helped when Roughead returns, or Tom Campbell comes into the team. 3/10
Fletcher Roberts: 8K, 2H, 2M, 2T, 2R50, 11 1%ers
The Bulldogs leading one-percenter, Fletcher Roberts, once again topped the tables in that often overlooked stat Friday night. With a game high 11, Roberts did what he did in most games he played last year - the little things. He didn’t make a mistake, and he basically took Darcy Moore out of the game. If you remember last season, Moore kicked five goals in a late season encounter and nearly got the Pies over the line. Roberts has a habit of making his opponent go missing, and that’s exactly what he did. Absolutely nothing to complain about. 6/10
Tom Liberatore: 8K, 8H, 4M, 14T, 2R50, 1I50, 69%Eff, 1.0 Goals
Another of the midfield fleet who spent extended time up forward, Libba was monstrous in the packs, not that that is any great surprise. He laid 14 tackles, an equal game high and had 11 contested possessions, second to only Marcus Bontempelli. He was important up forward, but it’s his work at stifling opposition surges and locking in balls that are in dispute that is where his value truly lies. An underappreciated game, once again. 7/10
Shane Biggs: 14K, 3H, 4M, 3T, 4R50, 1I50, 65%Eff
Shane Biggs. Never forget. We will never forget his inspiring play in the Grand Final, but Friday night was one he will likely want to forget. A couple of early mistakes set the tone for most of his night, and while it didn’t go downhill from there, it also didn’t power on ahead. For someone with such precision in his disposals, the absolutely baffling hack jobs that sometimes come off his boot remain a mystery. His place is not in jeopardy, and he has shown in the post that he will follow up down performances with a very impressive one. 3/10
Caleb Daniel: 10K, 12H, 1M, 2T, 68%Eff
Daniel was not at his most efficient or at his most clean when the ball hit the ground, carrying over some of the below par form from the Grand Final to Round 1. Yes, there were moments of brilliance, the quick hands, and then knock out of mid-air to Lin Jong which set up a Jason Johannisen goal in the second quarter. The trademark worm burning 20-metre passes. But on the whole, Daniel just wasn’t quite locked in. 4/10
Dale Morris: 6K, 10H, 7M, 1T, 3R50, 10 1%ers, 88%Eff
While we all hope that Morris’ leg is okay, watching him just do what he has done for the last 10+ years was a delight again Friday. Morris repelled plenty of Magpie attacks and was safe with his hands and his disposal skills. His closing speed has not altered and remains one of the hardest defenders to beat one on one in the entire AFL. 7/10
Jason Johannisen: 18K, 12H, 7M, 5R50, 3I50, 2GA, 87%Eff, 2.0 Goals
JJ loves the MCG. Back to the scene of the crime, Johannisen was electric again and broke the game open with his legs in two ways - by running and by delivering 55 metre passes to the advantage of a one-out forward as we saw numerous times in the fourth quarter. He spent more time up forward than we are used to seeing, but that results in two crucial goals, and Johannisen is going to be a handful for opposition teams again this season. 7/10
Liam Picken: 12K, 8H, 8M, 4T, 2R50, 2I50, 85%Eff, 2.0 Goals
It just looked finals series, Liam Picken. He got on the end of a couple of big goals and generally presented a solid option up forward. He very rarely seemed to stray from his position in the forward line, but it was a game that shows just what he does on a game by game basis. 6/10
Lin Jong: 2K, 9H, 2M, 14T, 82%Eff
If someone will get dropped this week to make way for Clay Smith, Tom Campbell, Tory Dickson, Josh Dunkley, or someone else, Jong is who I think will go. He did a load of dirty work, laying a game-high 14 tackles, but provided absolutely nothing going the other way, aside from one strong contested mark. While not being atrocious, he was the weakest link and did nothing for me to think he will be an automatic selection each week. 3/10
A huge challenge awaits next Friday night against the Swans, as the Bulldogs unveil the flag and it will be the first time in the home and away season they have faced the Swans in Melbourne in the Beveridge era. Beveridge is 3-0 against Sydney is his two-year coaching career.
It will be Tom Liberatore’s 100th game on Friday night, also.