This weekend marks the return of the 2017 AFL season, but more importantly begins the Western Bulldogs' premiership defence as they find themselves under the Melbourne Cricket Ground lights tonight. Honestly, there is no better way for the reigning champs to kick off their 2017 campaign than with a primetime Friday night slot against a Collingwood side that will be out with something to prove in what is argaubly their coach Nathan Buckley's biggest year to date.
Since taking over from Mick Malthouse as coach at the end of 2011, Buckley and the Pies have spiralled further and further down the ladder as the seasons rolled by. In 2012 - Buckley's first year at the helm, they finished in the top four with 16 wins and fell a few goals short in making another Grand Final. 2013 saw Collingwood bundled out in the first week of finals and then have failed to make finals since, finishing 11th, 12th and 12th the following three seasons with the number of wins diminishing each year. They need to get season 2017 off to the right start if he is to remain as coach beyond this year, and what a better way to do that then to knock off the premiers.
As for Beveridge and the Western Bulldogs, they couldn't be any further on top of the world right now. Since breaking that 62-year drought last October, a lot has been spoken about this exciting young team, some believe they are on the verge of a dynasty and others doubting that they will be able to win it all again, some even suggesting that they will make the eight. The Dogs will be the favourites heading into tonight's game, but there's no doubt a massive bullseye on the back of every player donning the red, white and blue as the season rolls on.
A lot of people have already begun to write the Pies off for this contest, but if the two encounters between these two sides last year have any indication of what's to come tonight, then we will be in for a ripping contest. One game you cannot afford to miss.
NEW: Travis Cloke (Collingwood)
B: Dale Morris, Fletcher Roberts, Jason Johannisen
HB: Shane Biggs, Easton Wood, Robert Murphy
C: Lachie Hunter, Luke Dahlhaus, Matthew Boyd
HF: Tom Liberatore, Zaine Cordy, Jake Stringer
F: Toby McLean, Travis Cloke, Liam Picken
FOL: Tom Boyd, Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae
INT: Matthew Suckling, Stewart Crameri, Caleb Daniel, Lin Jong
EMG: Clay Smith, Tom Campbell, Josh Dunkley
The Dogs will field 17 of the 22 players that defeated Sydney on Grand Final day last year. Of the five that aren't featuring tonight, Joel Hamling is now a Fremantle Docker, Tory Dickson and Jordan Roughead on the sidelines - Dickson recovering from off-season groin surgery and Roughead recovering from an injured hamstring suffered in the JLT Community Series - and Clay Smith and Josh Dunkley the incredibly unlucky ones named as the emergencies, that's how good the Bulldogs' depth is at the moment.
But the Dogs have those omissions well covered, with captain Robert Murphy making his official return since he suffered that devastating knee injury early last year, Stewart Crameri playing his first official game for the Dogs since 2015 after missing the entire 2016 season through suspension, Lin Jong and Matthew Suckling were also named after being unlucky not to play in the Grand Final last year, whilst the biggest inclusion of them all will be without a doubt, Travis Cloke. Not only because of what he can bring to this team, but in his first game in the red, white and blue, he will be up against the very same team that essentially threw him on the scrapheap. Irony is a wonderful thing isn't it?
NEW: Henry Schade (Gold Coast Suns), Will Hoskin-Elliott (Greater Western Sydney)
B: Jeremy Howe, Henry Schade, Jackson Ramsay
HB: Josh Smith, Ben Reid, Brayden Maynard
C: Steele Sidebottom, Scott Pendlebury, Jack Crisp
HF: Jarryd Blair, Jesse White, Travis Varcoe
F: Alex Fasolo, Darcy Moore, Mason Cox
FOL: Brodie Grundy, Adam Treloar, Taylor Adams
INT: Tyson Goldsack, James Aish, Tom Phillips, Will Hoskin-Elliott
EMG: Lynden Dunn, Chris Mayne, Tim Broomhead
Collingwood have spent this past off-season on a recruiting frenzy, having signed former North Melbourne on-baller Daniel Wells and Fremantle forward Chris Mayne via free agency, traded for Lynden Dunn and Will Hoskin-Elliott and drafted former Gold Coast defender Henry Schade in the rookie draft. Out of those five, only Schade and Hoskin-Elliot will make their debuts for the black and white tonight.
Schade only played 20 games over the five years with the Suns, whilst Hoskin-Elliott - blessed with exciting pace and skill - comes home to Victoria from GWS after 52 games from five seasons, with injuries playing a key factor. Bulldogs fans will remember him a couple of years ago when he kicked five for the Giants in a nail-biting win against the Dogs, that's the kind of performances this guy is capable of.
But the big talking point to come out of the Collingwood camp this week is the story surrounding young emerging midfielder Jordan De Goey, who after telling Collingwood officials that he broke his hand playing with his dog, came out and confessed he lied and made the story up, with the real story being De Goey reportedly involved in a fight and broke his hand during the scuffle at a St. Kilda bar, and made coach Buckley look like a fool. De Goey, already facing a month's recovery from this injury, will serve a further three weeks suspension, which is the last thing that Buckley would've wanted, given that he's missing first-choice players in Daniel Wells, Jamie Elliott, Levi Greenwood and now this debacle.
Players To Watch
All eyes will be on the former Collingwood spearhead as he prepares to tackle his old side. It's never an easy scenario to play against your old side, but it makes the pressure on you even heavier when you're playing on a Friday night, with most of the nation watching on their television sets. But let's not forget what this man is capable of. Led Collingwood's goal-kicking for four seasons, despite his much-publicised errant kicking for goal, he's a premiership player and has been a best and fairest winner in the past. His form in his two games in the JLT Community series suggests that he's been enjoying his footy again. If he gets going early, watch out.
It's funny to think that 12 months ago, this man was heavily crucified for putting in mediocre performances on a million-dollar contract. Fast forward to today and he's been heralded a premiership hero. Will be the club's number one ruckman tonight following the injury to Roughead and the club not entirely sold on Tom Campbell who had been recovering from an ankle injury recently. Boyd relished this role during the finals series, and if his performances were anything to go by, then this could be the year that Tom Boyd finally stamps his authority on this side.
In three meetings with the Bulldogs, Darcy Moore has proven to be somewhat of a thorn in the sides of the Bulldog defenders, kicking 10 goals in three matches, including a bag of five on his first meeting with the Bulldogs. With Travis Cloke now out the door, the time is now for this talented young man to stand up and show why everybody inside the Collingwood Football Club rated him so highly. He kicked 24 goals in 17 meetings last year in what's only his second season in the big leagues. Would a 40-50 goal season be too much this year?
12 games was all it took for small forward Alex Fasolo to win Collingwood's goal-kicking award last year, booting 26 goals including two bags of four goals and a career-best haul of six goals in round two. A shoulder injury cruelled any chance of making his 2016 year all the more impressive, but with Fasolo fit and ready to go, the club will hope for him to remain healthy and become a constant threat in Collingwood's forward line this year - they'll need his ability to hit the scoreboard.
Recent history favours the Bulldogs here. They've won the last four games against the Pies and won all four games at the MCG last year, including the semi-final win over Hawthorn and of course, the Grand Final victory, whilst Collingwood won only six of 14 games at the 'Home of Football'.
Some will say the Bulldogs will suffer from a 'premiership hangover', but from an unbiased standpoint, but I'm finding it pretty damn irresistible not to back them in here, given how young and talented their list is, but the Pies were so close to causing an upset last year - twice! I wouldn't put it past them to make Bulldogs supporters absolutely nervous again. I can sense a big game from Travis Cloke against his old side - I predict the Doggies in a close one to keep that winning streak against the Pies going.
Western Bulldogs by 13 Points
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