The Western Bulldogs and the Sydney Swans didn't have to wait long to renew hostilities as they clash underneath the roof of Etihad Stadium tonight in their first clash since the 2016 Grand Final in what is shaping to be a big night for the reigning premiers. After disposing a plucky Collingwood outfit last Friday night at the MCG, the Bulldogs will unveil their historic 2016 flag as part of the pre-game festivities, before going to work on the side they beat last year to break a 62-year drought.
In their opening round encounter, Sydney were shocked on their own home turf, after Port Adelaide rolled into town and humbled last year's Grand Finalists to the tune of 28 points. The Swans have long been known for their ability to win the contested ball, but last week were shown up by a team that was tipped by many not to make the eight. But if there's one thing about these Swans, is that they don't have two poor games in a row, and will be hell-bent in rectifying that poor performance from last week.
Add to the fact that the Sydney players will have last year's agonising Grand Final defeat still fresh in their memory, then it makes the match-up all the more exciting as the Swans will be hell-bent in looking for retribution. The Swans have dropped the last three matches against the Bulldogs with an average losing margin of 10 points. Before that, the Swans won six straight with an average winning margin of 53 points.
It's tipped to be a big night with a big crowd expected to be in at Etihad Stadium tonight - this is a blockbuster game you don't want to miss.
IN: Marcus Adams, Tom Campbell
OUT: Toby McLean (Omitted), Dale Morris (Leg)
B: Zaine Cordy, Fletcher Roberts, Jason Johannisen
HB: Easton Wood, Marcus Adams, Robert Murphy
C: Lachie Hunter, Luke Dahlhaus, Matthew Boyd
HF: Jack Macrae, Tom Boyd, Jake Stringer
F: Stewart Crameri, Travis Cloke, Liam Picken
FOL: Tom Campbell, Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Liberatore
INT: Matthew Suckling, Shane Biggs, Caleb Daniel, Lin Jong
EMG: Clay Smith, Toby McLean, Josh Dunkley
The Dogs have made two changes to the side the defeated Collingwood by 14 points last week. Defender Dale Morris will unfortunately miss the next couple of months as he suffered a spiral fracture in his leg just seconds before the final siren in last week's win over the Pies, which is a massive blow to the club's defensive unit, but they will hope key defender Marcus Adams can return to his early season form last year that wowed many Bulldogs supporters.
Also out of the side is Toby McLean, who I thought was unlucky to get omitted. McLean had 13 disposals and kicked an important goal in the third quarter. But coming into the side is some much-needed ruck support for Tom Boyd in the shape of Tom Campbell. Boyd and Travis Cloke last week were dominated in the ruck by Brodie Grundy and Mason Cox, and with Campbell coming back into the team, it should help both these individuals tonight get back into some good form.
IN: Robbie Fox, Nic Newman, Will Hayward
OUT: Daniel Robinson (Collarbone), Dane Rampe (Arm), Dean Towers
B: Nick Smith, Heath Grundy, Zak Jones
HB: Jeremy Laidler, Harrison Marsh, Callum Mills
C: Kieran Jack, Josh Kennedy, Jake Lloyd
HF: Harry Cunningham, Kurt Tippett, George Hewett
F: Sam Reid, Lance Franklin, Jordan Foote
FOL: Sam Naismith, Luke Parker, Dan Hannebery
INT: Oliver Florent, Robbie Fox, Nic Newman, Will Hayward
EMG: Aliir Aliir, Callum Sinclair, Dean Towers
Three changes, three debutants for the Swans as they look to put games into their younger players, but before we get to them, let's talk about who comes out of this team from last week. Dean Towers was dropped after he was quiet in last week's loss to Port Adelaide, Dan Robinson broke his collarbone in the same game last week in what was only his 12th game in the AFL, whilst 2016 All-Australian Dane Rampe broke his arm in an unfortunate training incident and will be out for a significant period of time. Add that to the injuries to those who played in last year's Grand Final: Isaac Heeney (Glandular Fever), Jarrad McVeigh (Calf), Tom Papley (Knee) and Gary Rohan (Back) and now it begins to test the depth of this Sydney side.
Now to the debutants playing their first games tonight. None of which I'm more excited to see than Will Hayward, who was taken with Sydney's second overall pick (21st overall) in the 2016 AFL draft, is a mid-sized forward from North Adelaide who has the ability to kick bags of goals, starring for North Adelaide in the SANFL's under-18 competition and kicked eight goals in four matches for South Australia in the under-18 national championship. Also named for debut include mature-aged recruit Robbie Fox who was rookie-listed by the Swans last year from VFL side Coburg, he will give the Swans another midfield option to look at as they look beyond the big trio of Hannebery, Kennedy and Parker, and Nic Newman, who was rookie listed by the club in 2015, was elevated off the rookie list at the end of last year after a very impressive season in the NEAFL.
Recent History (Last 10 Games)
Grand Final, 2016 - MCG: Western Bulldogs 13.11.89 def Sydney 10.7.67
Round 15, 2016 - SCG: Sydney 11.13.79 def by Western Bulldogs 13.11.89
Round 5, 2015 - SCG: Sydney 10.13.73 def by Western Bulldogs 11.11.77
Round 22, 2014 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 9.13.67 def by Sydney 20.10.130
Round 19, 2013 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 15.9.99 def by Sydney 21.8.134
Round 21, 2012 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 13.7.85 def by Sydney 26.11.167
Round 10, 2012 - SCG: Sydney 20.12.132 def Western Bulldogs 5.12.40
Round 18, 2011 - SCG: Sydney 16.18.114 def Western Bulldogs 11.9.75
Round 7, 2011 - Manuka Oval: Western Bulldogs 10.5.65 def by Sydney 10.13.73
First Semi Final, 2010 - MCG: Western Bulldogs 11.11.77 def Sydney 10.12.72
Players To Watch
It's been quite the week for the out-of-contract 2016 Norm Smith Medallist, as he officially put his contract talks with the club on hold until the end of the season. Usually when a player does that, it puts a lot of pressure on that player to perform to the best of their ability and it means they're usually out the door by the end of the year. Johannisen, though has gone on the record by stating he wants to remain a Bulldog beyond 2017. Johannisen has been a tormentor of the Swans in recent memory, sinking that last-minute goal during their only home and away clash last season and then there was that performance that landed him best on ground honours in the Grand Final. He was destructive last week against the Pies, can he do it again?
Last time we saw Marcus Adams take a football field, he was given a football lesson from none other than Lance Franklin, who bagged five goals on the SCG as the Swans were pipped at the post. Since that evening, Adams has been on the injury front ever since, with a case of homesickness threatening to end Adams' short career at the Whitten Oval. But the good news for Bulldogs fans is that the West-Australian is reportedly keen to re-sign with the reigning premiers beyond this year. After having a sluggish JLT Community Series, Adams regained some form in the VFL last weekend, and with Buddy in good form, he'll have his hands full tonight in an exciting match-up.
Last week he was a shining light in an otherwise dark evening for the Swans, kicking three goals and taking a number of impressive contested marks after missing the entire of 2016 with a number of injury complaints. His best can be really good, dare I say, even a match-winner - he's kicked bags of three and four and even a bag of six in recent history. Sydney coach John Longmire went on the record and stated that this man was so close to playing in the Grand Final last year - interesting call, one player to keep an eye out throughout the night.
Had 18 disposals and zero tackles in a losing effort last weekend, and honestly, that just wasn't good enough by his lofty standards - he really needed to do more. Hannebery averaged 30 disposals a game over the last two years and is considered a big threat in Sydney's midfield. Like the Swans, it's rare to see this man - a three-time All-Australian - have two bad weeks in a row. I'm tipping a big game from him tonight - 30-35 disposals at the very least.
I find it a very interesting statistic that Sydney have 10 of their 22 playing tonight all underneath the 50-game barrier, such is their inexperience, and with all of their injuries at the moment to key players, I find it no surprise to see the Bulldogs heading in as the favourites. Dane Rampe is such a big loss to their defensive unit, his ability to not only play a lock-down role, but provide the run and drive out of defence is severly underrated here in Victoria.
But the Swans have always been a damn good footy side, regardless of who they've put on the park, and I wouldn't put it past them to give the reigning champs a scare. If Buddy and Sam Reid get firing early tonight, then it could spell big trouble for the red, white and blues, but given the experience and the depth of this team, they should get the job done tonight and go 2-0. How good would it be to see Tom Boyd pull off a encore performance of that stunning Grand Final performance on the Swans again?
Western Bulldogs By 18 Points