The Western Bulldogs are on the road for the first time this season, as they prepare to take on a Fremantle outfit that has already looked out of sorts in just two games this year in a Saturday night showdown at Domain Stadium.
On paper, this contest appears to be a mismatch. The reigning premiers are 2-0 to start 2017, after shaking off a determined Collingwood outfit round one, and then grinding out a memorable win over the team they beat in last year's Grand Final - the Sydney Swans last Friday night, just when it seemed that Buddy Franklin and the Swans would run away with it all early in the last quarter, but the Bulldogs showed why they went all the way last September with their determination and never-say-die attitude towards a contest. They are considered a huge chance to be 3-0 for the first time since 2009.
The Doggies could be in for a night out against a Fremantle team that has already proven to be a dysfunctional unit in only two games. Nobody expected them to beat Geelong in round one, but it was last Sunday's demolition at the hands of Port Adelaide that has left Freo supporters worried and wondering about where they're heading this year. Ross Lyon is probably one of the best defensively-minded coaches in the game today, but last weekend they allowed the Power to put through 22 goals, they won the game by 89 points and are currently the league's worst scoring side and the leakiest defence so far.
With Lyon opting for a younger side in on Saturday night, the odds of pulling off an upset on the reigning premiers might appear bleak, given how poor Fremantle's ball use has been over the past fortnight, but Fremantle will have recent history on their side. Fremantle have won six of the last eight encounters against the Dogs. The last time the Bulldogs have beaten Fremantle in Perth was round one, 2009. Since then the two sides have played in Perth three times, with the Dockers taking the spoils on each occasion, but with the Bulldogs having demolished West Coast in last year's Elimination Final over in Perth, it looks unlikely the home and away factor will be an issue for the champs.
The last time these two teams met was the final round of last year, where Fremantle dug out a rare win to send off retiring champion Matthew Pavlich in style. Will Fremantle be able to pull off another remarkable upset on the Bulldogs?
IN: Toby McLean
OUT: Stewart Crameri (Hip)
B: Marcus Adams, Fletcher Roberts, Jason Johannisen
HB: Matthew Suckling, Easton Wood, Robert Murphy
C: Lachie Hunter, Luke Dahlhaus, Matthew Boyd
HF: Jack Macrae, Lin Jong, Jake Stringer
F: Toby McLean, Travis Cloke, Liam Picken
FOL: Tom Boyd, Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Liberatore
INT: Zaine Cordy, Tom Campbell, Shane Biggs, Caleb Daniel
EMG: Clay Smith, Josh Dunkley, Bailey Williams
Only the one forced change for the Bulldogs sees Stewart Crameri sitting out of Saturday night's game with a hip injury. The former Bomber has had a slow start to 2017 after missing the entire 2016 season with suspension for his involvement in Essendon's supplements scandal, averaging 12 disposals and has only managed a goal so far in 2017, but averaging a career-best five tackles a game over the past fortnight. Replacing him is Toby McLean, who was unlucky to miss out last Friday night, but he'll want to perform and kick a couple of goals on Saturday night if he's to solidify his spot in the team.
It still shocks me that premiership players Clay Smith and Josh Dunkley have yet to play a game so far this season. Both men were vital cogs in the Bulldogs' 2016 success, but that's a testament to the depth of their roster, and with the likes of Mitch Wallis, Jack Redpath to come back from injury and Lukas Webb, Bailey Dale and Mitch Honeychurch putting in consistently solid performances for Footscray in the VFL, the pressure for spots won't be getting any easier.
IN: Ethan Hughes, Tommy Sheridan, Brady Grey, Harley Balic, Griffin Logue, Hayden Crozier
OUT: Cameron Sutcliffe, Darcy Tucker, Danyle Pearce, Zac Dawson, Nick Suban, Jonathon Griffin (All Omitted)
B: Ethan Hughes, Joel Hamling, Lee Spurr
HB: Garrick Ibbotson, Michael Johnson, Tommy Sheridan
C: Stephen Hill, Lachie Neale, Bradley Hill
HF: Lachie Weller, Cam McCarthy, Ed Langdon
F: Michael Walters, Shane Kersten, Brady Grey
FOL: Aaron Sandilands, Nat Fyfe, David Mundy
INT: Connor Blakely, Harley Balic, Griffin Logue, Hayden Crozier
EMG: Matt Taberner, Danyle Pearce, Jonathon Griffin
Fremantle coach Ross Lyon stated that he was prepared to swing the selection axe in his post-game press conference following his side's 89-point loss to Port Adelaide, with his intentions to develop his younger players, he has certainly followed through on his promise, cutting six players from the side that took the field last Sunday evening. Zac Dawson - who has long been percieved as the coaches pet to Lyon - has been axed, along with veterans Danyle Pearce, Nick Suban and Jonathon Griffin, as well as Cam Sutcliffe and Darcy Tucker.
Fremantle have named two debutants for Saturday night. One being Victorian midfielder Harley Balic, who was taken with the 38th pick in the 2015 AFL Draft. A talented player who can push forward at times, Balic battled through a wrist injury in 2016, before featuring strongly for Peel Thunder late in the year, they would eventually go on to win the WAFL premiership. The other debutant is key defender Griffin Logue who was Fremantle's first pick in last year's AFL draft, taken with the eighth overall pick. Logue's described as an athletic prospect who's got clean hands, capable of running the ball out of defensive 50, elite endurance and has got a body ready to take on the rigours of AFL footy.
Also into the side for Saturday night include Ethan Hughes, Tom Sheridan, Hayden Crozier and rookie-listed midfielder Brady Grey - all four players have combined to play only 118 career games, they might all be inexperienced, but Ross Lyon is looking to players who can clean up their shockingly bad use of the football.
Recent History (Last 10 Games)
Round 23, 2016 - Domain Stadium: Fremantle 10.9.69 def Western Bulldogs 6.13.49
Round 1, 2016 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 15.13.103 def Fremantle 5.8.38
Round 7, 2015 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 14.4.88 def by Fremantle 15.11.101
Round 11, 2014 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 6.15.51 def by Fremantle 13.11.89
Round 2, 2013 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 11.12.78 def by Fremantle 16.10.106
Round 15, 2012 - Domain Stadium: Fremantle 14.11.95 def Western Bulldogs 8.9.57
Round 24, 2011 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 15.17.107 def Fremantle 8.13.61
Round 5, 2011 - Domain Stadium: Fremantle 12.13.85 def Western Bulldogs 11.12.78
Round 17, 2010 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 24.14.158 def Fremantle 12.4.76
Round 18, 2009 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 17.9.111 def Fremantle 11.14.80
Players To Watch
The last time Jake Stringer played against Fremantle, he kicked five goals in what was a dominant display against what was considerably weak opposition. Looks to have his 2015 form back, kicking three goals from 15 disposals in last Friday night's win over Sydney after an inaccurate 1.3 the week before, but a big problem with his game - particularly last year, is that when he does have a good week, he doesn't often appear the following week. Can 'The Package' deliver a bag of goals Saturday night?
The ruck combination of Tom Campbell and Tom Boyd will have their hands full on Saturday night, as they look to curb the influence of Fremantle's legendary giant Aaron Sandilands. After just two weeks into the season, Sandilands - who is 34 years of age - is currently leading the AFL in hitouts, averaging 42 hitouts, 14 disposals and over six clearances per game. Ran riot over the Bulldogs ruckmen last time they met, can the Dogs find a way to stop him?
Will be up against his old premiership team mates for the first time since being traded back home to Western Australia, I think it will be very interesting to see who the former Bulldog will match-up on come the first bounce. His performances so far have been okay, but because of how poor Fremantle are, there has been a lot more pressure on Hamling and the other defenders to go out and get the job done, but every Bulldog supporter knows what he's capable of when it's his day. I've quite enjoyed watching him play during his tenure at Whitten Oval, I hope he has a good game for the Dockers on Saturday night
The last time we saw Nat Fyfe combat against the Bulldogs, he had a horror showing with 15 disposals and not much influence. He would go on to play a further four games last year before a broken leg ruled him out for the remainder of the year. This year he has not skipped a beat, averaging a career-best 29 disposals in the first fortnight of the 2017 AFL season and is averaging over five marks, five tackles, five clearances and five inside 50s so far this season. Have the Bulldogs got his number?
Fremantle's first two weeks this season have been completely abysmal to the point where Ross Lyon has thrown his hands up and has virtually said: 'Right, it's time to rebuild'. I expect Fremantle to come out a bit better than last week, but this game shouldn't be much of a problem for the Bulldogs, I expect them to get the win in Perth and make it three wins from three games to start the year.
I'm not sure if it's wise to throw the debutants Logue and Balic into the wolves that are the reigning premiers, but Lyon will want his players to dig in and have a crack. It's going to be a question of how much the Bulldogs will win by, but I'm predicting it's not going to be as embarrassing as what some people might suggest, but expect one of Cloke or Stringer to have a night out on a mostly young and inexperienced back-line and someone in the midfield to flirt with the idea of having a 40-disposal game.
Western Bulldogs By 35 Points
Pictures Courtesy Of Getty Images