Today marks a historic day for North Melbourne, the Western Bulldogs and the AFL in general as these two sides will go head to head in the league's first-ever AFL game on Good Friday. For years now, footy fans have been subjected to watching rival codes play on this public holiday, but now the day is finally here for the AFL to have a game with premiership points up for grabs. We can only hope that these two will put on a show and that supporters get down to watch these two sides battle it out, and hopefully see this fixture become a permanent feature in years to come
Having said that, it should be a beauty between the Bulldogs and the Kangaroos. The two teams played each other twice last season, each picking up a win in very low-scoring encounters. The ended 7th and 8th on the ladder at the end of the home and away season last year, but this year both sides find themselves on opposite ends of the spectrum.
The Bulldogs started the year 2-0 and had won nine of their past 11 matches, including their miraculous finals series last year. Last week, they were given a massive reality check by Ross Lyon and the Fremantle Dockers, with several players struggling to make an impact on a Freo side that looked rejuvenated and nothing like the team that copped numerous beltings last year. But they will be out today, keen to make amends on such a dismal performance in Perth.
As the reigning premiers, they have got to start winning more clearances, they sit last in the league in both clearances (32.3 per game) and centre clearances (10 per game), but with North ranked 16th in clearances themselves, the Dogs are a chance today to get out of that slump, and put some respectable numbers on the board.
North Melbourne, this time last year, were 3-0. This year, with an extremely younger line-up, are yet to win a game this year, but they have been incredibly competitive in the first three weeks of the season, which will have their supporters, relatively delighted to an extent. It's been their fourth quarters in particular that have been the root cause in why North haven't been able to get a win so far in 2017. But that is to be expected, given how young their list is this year.
Last year they had names such as Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Michael Firrito, Daniel Wells and Nick Dal Santo - these guys brought in over 1000 games of experience into this team and with them no longer at the club, it's forced the clubs to backwards and put games into their younger players. North haven't lost their first four games of a season since 1975, which was in fact the year they won their first VFL/AFL premiership in the club's history, but will nonetheless be desperate to get their first win of the year at the expense of the reigning champs.
IN: Clay Smith, Josh Dunkley
OUT: Shane Biggs, Caleb Daniel (Both Omitted)
B: Marcus Adams, Fletcher Roberts, Jason Johannisen
HB: Matthew Suckling, Easton Wood, Matthew Boyd
C: Lachie Hunter, Luke Dahlhaus, Matthew Boyd
HF: Josh Dunkley, Travis Cloke, Jake Stringer
F: Lin Jong, Tom Boyd, Liam Picken
FOL: Tom Campbell, Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Liberatore
INT: Jack Macrae, Zaine Cordy, Clay Smith, Toby McLean
EMG: Shane Biggs, Bailey Williams, Caleb Daniel
Bulldogs' coach Luke Beveridge has made two unforced changes to the side that lost to Fremantle last Saturday, dropping two players that have become regular features in the 22 in Shane Biggs and Caleb Daniel, the latter one may come as a surprising omission to a lot, given how good he usually is with his skills and composure, but when you look at it closely, his impact on games have diminshed a fair bit this season.
Coming into the team are two players that have been banging down the door since round one. Premiership players Clay Smith and Josh Dunkley have been brought in for their first game of the year and their first game since the Grand Final. I expect them to be playing down forward predominantly, with small stints in the midfield throughout the match. Liam Picken was also named in the team after he passed his concussions tests after his sickening head knock last weekend, whilst Stewart Crameri will sit out this week as well as he continues to battle hip problems.
IN: Scott Thompson, Jy Simpkin
OUT: Ryan Clarke, Sam Durdin (Both Omitted)
B: Marley Williams, Robbie Tarrant, Luke McDonald
HB: Lachie Hansen, Scott Thompson, Aaron Mullett
C: Taylor Garner, Trent Dumont, Kayne Turner
HF: Jamie Macmillan, Ben Brown, Ben Cunnington
F: Jy Simpkin, Lindsay Thomas, Nathan Hrovat
FOL: Todd Goldstein, Jack Ziebell, Shaun Higgins
INT: Andrew Swallow, Shaun Atley, Braydon Preuss, Sam Gibson
EMG: Ryan Clarke, Ed Vickers-Willis, Corey Wagner
North Melbourne have also made two changes to the team that went down to GWS by 42 points last Saturday in Hobart. They will welcome back Scott Thompson after he missed last week's game with a one-week suspension for striking Geelong's Patrick Dangerfield back in round two, and they will also welcome back their first selection in last year's AFL draft in Jy Simpkin who missed last week with a quad complaint. They will replace midfielder and seven-game veteran Ryan Clarke and key defender Sam Durdin, who became the 1000th North Melbourne player to make his debut last weekend.
North Melbourne have won six of their past nine games against the Bulldogs, but have lost two of their past three against the reigning premiers. The two sides have played each other 157 times since they both entered the league in 1925, but remarkably these two teams remain unseperable, each winning 77 clashes against the other team, with three draws also in the history between the two clubs, the last draw between the two happening in 1987 - hard to believe that was 30 years ago.
Recent History (Past 10 Games)
Round 20, 2016 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 9.7.61 def North Melbourne 7.5.47
Round 6, 2016 - Etihad Stadium: North Melbourne 9.7.61 def Western Bulldogs 6.9.45
Round 22, 2015 - Etihad Stadium: North Melbourne 10.13.73 def by Western Bulldogs 14.12.96
Round 21, 2014 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 8.13.61 def by North Melbourne 17.9.111
Round 2, 2014 - Etihad Stadium: North Melbourne 12.11 83 def Western Bulldogs 8.6.54
Round 7, 2013 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 15.7.97 def by North Melbourne 22.19.151
Round 19, 2012 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 8.13.61 def by North Melbourne 18.7.115
Round 7, 2012 - Etihad Stadium: North Melbourne 12.11.83 def by Western Bulldogs 15.11.101
Round 17, 2011 - Etihad Stadium: North Melbourne 21.16.142 def Western Bulldogs 17.9.111
Round 18, 2010 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 22.11.143 def North Melbourne 10.12.72
Players To Watch
The last time Marcus Bontempelli took the field against North Melbourne, he was the central target of a North Melbourne ambush that led to one of the more fiery encounters we've seen between the two sides in recent memory. The Bont has started season 2017 in fine fashion as most would expect from one of the superstars of the competition, he's averaging 25 disposals per game and sits only behind Lachie Hunter in goals kicked with five for the year so far. Will North Melbourne put someone in to run with him like Fremantle did last week?
The former Pie will play his 250th career game today as he looks to bounce back from a shocker of a week. Last week he was soundly beaten by the former Dog Joel Hamling and this week doesn't get any easier as he'll most likely match up with serial pest Scott Thompson. In his 15 games against North Melbourne, Cloke has kicked a return of 25.20, including bags of four and five goals in recent memory, but the last time he played the Roos, he was held goalless. Will he rise up to his milestone game?
Since crossing over from the Western Bulldogs this past off-season, Nathan Hrovat has settled in quite nicely at North Melbourne and has been lively at times this year playing as a half-forward, averaging just under 17 disposals a game so far in three games this year. Today's game will match the number of games that he played for the Dogs last season, that was how much of a struggle he found to crack into the team's 22. A player that I've enjoyed watching in his limited time at the Whitten Oval, I look forward to seeing what he produces against his old side.
He's been one player I've been impressed with since the start of this season, the former Rugby player has been very good so far, playing as the back up ruckman to Todd Goldstein and has shown that he can be a force to be reckoned with in the ruck, recording 46 hitouts against Geelong back in round two. He's one player the Dogs should watch out for as he is not only a massive physical presence in the middle, but he can be a serious threat down forward, and with two goals last week against premiership contenders GWS, one has to think that his confidence will be high.
These two teamscombined for 31 goals in their two matches last year, but I'm sensing this year is going to be an entirely different game for these two sides. North have conceded over 100 points in all three of their games so far, and if the Dogs get firing early, the Roos are in trouble of making it four games where they have conceded 100 points or more.
I'm tipping the Dogs to bounce back this weekend, but North are desperate for a win and I expect it to be a tight tussle for three quarters before the Dogs pull away for a comfortable win. They looked like they were expecting the win to be handed to them last week, and the Dockers gave them a kick up the backside, and I'm sure Luke Beveridge won't let that happen again. The reigning premiers needto and should use this game to let the competition know that they remain the team to beat this season.
It's going to be a good game of footy and fingers crossed we get more games on Good Friday for years to come.
Western Bulldogs By 22 Points
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