Western Bulldogs 2.2 2.8 7.15 12.17.89
North Melbourne 2.4 4.7 8.11 12.14.86
Western Bulldogs: Stringer 2, Dahlhaus 2, Suckling 2, Cloke, Bontempelli, Murphy, Liberatore, Dunkley, Macrae
North Melbourne: Brown 4, Turner 2, Simpkin 2, Higgins, Garner, Goldstein, Ziebell
Alex Docherty's Best
Western Bulldogs: Dahlhaus, Bontempelli, Macrae, Murphy, Suckling, Stringer, McLean
North Melbourne: Cunnington, Ziebell, Goldstein, Brown, Swallow, Hrovat, Simpkin
Both players from the Western Bulldogs and North Melbourne Football Clubs promised during the week that they were going to put on a show for those that would attend Etihad Stadium for the historic, first-ever AFL Good Friday game.
The skills might've been a bit scratchy throughout the game, but the game had all the makings of a heartstopping encounter. The Bulldogs had to overcome a 29-point third quarter deficit to defeat North Melbourne in the game's first-ever Good Friday encounter in front of a raucus crowd of nearly 43,000 spectators.
From the first bounce, the pressure displayed from both sides, resulted in ugly, scrappy footy, which both sets of supporters witnessed in two meetings last year. The reigning premiers kicked two of the first three goals of the match, but wouldn't register their third goal until the seven-minute mark of the third quarter, but the Dogs had more than their fair share of chances at goal. They recorded 17 inside 50s to 8 in the first quarter, and could only muster six behinds from 10 inside 50 entries in the second.
The reigning premiers were reduced to 21 men midway through the first quarter when Tom Boyd spilled an easy mark and then his second-effort resulted in an accidental head clash with North Melbourne defender Scott Thompson, resulting in a delayed concussion. He would sit out the rest of the game, leaving Tom Campbell to duel the All-Australian Todd Goldstein and man-mountain Braydon Preuss in the ruck.
North's finishing in front of goal was perhaps only marginally better than that of the Bulldogs, as they did put a couple of goals through in the second quarter, but their field kicking showed that of a young side on a rebuild. Nonetheless they led by 11 points at half-time and were looking like every bit of a side that was desperate to get their first win of 2017.
North then followed up their efforts in the second quarter with three goals in the span of the opening six minutes of the third quarter to open up the margin to a game-high 29 points and were in full control of the contest. But that problem that has plagued the Roos all season looked to have come back to haunt them once again as the inexperience factor cost North Melbourne to entirely blow the lead late in the third quarter when the Bulldogs piled on five goals in a row to regain the lead for the first time since the early stages of the first quarter.
But the lead wouldn't last long for the Bulldogs, as Kayne Turner recieved a free kick, as Dogs captain Robert Murphy was pinged for front-on contact as Turner was coming to mark it, much to the dismay of the Bulldog supporters who witnessed it all happen right in front of them. Turner would convert the set shot from 30 metres to give the Roos the lead back, However, the Dogs would get an opportunity to regain the lead on three-quarter time when Josh Dunkley was rewarded a contentious free-kick from the AFL's much-maligned nominated-ruckmen system. Dunkley had nominated for the contest, but so did team mate Marcus Bontempelli, causing confusion to the North lads, as former North captain Andrew Swallow was blocking Dunkley's path to the ball. Whilst Dunkley missed the shot after the siren, it has unquestionably sparked debates about whether or not this 'No Third-Man-Up' rule is really working in the league.
But the controversial free-kick wouldn't deter what a last quarter these two teams had in store. Both sides would start the final term trading the lead, as Luke Dahlhaus got the Dogs back the lead early in the quarter before former Dog and now seemingly now one of Footscray's most hated Shaun Higgins slotted a very nice goal from a tight angle, but the boos from the Bulldogs' camp were evident anytime he got near the ball. After Jack Macrae snapped one home to put the Dogs back in front, North steered clear with goals to Taylor Garner and Jy Simpkin to hold an eight-point lead midway through the final term.
The Roos, after weeks of being that side that would trip at the final hurdle, looked as if they were going to get finally get one and on the reigning premiers, but the Bulldogs weren't ready to pack it up just yet. Tom Liberatore coolly slotted one home from close range, as Travis Cloke recieved what would later be revealed broken ribs after he copped a nasty hit from North captain Jack Ziebell. The Dogs were down by two points, and down to 20 men, but they didn't stop coming. Jake Stringer dribbled one through to give them lead minutes after Libba's goal and Matthew Suckling drilled home another goal to give the Dogs a 10-point advantage with about four minutes to go.
Thought the game was over? You thought wrong. Shortly after Suckling's goal, North's captain provided an inspirational moment with a brilliant snap goal from the top of the goal-square - only four points in it. North threatened to snatch from the Dogs at various points, but another contentious free kick against Scott Thompson - this time the AFL's newly interpreted deliberate out of bounds rule - showed Thompson punch the ball towards the boundary line, when most people believed he missed the intended target, being team mate Sam Gibson, and like the free kick in the third quarter, should cause plenty of debate during the week.
But it would be much-maligned Kangaroo forward Lindsay Thomas - celebrating game number 200, who would provide the gripping final seconds to the match. His entry inside 50 with 30 seconds to go found last year's Norm Smith medallist Jason Johannisen, but Thomas would shortly find the ball back in his hands outside the 50 metre paint and would give it a shot from beyond the arc with seconds left - unbeknownst to him. The shot would go left for a minor-score, gifting the Bulldogs a thrilling three-point win.
If there was any doubt of the AFL hosting games on Good Friday, I would be 100 percent certain, those doubts were eradicated on Friday evening, it was arguably one of the most thrilling nail-biters we've seen so far this year, and it would surely have to be in contention for match of the year.
Leading The Way
Arguably, it was Luke Dahlhaus who was the Western Bulldogs' most influential player on the ground, he recorded a team-high 32 disposals, along with six tackles, four clearances and two goals and provided constant drive for four quarters. Marcus Bontempelli continued to do Marcus Bontempelli things, he had a solid game, recording 25 disposals, eight inside 50s, six tackles and a goal, whilst Jack Macrae had 23 disposals, seven marks, four clearances and a goal.
At half time, the microscope was on Matt Suckling after a second quarter that was marred with just silly turnovers and stupid decision-making, but he emerged from the rooms like a man ready to right his wrongs. He was the man that broke the Bulldogs' goal drought in the third quarter and was fittingly the man who got the Dogs to a 10-point lead late in the last quarter. He finished with 26 disposals, eight inside 50s and six marks to go along with his two goals. Jake Stringer also kicked two goals and could've done more with his 19 disposals, five inside 50s and four marks (two of those inside 50), but was dangerous for most of the game.
Captain Robert Murphy had brilliant moments, particularly in the second half where the team needed him and delivered big time. He kicked a very nice goal in the third term to get the Dogs back to within striking distance and took a clutch intercept mark in defence in the dying minutes of the last quarter. He would finish with 24 disposals, six inside 50s and three rebound 50s. Toby McLean (Career-High 27 disposals), Liam Picken (24 disposals, six marks, four inside 50s) and a returning Clay Smith (Career-High 15 tackles) were also impressive in the win.
North Melbourne were expected to struggle to record wins in 2017 after a number of years in amongst finals contention, including back-to-back preliminary final appearances. But their performance on Friday suggests they're first win of the year will be closer than some may think. The Kangaroos beat the reigning premiers at contested ball (149-131) and in the clearances (41-34), which have been factors in which the Dogs have struggled so far this year.
Ben Cunnington and captain Jack Ziebell were massive contributors, with the captain recording 27 disposals, eight clearances and three inside 50s, but Cunnington was North's standout with a game-high 33 disposals, 10 clearances, six marks and four rebound 50s. Former captain Andrew Swallow also providing a solid game with 18 disposals, 11 tackles and five inside 50s while All-Australian ruckman Todd Goldstein was back to his best with 21 disposals, 29 hitouts, seven marks and a goal.
Key forward Ben Brown was lively with four goals and threatened to take the game by the scruff of the neck, and whilst he faded as the second half wore on, he was a key to getting North Melbourne going. Former Bulldog Nathan Hrovat got busy with 24 disposals and five clearances as he is proving to be a handy pick up for the men at Arden Street, whilst their prized draftee Jy Simpkin kicked two vital goals in the second half, and looks like he will be star for this football club going into the future.
We go from a history-making match one round, to a magical milestone game for one of Footscray's loyal servants. Next Saturday will mark the 300th game of one Robert Murphy. What a journey it has been for the man known to many simply as 'Bob', and I've got no doubt that the Bulldogs will be up and about for champion of this club.
The Bulldogs, at 3-1 as we head into round five, will play a Brisbane Lions team, who despite being at 1-3, are a much more competitive outfit as opposed to the team we saw 12 months ago. Under new coach Chris Fagan, they've shown a competitive side to Brisbane that we haven't seen in a good while. It'll be interesting to see what transpires on Saturday afternoon.