The Western Bulldogs will be out on the Etihad Stadium surface again on Saturday afternoon as they host the Brisbane Lions in what is to be the 300th game of Bulldogs' captain Robert Murphy. Whilst all of the pre-game hype will be directed towards the Dogs' much-loved leader, the Bulldogs shouldn't let the festivities become a distraction, as the Lions will be up and about this week.
Under new head coach Chris Fagan, the Lions have been real competitive so far in the first month of the 2017 season. In the first round of the season, they blasted Gold Coast out of the park in the opening half, leading by 46 points at the half-time break, and managed to hold off a spirited comeback for Coach Fagan's first official win as coach. Since then, they've lost three in a row, but last week's 52-point loss to Richmond being the worst of the lot, with the Lions virtually out of the contest by the second quarter.
They'll find themselves with a golden opportunity to knock off the Dogs on their own home turf this weekend. Their last couple of weeks for the reigning premiers have been really shaky to say the least, and were pretty fortunate to get away with the win against North Melbourne in the inaugural Good Friday game, but regardless of how close the game was, the Bulldogs needed that win after their horrendous round three performance to stay in touch with the leading teams.
But they need to start putting comprehensive wins on the board to show the rest of the competition that they are still the team to beat. Saturday's game against the Lions presents a great opportunity to do just this and will be a step in the right direction if they can get a 8-10 goal win, but for that to eventuate, they need to fix the number of fumbles and errors and this clearance problem that has them sitting dead last in the AFL in the first month of the year.
Brisbane last met the Bulldogs in round five last year under the roof of Etihad Stadium and were comprehensively beaten by a Bulldogs team that should've won by a lot more, given that they doubled the number of scoring shots than the Lions, but a lot has changed since that evening. Could the Lions provide a massive shock on the reigning premiers for a champions' milestone game?
IN: Shane Biggs
OUT: Travis Cloke (Ribs)
B: Matthew Boyd, Fletcher Roberts, Jason Johannisen
HB: Matthew Suckling, Easton Wood, Robert Murphy
C: Lachie Hunter, Luke Dahlhaus, Jack Macrae
HF: Josh Dunkley, Jake Stringer, Clay Smith
F: Lin Jong, Tom Boyd, Liam Picken
FOL: Tom Campbell, Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Liberatore
INT: Zaine Cordy, Toby McLean, Shane Biggs, Marcus Adams
EMG: Lukas Webb, Bailey Williams, Caleb Daniel
The Dogs have made only one forced change from the line-up that defeated North Melbourne last Friday, with Travis Cloke set to miss more than a month after he suffered broken ribs at the hands of North Melbourne captain Jack Ziebell. It wasn't a malicious hit on the former Pie, but the bump from Ziebell hit Cloke directly in the ribs just seconds after he kicked the ball to Tom Liberatore in the last quarter. Another man who missed a lot of play last weekend was Tom Boyd, who sat out the second half with concussion. He is fit to play this weekend, which is fantastic news considering the number of talls that are available at this present time.
Coming into the side will be Shane Biggs, who was dropped for last week's game against North Melbourne and responded accordingly via the VFL. Another premiership player who was dropped last weekend in Caleb Daniel, will be set to spend another week in the twos. The Dogs will also miss Stewart Crameri for another few weeks as he struggles to overcome a hip complaint.
IN: Ryan Harwood, Ryan Bastinac, Liam Dawson
OUT: Tom Bell, Rohan Bewick (Both Omitted), Tom Cutler (Hamstring)
B: Ryan Harwood, Harris Andrews, Daniel Rich
HB: Sam Mayes, Darcy Gardiner, Cedric Cox
C: Jarrod Berry, Dayne Zorko, Ryan Lester
HF: Lewis Taylor, Eric Hipwood, Hugh McCluggage
F: Mitch Robinson, Josh Schache, Daniel McStay
FOL: Stefan Martin, Dayne Beams, Tom Rockliff
INT: Ryan Bastinac, Claye Beams, Nick Robertson, Liam Dawson
EMG: Ben Keays, Michael Klose, Jake Barrett
The Lions have made three changes to the side that was comprehensively beaten by Richmond last Sunday, with coach Fagan swinging the axe at both Tom Bell and Rohan Bewick, whilst Tom Cutler will be missing a bit of footy after he sustained a hamstring injury in the early stages of last week's game. Coming into the side include former Roo Ryan Bastinac, defender Ryan Harwood and 17-game veteran Liam Dawson.
Etihad Stadium hasn't been so good to Brisbane in recent memories against the Bulldogs, having lost five of the last seven games against the Dogs by an average margin of 67 points, but in the past six games the two sides have squared off in, both teams have shared the spoils, with three wins apiece.
Recent History (Past 10 Games)
Round 5, 2016 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 17.18.120 def Brisbane 10.7.67
Round 23, 2015 - Gabba: Brisbane 19.16.130 def Western Bulldogs 19.8.122
Round 12, 2015 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 22.14.146 def Brisbane 11.8.74
Round 12, 2014 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 13.9.87 def by Brisbane 14.11.95
Round 22, 2013 - Gabba: Brisbane 15.10.100 def Western Bulldogs 13.15.93
Round 1, 2013 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 19.13.127 def Brisbane 7.17.59
Round 23, 2012 - Gabba: Brisbane 19.14.128 def Western Bulldogs 9.7.61
Round 13, 2012 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 7.14.56 def by Brisbane 18.6.114
Round 2, 2011 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 19.9.123 def Brisbane 6.9.45
Round 12, 2010 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 17.19.121 def Brisbane 8.8.56
Players To Watch
Saturday afternoon will mostly be about this man, being only just the seventh Bulldog in the club's history to break the 300-game barrier. A lot of people wrote him off after rupturing his ACL early last year, but to his credit, he opted to play on, and has played like a man that has something left to prove after missing out on playing in a rare Western Bulldogs premiership. In 2017, Murphy has been utilised both as a defender and as a forward to great effect, but will he star on his special milestone game?
Stringer has averaged four goals in three games against Brisbane in his career, and needs to have a big game on Saturday, given that there will be no Stewart Crameri, no Tory Dickson and now no Travis Cloke. Stringer has had a solid start to his 2017 campaign, but needs to work on his accuracy, kicking 7.9 in the first four games this season. But to Stringer's defence, he has been playing more minutes in the midfield as opposed to the forward we've seen in recent years.
The new Brisbane captain has enjoyed an injury-free 2017 campaign so far, and on top of that, is playing some great footy, averaging 29 disposals per game and has kicked five goals in the first four games of the premiership campaign, which brings back to mind his form when he was still running with Collingwood. For the Lions to go forward, they will need the influence of this guy, as well as Dayne Zorko and Tom Rockliff to fire up Brisbane's engine room.
The number two pick in the 2015 AFL Draft has been put under the microscope over the past week over his lack of involvement for the Lions inside 50. Keep in mind, Schache's pre-season was limited due to a knee injury, and has only kicked three goals in two games so far this season, but he's only going to get better as the season progresses. One that could potentially be in for a big game on Saturday.
A lot of experts have predicted this to be an easy Western Bulldogs victory, but after witnessing their past fortnight, I'm not so sure about that. Too many times they have been caught second-guessing, had way too many fumbles when they've controlled the ball and they were very lucky they got away with a win to a win-less North Melbourne outfit.
But for Bob Murphy's 300th, I expect the Dogs to get over the line for their inspirational leader, but I fear it won't be as much as what some are predicting. The Lions will want to see how far they can go against the competition's reigning premiers and if the Dogs put the foot off the gas at any point on Saturday, then I expect Lions to pounce and give them that reality check they should've recieved from the Dockers a fortnight ago.
Western Bulldogs By 19 Points
Stay tuned on Bulldogs Centre, as we pay tribute to Robert Murphy ahead of his 300th game.
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