Forget about 'West Coast vs Sydney' and 'Hawthorn vs Geelong' because the new modern-day rivalry comes to your television screens tonight as the Greater Western Sydney Giants and the Western Bulldogs renew hostilities at Canberra's Manuka Oval in what is not only the first Friday night game at Manuka, but the first Friday night game in the short history of the Giants.
With just a capacity of 16,000 people, it's widely expected that this game will be a sell-out, and why wouldn't it be? Remember the last time these two sides played? It was an absolute thriller of a Preliminary Final at the Giants' home of Spotless Stadium, where thousands upon thousands of Bulldogs supporters flocked the stadium to witness one of the greatest preliminary finals in recent memory, if not ever.
The Giants will come into this game the hot favourites, on the back of a four-game winning streak. Questions were raised during their round one hiding to fellow premiership contenders Adelaide, but have since bounced back into the form that had them the pre-season premiership favourites, thumping Gold Coast by over a century and disposing of Port Adelaide, North Melbourne and most recently the Sydney Swans.
With the agonising Preliminary Final loss still fresh in the minds of the Giants, they will be raring to go from the first bounce. These two sides have a record of 4-1 and whilst the Giants have been enjoying a few cruisy victories this past month, the Bulldogs have had to fight until the final siren to get a few of theirs. Last weekend, they were made to earn their premiership points as they had to overcome a 38-point deficit and horrendous finishing at goal to avoid an embarrassing defeat to the Lions.
Some will say that the reigning champions are lucky to be 4-1 and hanging just outside the top four by percentage, but these will be the games that Luke Beveridge will rev his troops up for, and he'll need their best football this next month. After the Giants, the Dogs will play Richmond at Etihad, West Coast in Perth, Geelong in Geelong and St. Kilda at Etihad. The Dogs must correct these sluggish starts and butchered shots on goal, otherwise teams like GWS will slaughter them come tonight.
But with all that said, this has got all the makings of another classic between these two sides. This will be a ripping clash, and one you cannot afford to miss. Should the Dogs win this game tonight, they will be in the top four. Lose tonight and they could see potentially Port Adelaide, West Coast and Essendon all leapfrog them inside the bottom half of the top eight.
IN: Bailey Williams, Caleb Daniel
OUT: Shane Biggs (Omitted), Matthew Boyd (Back)
B: Zaine Cordy, Fletcher Roberts, Jason Johannisen
HB: Easton Wood, Marcus Adams, 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: Matthew Suckling, Toby McLean, Bailey Williams, Caleb Daniel
EMG: Lukas Webb, Shane Biggs, Bailey Dale
The reigning premiers have made two changes for tonight's game, dropping Shane Biggs for the second time in three weeks, after another unimpressive performance, whilst club veteran Matthew Boyd will sit this one out as he battles a back complaint. The 287th-gamer copped a nasty knock in the back of his head also last week's win against the Lions - one has to wonder if that also played a part in his omission from the side this week.
Premiership player Caleb Daniel comes back into the team tonight after a fortnight's worth of good footy for Footscray in the VFL, whilst Bailey Williams has also been rewarded for a good fortnight of VFL footy with his seventh career game in the AFL. Williams showed glimpses of promise in his first season, averaging 16 disposals and three marks coming off half-back in six games despite a knee injury midway through the season.
IN: Tim Taranto
OUT: Phil Davis (Hamstring)
B: Nathan Wilson, Adam Tomlinson, Zac Williams
HB: Adam Kennedy, Nick Haynes, Heath Shaw
C: Dylan Shiel, Josh Kelly, Steve Johnson
HF: Tim Taranto, Rory Lobb, Matthew Kennedy
F: Sam Reid, Jonathan Patton, Jeremy Cameron
FOL: Shane Mumford, Callan Ward, Tom Scully
INT: Toby Greene, Devon Smith, Jacob Hopper, Aidan Corr
EMG: Dawson Simpson, Harry Perryman, Harrison Himmelberg
Only one forced change to the Giants' lineup tonight, sees Co-Captain Phil Davis missing with a hamstring injury, replaced by Tim Taranto, who was the club's number one pick in last year's AFL draft. They could've easily have been without All-Australian half-forward Toby Greene after he escaped suspension after the Match Review Panel claimed there was insufficient force behind his headbutt on Sydney young gun Isaac Heeney.
Losing Greene for this match would've been a big boost for the Bulldogs' defensive unit, since they will be without star veterans Dale Morris and Matthew Boyd. The Giants are a top-four attacking side, sitting in third for points scored, averaging 115 points per game. Greene leads all players for goals with 17 so far for the year, with team mate Jeremy Cameron a goal behind on 16 and Jon Patton, Devon Smith (Both eight goals in 2017), Rory Lobb (Seven goals) and Steve Johnson (Six goals) all dangerous options to goal.
Recent History (Past Seven Meetings)
Preliminary Final, 2016 - Spotless Stadium: GWS Giants 12.11.83 def by Western Bulldogs 13.11.89
Round 9, 2016 - Spotless Stadium: GWS Giants 15.8.98 def Western Bulldogs 10.13.73
Round 9, 2015 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 16.17.113 def GWS Giants 11.2.68
Round 23, 2014 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 15.19.109 def by GWS Giants 18.7.115
Round 4, 2014 - Manuka Oval: GWS Giants 12.11.83 def by Western Bulldogs 17.8.110
Round 15, 2013 - Manuka Oval: GWS Giants 12.11.83 def by Western Bulldogs 13.9.87
Round 5, 2012 - Manuka Oval: GWS Giants 9.8.62 def by Western Bulldogs 15.14.104
Players To Watch
Tonight will be 23-year old Clay Smith's 50th game of AFL footy. That's right - 50 games. Injury-wise, he is one of the Western Bulldogs' unluckiest players in recent memory, Smith bounced back from a third knee reconstruction last year to play a pivotal role in the Western Bulldogs' premiership story. This included a stunning performance against GWS in the preliminary final, which saw him kick four goals and 26 disposals after he lost a close mate during the week - talk about inspirational footy. Does he have an encore performance for the Giants tonight?
Back in the side this week after a starring role in Footscray's big VFL win over Werribee. He needs to have a positive influence in this game tonight, regardless whether or not the Dogs win this game. His first few weeks of 2017 have shown rather ordinary performances from the helmeted one, in stark contrast to his 2016 form. Had a big game in their Preliminary Final win last year, expect Daniel to rise to the challenge tonight.
Kicked five goals on the Bulldogs during the home and away season, only to register five disposals and no goals when they met in the Preliminary Final last year. However, Jeremy Cameron has started 2017 in fine form, kicking 16 goals in his first five games, and will be one ready to make amends for such a horror outing the last time these two sides played. If the Dogs are to win tonight, this is one spearhead that the backline will need to quell.
A player that was put under the microscope during the week for his controversial sledge on Sydney's Tom Papley last weekend. Shaw was another Giant that carved the Bulldogs up in the regular season last year, registering a career-high 38 disposals off of half-back with 36 of those being kicks - also a career-best for the former Pie. In the Preliminary Final, he was riled up in the first quarter by Tom Liberatore and only finished with 15 disposals for the match. One to watch closely for mine, his influence off half-back is severely underestimated.
Personally, I can't wait for this contest, it's going to be that awesome of a contest I believe.
I said in my Preliminary Final match preview last year that the contest will be decided in the midfield. Nothing changes tonight, the Dogs are still amongst one of the worst clearance teams in the league and average ten less clearances than the Giants, who average 44 per game, yet it's the Dogs who average nearly 20 more disposals.
I am also looking forward to seeing a midfield battle between GWS' Josh Kelly and the Western Bulldogs' Luke Dahlhaus, both men have enjoyed career-best starts at their respective clubs and I can sense both men will have stellar games tonight.
Given how shaky the Bulldogs have been the last few weeks, I'm going to tip the Giants to just get over the line against the Dogs in what should be a thrilling four-quarter contest. I'm not so sure the Bulldogs have the answers down back for the guys like Patton, Lobb or Devon Smith if they do manage to keep Greene and Cameron at bay, and unless they pull something out and fix their woeful accuracy in front of goal, the Giants should get this win.
But make no mistake, this will just be another chapter in the rivalry between two of the most exciting teams in the league today, and the Bulldogs will be looking for their A-game.
Greater Western Sydney By 14 Points
Photos Courtesy From Getty Images