The stage is set for another massive Friday night encounter tonight, as the Western Bulldogs are back in Perth to tackle the West Coast Eagles at Domain Stadium, in what is arguably the game the round.
It was only eight months ago that the Eagles were handed not just a shock Elimination Final loss at the hands of the Dogs, but were handed a embarrassing defeat in front of their home crowd from the team that would eventually go on and win the premiership. There is no doubt the pain of that game has been on the minds of each West Coast Eagle that played that September evening, and you can rest assured that the Eagles will be out to exact some revenge on the reigning premiers.
Both teams come into this game at 5-2, but both sides have had very different roads to achieving their five wins in 2017. For the Bulldogs, they haven't reached the peak of their powers that last year got them to the promised land yet, which speaks so much more positive than negative right now, as the Dogs, even with all the injuries they've got this year so far, they sit just percentage outside the top four, and a game behind the top-placed Adelaide Crows.
Over the past month, the Bulldogs have been in three games that have been determined by less than a kick, with last week's win against Richmond marking another one the Dogs got out of jail with, trailing the Tigers by as much as 32 points in the second term before eventually running out five-point winners, after falling two points short of toppling GWS the week before.
This will be their second game in Perth this year, after travelling for the round three match against Fremantle earlier in the season, to which the Dogs continued their poor form in Western Australia, only having won one match from their past nine games at Subiaco. Overall their record at Subiaco is abysmal, only winning eight games in 31 attempts, with their Elimination Final win against the Eagles, their first win in Perth since 2010.
West Coast's performances have been intriguing to say the least. Whilst they've been dominant at home so far this year, their record away - particularly in Melbourne has been appalling, with their two losses coming against Richmond in a closely-fought slog in the wet and a 50-point drubbing from a Hawthorn side that have looked more awful than not at times this year.
But a 10-point upset victory over a revitalised Port Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval, suggests that the Eagles are beginning to get over this hump that they can't beat anyone away from Western Australia, and unsurprisingly head into tonight's game as the favourites. Before the Elimination Final last year, the Eagles have won the past four meetings between these two at Subiaco by an average winning margin of 83 points.
With a spot in the top four up for grabs tonight, this looms as the must-see game of the weekend.
IN: Jack Redpath, Bailey Dale, Lukas Webb
OUT: Robert Murphy (Rested), Jake Stringer (Knee), Josh Dunkley (Shoulder)
B: Matthew Boyd, Marcus Adams, Jason Johannisen
HB: Easton Wood, Fletcher Roberts, Bailey Williams
C: Lachie Hunter, Luke Dahlhaus, Jack Macrae
HF: Caleb Daniel, Zaine Cordy, Clay Smith
F: Lin Jong, Jack Redpath, Liam Picken
FOL: Tom Boyd, Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Liberatore
INT: Matthew Suckling, Toby McLean, Lukas Webb, Bailey Dale
EMG: Mitch Wallis, Mitch Honeychurch, Declan Hamilton
The Bulldogs have made three changes to the side that defeated Richmond last Saturday night, with Jake Stringer and Josh Dunkley both sidelined due to injury. Whilst the extent of Stringer's knee injury was better than originally thought, he'll still likely miss a few weeks, maybe even a month of footy. The news isn't as good for second-year premiership player Dunkley, as he requires surgery to repair his dislocated shoulder and could potentially miss the remainder of the year. It was also reported that Bulldogs' captain Robert Murphy failed to travel up to Perth with the team he has been rested for tonight, with the club citing 'general soreness' as the reason for his omission.
Coming into the side for their first appearances for 2017 is Jack Redpath and Lukas Webb, with the former of the two making his first appearance at AFL level since rupturing his ACL in round 18 last year. In his first VFL appearance of the year last week, Redpath kicked six goals for Footscray in their win over Richmond in an emphatic statement, and with Stringer, who leads the team in goals with 14 for the year, it looms as a big game for the former rookie-listed big man from Kyneton. Webb has been consistently fantastic for the 'Scray at VFL level, averaging 27 disposals from four games this year after averaging 26 disposals in 15 games last year. Bailey Dale also comes back into the side after he responded from his axing on the weekend with a solid performance in the VFL.
West Coast Eagles
IN: Fraser McInnes, Liam Duggan
OUT: Mark Hutchings, Jonathan Giles
B: Sam Butler, Tom Barrass, Elliot Yeo
HB: Shannon Hurn, Jeremy McGovern, Brad Sheppard
C: Jack Redden, Sam Mitchell, Chris Masten
HF: Andrew Gaff, Jack Darling, Mark LeCras
F: Fraser McInnes, Josh Kennedy, Kurt Mutimer
FOL: Nathan Vardy, Matt Priddis, Luke Shuey
INT: Dom Sheed, Sharrod Wellingham, Liam Duggan, Josh Hill
EMG: Lewis Jetta, Will Schofield, Mark Hutchings
The Eagles have made two unforced changes ahead of tonight, axing journeyman Jonathan Giles as well as midfielder Mark Hutchings, opting to bring in Liam Duggan for his fourth game of 2017, and will hope rookie-listed big man Fraser McInnes will help Nathan Vardy in being the short-term solution to their injury struggles at the ruck position.
With their star ruckman Nic Naitanui and primary back-up ruckman Scott Lycett still a fair way away from returning from injury, the Eagles have struggled for hitouts, with the former Cat Vardy having to shoulder most of the ruckwork so far this year, and having also lost ex-Roo Drew Petrie with injury, it leaves the Eagles with very few options. McInnes has averaged 18 disposals and 20 hitouts in the WAFL this year and has proven to be a viable option in front of goal, kicking five goals from seven matches this year.
Recent History (Past 10 Matches)
Elimination Final, 2016 - Subiaco: West Coast 7.10.52 def by Western Bulldogs 14.15.99
Round 11, 2016 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 12.11.83 def West Coast 11.9.75
Round 21, 2015 - Subiaco: West Coast 25.12.162 def Western Bulldogs 13.7.85
Round 1, 2015 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 14.13.97 def West Coast 14.3.87
Round 1, 2014 - Subiaco: West Coast 21.8.134 def Western Bulldogs 11.3.69
Round 18, 2013 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 16.15.111 def West Coast 13.11.89
Round 6, 2013 - Subiaco: West Coast 21.11.137 def Western Bulldogs 10.7.67
Round 1, 2012 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 12.15.87 def by West Coast 21.10.136
Round 19, 2011 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 15.5.95 def by West Coast 15.13.103
Round 9, 2011 - Subiaco: West Coast 26.19.175 def Western Bulldogs 8.4.52
Players To Watch
It's a big call when you decided to bring in a full-forward just one week after he succesfully returned to footy from a ruptured ACL. But Jack Redpath is one that could break the game open tonight. Before falling down with injury last year, Redpath kicked 20 goals in only 10 games of footy, and the previous year, he snagged 19 goals in 12 games, but coming against the West Coast defence is always a hard ask, especially when they're in form and at home. I'll be very intrigued to see what happens with him in his first AFL game back from injury.
It'll be very interesting to see where Marcus Adams will spend most of his time tonight. The last few weeks have seen him thrown down forward to positive effect, particularly last weekend against the Tigers when he snagged two vital goals. A product of Western Australia and out-of-contract at season's end, the Eagles' would be certainly have to be interested in possibly acquiring his services at seasons' end if he does put in another solid performance tonight.
West Coast Eagles
The former Lion is enjoying a career-best start to his 2017 campaign, averaging career-highs in disposals (25 per game), marks (Just under 10 per game) and rebound 50s (3.5 per game). Yeo has spent most of the season playing in defence, but team mate Matt Priddis has publicly gone on the record stating that Yeo would be the perfect candidate to restrict Bulldogs' star Marcus Bontempelli - that's big wraps coming from the 2014 Brownlow medallist, but he did keep another Brownlow medallist in Nat Fyfe to just 19 disposals a couple of weeks ago. I'd love to see this match-up happen.
When I think of Jack Darling, I think of him pulling out of a contest on the Subiaco wing in last year's Elimination Final. It wasn't his best game that night, and I bet he's had that moment replayed over and over again. Has started the 2017 season solidly, averaging over two goals a game, and at his best, is capable of tearing a game apart, but his best and his worst has always been miles apart, but I can sense this will be one of those games that he will be up and about for.
This is going to be another game that's going to be so tough to predict. On form, you'd have to say the Eagles would be too strong at home as that's where they play their best footy, but I did say this when I wrote the preview for their Elimination Final last year - I'm going to tip the Eagles here, but without any conviction whatsoever.
It'll be a very tightly-contested match, but the recent history at Subiaco doesn't favour the reigning premiers. Add that to the number of injuries this club has is steadily building. Dale Morris, Jordan Roughead, Robert Murphy, Jake Stringer, Stewart Crameri, Tory Dickson, Travis Cloke and Mitch Wallis are all regular features of the Bulldogs' 22 that are not playing tonight, but the big plus is that most, if not all of these guys should be back in the senior side in the next few weeks.
West Coast Eagles By 3 Points
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