With both sides coming back from the bye last week, the Western Bulldogs and the Sydney Swans will kick off round 12 tonight in Thursday night football at the Sydney Cricket Ground. These two sides will square off for the second time in 2017, after the Bulldogs unfurled their premiership flag in winning style back in round two, defeating the Swans by 23 points.
Since that round two defeat, the Swans have struggled to put wins on the board in season 2017, losing the first six games of the season, and sitting in 16th place on the ladder at 3-7 after they were very disappointing against fellow strugglers in Hawthorn - a late Jarryd Roughead goal in the fourth quarter condemning the Swans to their seventh loss of the year and breaking a three-game winning run in the process.
At this point in time, the Swans face an insurmountable task of making finals, sitting three games behind the eighth-placed Fremantle, and on their home turf that is the SCG, they will see tonight's encounter with the Bulldogs as a 'must-win' game. However, their task of beating the Bulldogs might be a bit easier said than done. The Dogs have won their past four encounters against the Swans including their last two games at the SCG, both of those games decided by less than a kick in very different circumstances.
Since their round two win over the Swans, the Dogs have struggled to really get out of second gear for most of the year. A 40-point win against St. Kilda really their best performance of the season so far and finished round 10 inside the top four. A win over the Swans tonight will not only continue Sydney's poor recent form against the Doggies, but will also keep the reigning premiers right in the frame for top four.
It may be the 6th-placed Dogs against the 16th-placed Swans tonight, but there's no doubt the game will be a much closer match than people realise. Can the Dogs make it five wins in a row against the Swans? They haven't done that since 2008-10, also when the Bulldogs were premiership contenders under Rodney Eade.
IN: Fletcher Roberts, Matthew Boyd, Travis Cloke, Toby McLean
OUT: Tom Boyd (Back), Dale Morris (Ankle), Robert Murphy (Hamstring), Bailey Williams (Omitted)
B: Fletcher Roberts, Marcus Adams, Jason Johannisen
HB: Matthew Boyd, Easton Wood, Matthew Suckling
C: Lachie Hunter, Jack Macrae, Caleb Daniel
HF: Luke Dahlhaus, Travis Cloke, Tory Dickson
F: Lin Jong, Jake Stringer, Liam Picken
FOL: Jordan Roughead, Marcus Bontempelli, Mitch Wallis
INT: Toby McLean, Shane Biggs, Bailey Dale, Tim English
EMG: Zaine Cordy, Mitch Honeychurch, Jack Redpath
The Dogs have made four changes to the team that defeated St. Kilda by 40 points back in round 10, with three of those changes being injuries to key players. Captain Robert Murphy will miss the next two or three weeks with a hamstring injury he sustained in the final minutes of the win over the Saints, Dale Morris and Tom Boyd will miss with ankle and back complaints respectively, whilst second-year defender Bailey Williams was axed.
Coming into the side will be Matthew Boyd who returns from a shoulder injury and should give the Dogs some drive from half-back. Travis Cloke also comes back into the side after he was dropped following the Dogs' loss to Geelong and had a solid game against Sandringham in the VFL just under a fortnight ago. Toby McLean and Fletcher Roberts have both been rewarded for their performances at VFL level with spots in the team for tonight's huge game.
IN: Kieran Jack, Sam Naismith
OUT: Kurt Tippett, Oliver Florent (Both Omitted)
B: Nick Smith, Lewis Melican, Dane Rampe
HB: Nic Newman, Heath Grundy, Jake Lloyd
C: Zak Jones, Josh Kennedy, Callum Mills
HF: Isaac Heeney, Lance Franklin, George Hewett
F: Tom Papley, Sam Reid, Gary Rohan
FOL: Callum Sinclair, Luke Parker, Dan Hannebery
INT: Will Hayward, Kieran Jack, Sam Naismith, Dean Towers
EMG: Aliir Aliir, Oliver Florent, Harry Marsh
The Swans have made two unforced changes to tonight's line-up after their six-point loss to the lowly Hawthorn, dropping first-year player Oliver Florent alongside Kurt Tippett - who signed with Sydney as a massive recruit a few years back - after yet another disappointing game in which he only managed 12 disposals and four marks. Tippett is averaging under a goal a game this season for the first time since 2008, the season in which he debuted. There has been debate whether or not Tippett will remain at the Swans beyond 2017, following his floundering performances.
Ruckman Sam Naismith comes back into the team after missing the past fortnight with a minor knee injury, whilst former captain Kieran Jack returns to the team after missing five games with a hip injury. Jack's 2017 campaign has been very underwhelming to say the least and has struggled massively this season, averaging under 16 disposals and two tackles per game so far in 2017, will we see the 215-game veteran return to his best tonight?
Recent History (Past 10 Games)
Round 2, 2017 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 16.14.110 def Sydney 13.9.87
Grand Final, 2016 - MCG: Western Bulldogs 13.11.89 def Sydney 10.7.67
Round 15, 2016 - SCG: Sydney 11.13.79 def by Western Bulldogs 13.5.83
Round 5, 2015 - SCG: Sydney 10.13.73 def by Western Bulldogs 11.11.77
Round 22, 2014 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 9.13.67 def by Sydney 20.10.130
Round 19, 2013 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 15.9.99 def by Sydney 21.8.134
Round 21, 2012 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 13.7.85 def by Sydney 26.11.167
Round 10, 2012 - SCG: Sydney 20.12.132 def Western Bulldogs 5.12.40
Round 18, 2011 - SCG: Sydney 16.18.114 def Western Bulldogs 11.9.75
Round 7, 2011 - Manuka Oval: Western Bulldogs 10.5.65 def by Sydney 10.13.73
Players To Watch
Back in the line-up tonight, Cloke will want to remember the last time he played against the Swans with great fondness. It was round two of this year, in which he kicked three goals from 18 disposals and seven marks and was in amongst it in the first-half when they needed him to. Against Sydney, he's kicked 38 goals in 19 meetings with the Swans, which is an average of two goals per game, but given their horrendous conditions in Sydney right now, was tonight the right time to bring the big man back in? Only time will tell.
The Bulldogs' first selection in last year's draft made his debut a fortnight ago against St. Kilda and did a couple of nice things without being a massive factor in the team. I also took notice with how Luke Beveridge didn't use English much as a ruckman, more as a forward/midfielder, but with Tom Boyd out of the team tonight, we could see English in the ruck to give Roughead various breaks. This will be something I'm looking forward to seeing.
All-Australian defender last year, but Rampe's 2017 has been horrifically hampered by a broken arm he sustained in a training accident earlier in the year. Since his return to the side back in round nine, he's been a very important figure in Sydney's back-line and I think is a massive key to get Sydney's finals hopes back on track. Jake Stringer kicked five goals in the Dogs' last outing against the Saints and looks the man the Swans need to shut down. This is the match-up I'm looking forward to seeing this evening.
Franklin has been a major problem for Bulldogs' defenders for the years, and the last time these two sides met, he nearly single-handedly dragged the Swans over the line with three last quarter goals. He nearly did it at the SCG last year as well when he kicked five goals for the Swans after a sluggish start to the game. Buddy has kicked 52.39 against the Dogs in only just 16 outings - that's an average return of three goals per game. Can Marcus Adams be the one to stop Buddy tonight?
The Bulldogs and the Swans have had a good history of putting on fantastic contests, and I can't see why this one won't be any different. The last two games played between these two have been decided by four points and four points. The SCG might be the home of the Swans, but they are 1-4 so far at their home ground which is a worrying statistic for any Sydney fan who are still believing they are a shot at playing finals.
I can't see the Swans winning this one, but this isn't going to be an easy match-up for the Bulldogs. I can sense this being another game that will come down to the wire, but I think it will be the Dogs who'll come out on top for their seventh win of the season. Look out for Marcus Bontempelli to make a huge factor in this game - he has only managed to kick 1.7 in the past three weeks, which by his lofty standards, simply isn't good enough - the stage is set for him to not only rise to the challenge, but to kick another match-winning goal.
Western Bulldogs By 2 Points
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