The last fortnight for the reigning premiers has been some of the most horrific footy we've seen this side produce for quite some time. For the first time since Luke Beveridge took the helm of this franchise, the Western Bulldogs have been handed back-to-back thumpings. A fortnight ago they were torn apart by the Swans, but were lucky enough it was only 46 points, when it could've been much worse, and with Melbourne destroying the Dogs last Sunday at where they play their best footy - Etihad Stadium, there are massive alarm bells ringing in terms of making even finals alone.
Saturday night looms as a very critical game for the Bulldogs and their aspirations of becoming back-to-back premiers. Looking to avoid being the first team to win the premiership and then not play finals the following year since Hawthorn in 2009, they play North Melbourne in a rematch of the epic game these two teams produced on the first Good Friday AFL game earlier this year in a game in which the Western Bulldogs can use as a platform to reignite their season.
Despite sitting 17th with four wins and eight losses, North Melbourne have been very competitive and have done well to keep in touch with the top eight, despite starting the year at 0-6, and if the Dogs didn't learn from their encounter earlier in the season, they shouldn't underestimate what the Roos are capable of. Whilst the Bulldogs have faced the media blowtorch for rumours of player unrest during the week, North have copped a massive whack from the media from both the lack of supporters that turned out for their Friday night clash against St. Kilda, and the brand of footy that was produced - prompting many to label that game as one of the more boring games of footy.
Only just a tad over 26,000 turned up last Friday night to honour the career that was Brent Harvey, who despite breaking the AFL's games record last year and still playing some solid footy, was controversially ousted by Brad Scott and the Kangaroos at the end of the season, which is a very, very poor turnout by the North fans who didn't bother to show up.
I expect another fiery contest between these two sides on Saturday night as both sides have to win to keep their respective finals dreams alive. North are only two games out of the eight and a win over the under-siege Bulldogs will put them just a game and percentage behind the eighth-placed Bombers. A win for the Bulldogs will take a lot of heat off after producing two putrid weeks of footy together after having the week off, and with very poor percentage, will need to start piling wins on the board at a rapid rate with 10 games to go in the home and away season.
IN: Tom Campbell, Jack Redpath
OUT: Lin Jong (Knee), Tom Boyd (Calf)
B: Dale Morris, Zaine Cordy, Jason Johannisen
HB: Shane Biggs, Easton Wood, Matthew Suckling
C: Lachie Hunter, Jack Macrae, Caleb Daniel
HF: Tory Dickson, Jake Stringer, Luke Dahlhaus
F: Bailey Dale, Jordan Roughead, Liam Picken
FOL: Tom Campbell, Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Liberatore
INT: Mitch Wallis, Toby McLean, Mitch Honeychurch, Jack Redpath
EMG: Clay Smith, Fletcher Roberts, Bailey Williams
Despite a thumping at the hands of Melbourne last Sunday, Luke Beveridge has made no unforced changes to the line-up, but has still had to make two changes, as Lin Jong will miss the rest of the year with a ruptured ACL he suffered in the first quarter of the loss against Melbourne last week and Tom Boyd will sit out with a calf injury. Remarkably, the Dogs have opted against bringing in club veteran Matthew Boyd despite being named in Footscray's best players and the Dogs have resisted to bring in captain Robert Murphy, as he continues to recover from a hamstring strain he suffered back in round 10.
The Dogs will however, welcome back ruckman Tom Campbell for his first game since the round five win over Brisbane as the back-up ruckman to Jordan Roughead, whilst Jack Redpath will also be brought in for his first game since round nine when he kicked two goals against Geelong. However, one person that won't be back in the team for a little while is recruit Travis Cloke, who will take an indefinite break from the AFL as he battles mental health issues.
All I can say is that regardless on how your performance is on the footy field, I wish you nothing but the best in your time off and hopefully we can see you back in the game sooner rather than later.
IN: Andrew Swallow, Jamie Macmillan, Majak Daw
OUT: Kayne Turner (Knee), Lachie Hansen, Jed Anderson (Both Omitted)
B: Marley Williams, Robbie Tarrant, Aaron Mullett
HB: Shaun Atley, Scott Thompson, Luke McDonald
C: Sam Gibson, Ben Cunnington, Ryan Clarke
HF: Nathan Hrovat, Jarrad Waite, Taylor Garner
F: Mason Wood, Ben Brown, Shaun Higgins
FOL: Todd Goldstein, Jack Ziebell, Trent Dumont
INT: Andrew Swallow, Jamie Macmillan, Majak Daw, Declan Mountford
EMG: Jed Anderson, Lachie Hansen, Josh Williams
North Melbourne have made three changes to their line-up that was beaten by St. Kilda by 17 points last Friday night. They will miss Kayne Turner for over a month as he sustained a knee injury in the loss last week. Coach Brad Scott has also dropped both Jed Anderson and Lachie Hansen after poor performances. Anderson had only nine disposals and Hansen consistently turned the ball over in what was his 150th game.
Coming into the North Melbourne side include former captain Andrew Swallow, who has struggled in recent weeks to solidify himself a spot in the Kangaroos' midfield, spending the past few weeks for North's VFL affiliate Werribee, where he has performed exceptionally well. Jamie Macmillan also returns to the team after he was a late withdrawal last week against the Saints, with hamstring tightness ruling him out, whilst Majak Daw - who once kicked six goals in a game against the Dogs - comes back into the team for his second game of the year.
Recent History (Past 10 Meetings)
Round 4, 2017 - Etihad Stadium: North Melbourne 12.14.86 def by Western Bulldogs 12.17.89
Round 20, 2016 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 9.7.61 def North Melbourne 7.5.47
Round 6, 2016 - Etihad Stadium: North Melbourne 9.7.61 def Western Bulldogs 6.9.45
Round 22, 2015 - Etihad Stadium: North Melbourne 10.13.73 def by Western Bulldogs 14.12.96
Round 21, 2014 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 8.13.61 def by North Melbourne 17.9.111
Round 2, 2014 - Etihad Stadium: North Melbourne 12.11 83 def Western Bulldogs 8.6.54
Round 7, 2013 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 15.7.97 def by North Melbourne 22.19.151
Round 19, 2012 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 8.13.61 def by North Melbourne 18.7.115
Round 7, 2012 - Etihad Stadium: North Melbourne 12.11.83 def by Western Bulldogs 15.11.101
Round 17, 2011 - Etihad Stadium: North Melbourne 21.16.142 def Western Bulldogs 17.9.111
Players To Watch
After failing to register a goal last week against Melbourne and being very quiet against Sydney the week previous, Stringer was in a constant rumour that involved a love triangle between him, Stringer's ex-partner and team mate Jason Johannisen, prompting the 2015 All-Australian to take to Instagram to address and deny the rumours and also blast the media in the process. I'm sensing that Stringer will use this as motivation to bounce back from a rough week on Saturday night, however his history against North Melbourne has been poor to say the least, tallying 5.11 in six encounters with the Roos.
Last week, the acting skipper had what I thought was one of his worst games since his All-Australian year in 2015. He was ill-disciplined and he was never really a factor in defence in a game in which the Dogs needed him to stand up. The stats will suggest he's had a bit of an average year in defence so far in 2017, averaging 14 disposals and five marks per game, well below the averages he's had in the past two years. One of many Bulldogs that has to lift this weekend.
It was only strange to think that it was only less than two years ago that Todd Goldstein was the league's best ruckman by a country mile. This season Goldstein has been horrifically inconsistent, but was amongst North's best players last week in the loss to St. Kilda. Before that game, Goldstein failed to register a mark in two games, which is remarkably inexcusable, when you consider the amount of time he is on the field and what is role is in the team. After a great performance early in the season against the Dogs, it'll be very interesting to see how he goes against the pair that is Jordan Roughead and Tom Campbell.
Early last year, Jarrad Waite proved to be the difference when North Melbourne defeated the Western Bulldogs, kicking four goals in what was a low-scoring match. Since then he has missed two meetings with the Bulldogs that have resulted in losses for the Roos. It might sound a little silly, but I think Jarrad Waite is the key to North's chances of victory on Saturday night, his last three games against the Bulldogs have reeled in two bags of three and the bag of four mentioned above. Combine him with Ben Brown, who kicked four the last time these two sides met, and it could be another disasterous evening.
This is a very tough game to predict here. The Bulldogs were very, very lucky to get the four points last time these two sides played, so I've got half a mind to go North Melbourne here, however, North's inept decision-making and disposals use will certainly play to the hands of the Bulldogs' players.
The Dogs weren't desperate enough last week against Melbourne, but you can almost guarantee it that the champs will come out with everything they have this weekend, they need this win, and they need it badly. They need to show more than just a little bit of fight. The Dogs need dominance, they need the poise they had last year, and they just need to show a lot of mongrel. North Melbourne always look to bring the competitiveness out of this side, and that's why I think the Dogs will win in a hotly-contested affair.
There's a lot of players that need to stand up after a week of being heavily criticised by the media. Can this be the week that Jason Johannisen finally shake off the tag? Will Jake Stringer respond with a bag of four or five goals? Can an undersized Bulldog defence handle the tall North Melbourne forwards? It looms as a very big match for both sides.
Western Bulldogs By 5 Points
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