For the fourth consecutive year, the Western Bulldogs will travel up to Cairns' Cazaly's Stadium to host the Gold Coast Suns as the reigning premiers look to keep their flag defence alive in what is only their ninth meeting between the two teams since the Suns arrived on the AFL scene back in 2011.
The Bulldogs have won six of the eight games in the history between the two sides, including the past three matches - all of which have been in Cairns, which will be a factor leading into this game on Saturday evening. The Bulldogs got back onto the winner's list last Sunday afternoon, defeating Carlton in what was a scrappy affair at the MCG.
The Dogs are the favourites for this match-up in Cairns, but they shouldn't take the Gold Coast lightly in a season that's provided so many upsets and thrilling wins. The Suns sit in the bottom four with only six wins as another unsuccessful year under the helm of former Bulldogs' coach Rodney Eade looms on the horizon.
The Suns have been a hard side to get a read on in 2017. Last year they finished 15th with a record of only 6 wins and 16 losses, and whilst the standings suggest they haven't really progressed as a side, they have had a few good games that outline what they can be capable of. Earlier in the year, they dismantled Hawthorn by 86 points and they defeated finals contenders Geelong and West Coast.
Like the Bulldogs, the past five weeks of the Gold Coast have seen the Suns slip a fair bit, dropping four of their last five, with their most recent loss coming at the hands of another side that has struggled in the Collingwood Magpies. Facing uncertainty beyond 2017, Gold Coast coach Eade would love to take the scalp of the side he once coached to three consecutive Preliminary Finals.
They say all things come to an end, will we see the Bulldogs' unbeaten streak in Cairns come to a halt on Saturday? Or will we see the Bulldogs continue their season revival with another win at Cazaly's?
IN: Easton Wood
OUT: Jake Stringer (Hamstring)
B: Dale Morris, Zaine Cordy, Jason Johannisen
HB: Easton Wood, Lewis Young, Matthew Suckling
C: Lachie Hunter, Mitch Wallis, Robert Murphy
HF: Toby McLean, Marcus Bontempelli, Caleb Daniel
F: Bailey Dale, Jack Redpath, Liam Picken
FOL: Jordan Roughead, Tom Liberatore, Jack Macrae
INT: Luke Dahlhaus, Mitch Honeychurch, Shane Biggs, Bailey Williams
EMG: Travis Cloke, Lukas Webb, Tory Dickson
The Western Bulldogs have only made the one forced change, with Jake Stringer set to spend at least three weeks on the sidelines after his hamstring injury he sustained early in the second quarter against Carlton last Sunday afternoon. Replacing him is last year's premiership captain Easton Wood who has served his one-week suspension for a contentious hit on Adelaide's Mitch McGovern. This week's been a real positive for the 2015 All-Australian defender as he also signed a contract extension, keeping him at the Whitten Oval until the end of the 2020 season.
Travis Cloke and Tory Dickson haven't been named as of yet, but there have been discussions that both men have also made the trip to Cairns. Another senior Dog in Matthew Boyd missed last Sunday's game with an achilles complaint, but didn't get up for the trip, looking more towards their massive game against Essendon next week.
Gold Coast Suns
IN: Brayden Fiorini, Jesse Lonergan, Jack Scrimshaw
OUT: Jarryd Lyons (Ankle), Steven May (Hamstring), Gary Ablett (Hamstring)
B: Jarrod Harbrow, Rory Thompson, Pearce Hanley
HB: Alex Sexton, Trent McKenzie, Adam Saad
C: Michael Rischitelli, Aaron Hall, Matt Rosa
HF: Brayden Fiorini, Tom Lynch, Callum Ah Chee
F: Ben Ainsworth, Peter Wright, Jack Martin
FOL: Jarrod Witts, Touk Miller, David Swallow
INT: Jesse Lonergan, Sean Lemmens, Jack Bowes, Jack Scrimshaw
EMG: Keegan Brooksby, Jesse Joyce, Darcy Macpherson
Three massive outs coming out of the Gold Coast camp ahead of this match on Saturday evening. None bigger than the exclusion of Gary Ablett, who was returning to some career-best footy that we've had the pleasure of seeing over a decade. In 2017 Ablett is averaging 33 disposals, 7.5 clearances, six tackles and six inside 50s per game across 13 games this season after two seasons of injury-wrecked seasons. Ablett's 41-disposal and 11 clearance performance against Collingwood last weekend proved to be a major factor.
Another massive out is Gold Coast co-captain Steven May, who is undoubtedly one of the most underrated key defenders in the league. Entering in the prime years of his career, May is averaging 19 disposals, seven marks and four rebound 50s per game and there is no doubt if he would be playing in Melbourne, he'd be revered as a superstar in the league, such is May's presence in defence. Former Crow Jarryd Lyons is a big out as well as he is enjoying a career-year in the midfield in his first season as a Sun, averaging career-highs in disposals (25.5 per game), clearances (six per game) and marks (four per game).
Gold Coast will be looking to Brayden Fiorini and Jesse Lonergan to fill the massive gaps left by the trio of omissions, whilst it'll be exciting to see Beaumaris boy Jack Scrimshaw finally get his opportunity at senior level, after the rebounding defender was taken with the seventh overall pick in last year's AFL draft.
Recent History (Past Eight Meetings)
Round 17, 2016 - Cazaly's Stadium: Western Bulldogs 15.17.107 def Gold Coast 8.11.59
Round 15, 2015 - Cazaly's Stadium: Western Bulldogs 14.11.95 def Gold Coast 11.7.73
Round 17, 2014 - Cazaly's Stadium: Western Bulldogs 13.16.94 def Gold Coast 9.12.66
Round 10, 2014 - Metricon Stadium: Gold Coast 18.11.119 def Western Bulldogs 10.14.74
Round 8, 2013 - Metricon Stadium: Gold Coast 13.15.93 def Western Bulldogs 8.13.61
Round 8, 2012 - TIO Stadium: Western Bulldogs 9.18.72 def Gold Coast 4.10.34
Round 14, 2011 - Metricon Stadium: Gold Coast 13.10.88 def by Western Bulldogs 17.8.110
Round 3, 2011 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 18.14.122 def Gold Coast 7.9.51
Players To Watch
What a miraculous debut from the league's youngest active player last weekend against the Blues, taking six intercept marks along with 21 disposals and keeping dangerous forwards Levi Casboult and Jack Silvagni quiet. This week he potentially faces the daunting task of taming an All-Australian forward in Tom Lynch. That's a match-up I'd like to see, however I wouldn't be surprised if he starts on another dangerous tall in Peter Wright. Can Lewis Young back up his stellar debut?
Without a doubt, Johannisen played his best game since returning from the bye and received little attention from the Carlton forwards. He did recently sign a five-year deal in the lead-up to the Carlton game so perhaps going out-of-contract did play a huge role in his massive form slump, whether players want to believe that or not. It's going to be interesting to see what transpires on Saturday, whether or not he can continue his form from last Sunday.
Gold Coast Suns
After claiming a spot in the All-Australian team last year, Tom Lynch has taken a step backwards in terms of kicking goals, averaging 2.3 goals per game, when he was averaging three goals a game last season. With fellow co-captain Steven May out of the team on Saturday as well as the former captain Gary Ablett, Tom Lynch needs a massive game if the Suns are to get over the line. Against the Bulldogs, he averages just over two goals per game as well as 14 disposals and seven marks per game, so he doesn't mind playing against the reigning premiers.
Fiorini was notable for his game in round 23 last year when the Suns played Port Adelaide. As an 18-year old playing just his second game of AFL footy, Fiorini collected 32 disposals, 12 tackles, seven marks, five clearances and kicked two goals in a losing effort. Despite that incredible performance, Fiorini has struggled to maintain his spot in the senior side, playing only nine games in 2017, but you can sense that the stage is set for him to put in a blinder.
With the injuries to Ablett, May and Lyons, on top of injuries to Michael Barlow, Brandon Matera and Kade Kolodjashnij - all three of them would be in Gold Coast's top 22, the Gold Coast Suns face an uphill battle to get their first win over the Bulldogs up at Cairns.
But the big question remains as to whether or not last week's win over the Blues has restored some confidence that the Bulldogs have been sorely missing over the past month? The win was hardly convincing, but the Dogs have so much to play for, they can't afford to drop this one. I can see the Bulldogs winning this game, but I'm a little concerned as to where the goals are going to come from. With the club's leading goal-kicker Jake Stringer out of the side, it's going to be up to the likes of Marcus Bontempelli (16 goals), Liam Picken (12 goals), Lachie Hunter (12 goals), Jack Redpath (10 goals) and Toby McLean (10 goals) - these five sit behind Stringer in the goal-kicking at the Bulldogs.
If the Dogs are serious about playing finals in 2017. They need to beat the Suns and beat them well, but given the humid and greasy conditions in Cairns, I get the feeling that it will be a very scrappy game, but the Bulldogs should get the points.
Western Bulldogs By 27 Points
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