AFL 1 year ago

Easy Pickens: Career Night From Liam Picken Propels Dogs Back Into Finals Contention

  • Easy Pickens: Career Night From Liam Picken Propels Dogs Back Into Finals Contention

    CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA - JULY 22: Liam Picken of the Bulldogs high fives fans after winning the round 18 AFL match between the Western Bulldogs and the Gold Coast Suns at Cazaly's Stadium on July 22, 2017 in Cairns, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Western Bulldogs    4.4    7.6    10.9    16.14.110
Gold Coast Suns       3.2    4.4    8.7       8.8.56


Western Bulldogs: Picken 6, Dale 3, Dahlhaus 2, Redpath, Liberatore, Roughead, Murphy, Wallis
Gold Coast Suns: Ainsworth 2, Martin 2, Swallow, Wright, Lynch, Hall

Alex Docherty's Best

Western Bulldogs: Picken, Hunter, Dahlhaus, McLean, Biggs, Wallis, Dale
Gold Coast Suns: Fiorini, Martin, Hall, Ainsworth, Miller, Macpherson

The Western Bulldogs' dream of defending the flag in 2017 is well and truly alive as they ran over the Gold Coast Suns in a fourth-quarter blitz, making it four wins in four trips in Cairns and two wins in a row with a 54-point win at Cazaly's Stadium in front of 9,364 spectators.

For three quarters, the Suns stuck with the reigning premiers. In the first quarter, going with a five-goal breeze, the Gold Coast kicked the first three goals of the match within 12 minutes of play, but it wasn't a dominant start to the game, as the Bulldogs had their fair share of opportunities, but with a tricky breeze, couldn't make the most of their chances.

The Bulldogs finally opened up their account in the 17th minute with a Luke Dahlhaus set-shot, and then found an unlikely focal point up forward through Liam Picken, who would go on to kick the next three goals of the game to remarkably give the Bulldogs the lead going into a quarter time melee, led by Gold Coast co-captain Tom Lynch who understandably wasn't pleased with how the start of the game panned out for the Suns.

The Bulldogs would go down to three men on the bench early in the second quarter, as luckless veteran defender Dale Morris landed heavily on his right arm, which unfortunately resulted in a broken forearm, which might not just spell the end of his 2017 season, but in fact his 239-game career, despite the 34-year old indicating earlier this month that he was keen to play on in 2018.

Morris had previously fractured his leg back in the round one win over Collingwood, costing him seven weeks of footy and then an ankle complaint kept him out of the round 12 loss to the Sydney Swans. Morris received enormous praise in the post-game press conference from both Luke Beveridge and Suns' coach Rodney Eade, who previously coached the defender when he was at the helm at Whitten Oval from 2005-11.

Going with the breeze in the second quarter, the Bulldogs extended the margin from eight points to 20 with three goals, including Liam Picken's fourth goal, breaking his career-best of three, in what was a scrappy second quarter that was highlighted by the Suns' dominance with the contested ball, winning in that statistic 34-24 and stopped the Bulldogs from running out to an unassailable half-time lead, much like last year's match up at Cairns.

Instead, they got to within a point of the Bulldogs with four of the next five goals. Within 14 minutes of play, the margin was whittled down to just a point, and the Suns were once again controlling play, but the one-point margin was as close as the Suns got. Ben Ainsworth's second goal of the evening at the 14th minute mark of the third quarter would be the Gold Coast's last goal of the match.

The young Suns looked like they were out of steam, as the Bulldogs would go on to kick the next eight goals of the match to cruise away with a relatively comfortable nine-goal win and their first win away from Melbourne this year. A career-best fifth goal from Liam Picken and a second Bailey Dale goal gave the Dogs a 14-point advantage at the final break, before busting the game wide open.

The stats will prove that the Suns just ran out of gas. The Bulldogs nearly recorded 50 more disposals, almost 20 more contested possessions and 12 more inside 50s than the Suns in a fourth quarter blow out that saw the reigning premiers boot 6.5 - including a sixth goal to the red-hot Picken to Gold Coast's solitary point.

This win puts the Dogs level on premiership points with the eighth-placed Essendon, with percentage seperating the Bombers and the Bulldogs, who sit in 10th at the conclusion of round 18. This was another game that the Bulldogs simply had to win, and not only have they kept in touch with the top eight, they only sit outside on percentage, and with a massive month ahead, it is crucial for the Bulldogs to keep on doing whatever it takes to get the wins on the board and give themselves the chance to defend the crown.

Leading The Way

A few weeks ago, I was openly calling out Liam Picken for a lack of presence and impact in the forward line and on Saturday evening, he more than delivered on a career night. Before this game, the previous record for most goals in a match at Cazaly's Stadium was five goals set by Richmond's Jack Riewoldt back in 2012, but nobody would've expected going into this match that this man, who used to tag midfielders out of games on a consistent basis, would kick six goals in a forward line that I could label as 'dysfunctional'.

Picken was influential early, kicking three goals in the first quarter as the Bulldogs were going into the breeze, and from there continued to loom as a dangerous threat for most of the evening. He would take eight marks - six of those inside 50 - and 15 disposals on a career-best night. Bailey Dale was also dangerous up forward as he continues his rich vein of form, slotting three goals from 17 disposals and four marks.

Another young Dog who is in great form in the midfield, Toby McLean continued his rich vein of form with his third game in four weeks in which he's logged in 25 disposals or more. He had 27 disposals, eight inside 50s and five tackles, Lachie Hunter notched up his first 30-plus disposal game for the 2017 season after reaching 30 disposals or more nine times last year. He would record a game-high 31 disposals, along with 10 marks and five rebound 50s, whilst Mitch Wallis (26 disposals, four tackles and one goal) and Jack Macrae (25 disposals) were also busy in the midfield.

In defence, Lewis Young continued to shine, taking 10 marks - numerous intercepts - from 16 disposals, his composure for a second-gamer is absolutely outstanding. Shane Biggs was very busy at half-back, recording 27 disposals and 10 marks, whilst Jason Johannisen continued to look as if he rediscovered his groove at half-back, with several plays that involved him running the ball up the ground, he ended up with 22 disposals, five inside 50s, four marks and four clearances.

The Opposition

With another loss - the club's 11th of the year, the pressure continues to mount on former Bulldogs coach Rodney Eade to keep his job as head coach of the Gold Coast. Since taking on the role at the Suns, Eade has only coached the strugging Suns to 16 wins in 61 starts. It's not all Eade's fault, the Suns do have a talented bunch of kids who need games, and the veterans that are at the club can provide something, the problem is getting them all on the park at once, as injuries has plagued them before Eade took on the role.

But the talent coming up is promising. 19 year-old Brayden Fiorini in just his 12th game recorded 29 disposals, seven marks, five rebound 50s and three inside 50s in a solid effort. Jack Martin was also lively around the ground, recording 22 disposals, 11 marks and four rebound 50s to go with two goals, whilst Aaron Hall (23 disposals, six inside 50s and one goal) and Touk Miller (20 disposals, six marks and five tackles) battled on in a midfield decimated by injury.

Ben Ainsworth looks like he'll be a star in the future and it wasn't hard to see why the Suns were delighted to snap him up with the fourth overall selection in the AFL Draft last year. He kicked two massive goals in the third quarter to get the Suns to within a point and fought hard to overcome a quad complaint to finish with 12 disposals, six marks and four tackles to go along with his two goals whilst I also liked the fight of young Darcy Macpherson, the son of former Bulldog Steve Macpherson, who played 188 games for the Dogs between 1982-1995.

Next Week

It doesn't get any bigger than this game next week. Next Sunday afternoon, the Western Bulldogs are back at Etihad Stadium to take on the eighth-placed Essendon Bombers in what promises to be a massive game.

Despite Essendon having won their past three matches, watching them play against a North Melbourne side that looked very young on Saturday, they didn't look very convincing, and I can't see any reason why the Bulldogs can't continue their winning form. A win against the Bombers next week could very much project them into the eight, with massive games against the Giants and Port Adelaide still to come. Granted Essendon's best footy can tear a side apart like they did to St. Kilda a couple of weeks ago, but I can sense that the Bulldogs are just beginning to hit their stride as a team after so many weeks of frustration. 

The next month will arguably dictate the Bulldogs' fate, and I for one, eagerly await what's in store for the Western Bulldogs' 2017 premiership defence.

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