Have the Western Bulldogs hit their strides at the right time of the season? After three successive wins in the past three weeks, the Bulldogs travel back up to Queensland for the second time in three weeks, where they will look to secure their first win in Brisbane since Round 20 2009, as they visit the Lions at the Gabba.
Despite Brisbane's horrendous form over the past number of years, the Bulldogs haven't beaten them at the Gabba from the last four attempts, and if they come to the Gabba on Saturday evening expecting another four points, then it may just very well be five losses in five attempts and could spell a end to the Western Bulldogs' aspirations of a premiership defence.
A 30-point win against fellow finals hopefuls Essendon last week might've just reignited their premiership credentials after a season plagued with horrible inconsistencies, but if the Bulldogs really want to sound off a warning to the rest of the league, they need to thump the Lions comprehensively this weekend.
Under coach Chris Fagan in his first year, the Brisbane Lions have been a bit more competitive than they have in the last few years when they were under the helm of Justin Leppitsch. However, due to the lack of experience the team has, the Lions still sit at the bottom of the AFL ladder, with only four wins from 18 games and face with the prospect of winning their first wooden spoon since 1998.
However, just a fortnight ago, they were very dominant against Carlton for over a half, leading by as much as 56 points before cruising to a 30-point win at the Gabba, outlining that if you take them lightly, then Brisbane can make you pay, the Bulldogs don't have to look far to see that. Brisbane dominated play in the first half in their last encounter back in round five - leading by as much as 38 points before the Dogs rallied to secure their fourth victory of season.
Sitting a game behind both Carlton and North Melbourne, can the Lions cause a huge upset against the Bulldogs? Or will the reigning premiers break their Brisbane hoodoo?
IN: Jack Redpath, Clay Smith
OUT: Robert Murphy (Travelling Emergency), Tory Dickson (Quad)
B: Shane Biggs, Zaine Cordy, Jason Johannisen
HB: Easton Wood, Lewis Young, Matthew Suckling
C: Lachie Hunter, Mitch Wallis, Bailey Dale
HF: Toby McLean, Travis Cloke, Liam Picken
F: Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Redpath, Luke Dahlhaus
FOL: Jordan Roughead, Tom Liberatore, Jack Macrae
INT: Clay Smith, Lukas Webb, Bailey Williams, Caleb Daniel
EMG: Robert Murphy, Matthew Boyd, Declan Hamilton
Following a 30-point triumph over Essendon, the Bulldogs have made two changes, with the omission of Bulldogs' captain Robert Murphy easily the most puzzling of the two. Murphy was not injured last Sunday and had reportedly got through training okay and it seems like he's available to play, but Murphy is not in the team's 22 and is not listed as an 'omission'. Instead Luke Beveridge has listed Murphy's out as a 'Travelling emergency'. It may sound like that Beveridge intends to play the Dogs' captain for their showdown with GWS next Friday night.
Tory Dickson will also sit this game out with a quad injury after he had a solid return game last Sunday, booting three goals on Essendon. Coming into the side sees Jack Redpath back in after serving his one-match suspension - it will be fascinating to see if he and fellow big man Travis Cloke can co-exist down forward. Also coming into the side is Clay Smith, who will be in for his first AFL game since round 16. Smith has averaged over 20 disposals in his past three VFL games for Footscray so it is fair to say he deserves a recall, but I wonder what is in store for the veterans in Murphy and Matthew Boyd? Both men named as emergencies for the trip North.
IN: Daniel McStay, Jarrod Berry, Dayne Zorko, Hugh McCluggage, Eric Hipwood
OUT: Michael Close, Jarrad Jansen, Sam Skinner, Ben Keays (All Omitted), Sam Mayes (Foot)
B: Daniel McStay, Harris Andrews, Daniel Rich
HB: Jarrod Berry, Darcy Gardiner, Alex Witherden
C: Ryan Lester, Dayne Zorko, Ryan Bastinac
HF: Lewis Taylor, Josh Walker, Jake Barrett
F: Hugh McCluggage, Eric Hipwood, Josh Schache
FOL: Stefan Martin, Tom Rockliff, Dayne Beams
INT: Nick Robertson, Cedric Cox, Rhys Mathieson, Jacob Allison
EMG: Ben Keays, Jarrad Jansen, Michael Close
Following a 68-point loss at the hands of the West Coast Eagles at Domain Stadium last Sunday, Brisbane have swung five changes, bringing in a combination of star power and promising youth. Gun midfielder Dayne Zorko returns after serving a one-match suspension, as does promising swingman Daniel McStay after overcoming a minor shoulder injury, whilst rising stars Hugh McCluggage, Eric Hipwood and Jarrod Berry all return to the Brisbane side after being rested for last week's game in Perth.
Making way for these five include Ben Keays, Jarrad Jansen, Michael Close and Sam Skinner, who had made his debut last weekend - all four have been omitted, whilst Sam Mayes will sit out of Saturday's game with a foot injury. It is going to be interesting to see if the trio of McCluggage, Hipwood and Berry can have a huge impact on this game after a well-deserved rest.
Recent History (Past 10 Meetings)
Round 5, 2017 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 17.20.122 def Brisbane 14.6.90
Round 5, 2016 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 17.18.120 def Brisbane 10.7.67
Round 23, 2015 - Gabba: Brisbane 19.16.130 def Western Bulldogs 19.8.122
Round 12, 2015 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 22.14.146 def Brisbane 11.8.74
Round 12, 2014 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 13.9.87 def by Brisbane 14.11.95
Round 22, 2013 - Gabba: Brisbane 15.10.100 def Western Bulldogs 13.15.93
Round 1, 2013 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 19.13.127 def Brisbane 7.17.59
Round 23, 2012 - Gabba: Brisbane 19.14.128 def Western Bulldogs 9.7.61
Round 13, 2012 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 7.14.56 def by Brisbane 18.6.114
Round 2, 2011 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 19.9.123 def Brisbane 6.9.45
Players To Watch
Biggs has been enjoying a fine month in defence, averaging over 25 disposals, eight marks and over four rebound 50s per match over the past four games and like many of his team mates, are finding their right form at the back end of the season. I watched him do a minor tagging job on Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti last week, it might not have been a hard one, but it was definitely effective as the much-loved Bomber was only kept to 13 disposals and one goal. I wonder who he might go on this week?
Was brought into the side as a replacement to Mitch Honeychurch, but I definitely liked Lukas Webb's game last week playing forward, kicking a pair of goals, but it could've easily have been more. With the Western Bulldogs still a very good chance of playing finals this year, Webb needs to continue to make the most of his opportunities if he wants to feature in the post-season, that is of course if the Bulldogs can get there first.
When Dayne Zorko plays his best footy, that's when Brisbane are at their most dangerous. Zorko's ability to kick goals and be such a presence in the midfield is what makes me such a fan of his, he is averaging 25 disposals, seven tackles, six clearances and five inside 50s per game as well as kicking 28 goals for the year. Back from serving a one-match suspension, one can only suspect that he'll be back to make a statement on the reigning champs. This cannot happen, we saw last week Tom Liberatore go to Zach Merrett and limit his impact, will we see something similar this week?
I definitely love watching this young man develop as a key forward and he'll only get better as he continues to get games. So far in 2017, he's kicked 28.15 in 17 games, with his pace and agility a real highlight in his game and at only 19 years of age, it's scary to actually imagine what this guy can do in a few years. Last time the Lions met the Bulldogs, he loomed as a real dangerous threat early on and finished with three goals. I'd love to see him match up with promising key defender Lewis Young.
I'm not expecting the Bulldogs to blow Brisbane out of the water with a 10-goal drubbing, but I expect them to get the job done over there and get their first win at the Gabba in eight years. Each week for the Bulldogs is as big as the last game - the Bulldogs simply need to keep on winning if they want to play finals.
It's interesting to think that the last time these two teams played up at Brisbane, it was a shootout that was won by the Lions, Luke Beveridge said during last week's press conference that playing fast works in the Bulldogs' favour, so I'd suspect that Brisbane would look to try and cut off their run early, if they can't, it might spell trouble for Brisbane.
There's no doubt that the Lions will give them a fight, they've got a number of young kids that I like. Kids like Alex Witherden, Jarrod Berry, Cedric Cox, Hugh McCluggage and Eric Hipwood are all going to be fine players but I think the Bulldogs with their finals' chances continue to hang in the balance, they won't be dropping this game.
It'll be interesting to see if Jason Johannisen will go down forward on a more consistent basis after his match-winning, four-goal performance against Essendon and if the key forward pairing of Jack Redpath and Travis Cloke will co-exist.
Western Bulldogs By 27 Points
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