Western Bulldogs 6.6 8.11 8.16 14.19.103
Brisbane Lions 2.2 7.6 11.9 13.11.89
Western Bulldogs: Redpath 3, Picken 3, Dahlhaus 2, Bontempelli 2, Cloke, Hunter, Smith, McLean
Brisbane Lions: Zorko 2, Rockliff 2, Taylor 2, Rich 2, Bastinac 2, Berry, Barrett, Mathieson
Alex Docherty's Best
Western Bulldogs: Macrae, McLean, Hunter, Bontempelli, Redpath, Biggs, Cloke
Brisbane Lions: Rich, Berry, Zorko, Rockliff, Allison, Witherden
For the first time since the Western Bulldogs' miracle September run, the reigning champs have won four games in a row, overcoming a spirited fightback from the Brisbane Lions to win their first game at the Gabba since Round 20, 2009 - securing a 14-point victory to propel the Dogs into the eight at the conclusion of round 20.
It wasn't the greatest of starts for the reigning premiers as they lost Jason Johannisen to a back complaint in the pre-game warm-up, just minutes before the opening bounce - meaning the 'travelling emergency' Robert Murphy would suit up for this contest after all, after coach Luke Beveridge explained on Friday that the Bulldogs' captain was one of a number of players who were a little sore following their great win over Essendon, but would play if somebody pulled out.
Despite a six-goal opening term from the Bulldogs, it wasn't exactly the perfect start. They lost their premiership captain Easton Wood midway through the first quarter with what looked to be a severe hamstring injury after he was caught in a tackle by young Brisbane midfielder Jarrod Berry. But after both sides registered two goals each to their name, the Bulldogs began to kick away, leading by 28 points by quarter time, when it could've been so much more.
The Dogs dominated for most of the play and really restricted Brisbane's ball movement coming out of defense. Granted some of it came from the young Lions' inability to hit targets on a consistent basis, but the Bulldogs had 22 inside 50s in the first term to Brisbane's eight and recorded nearly 40 more disposals, however the Dogs returned to their wayward ways in front of goal on Saturday, recording six behinds with their six goals in the opening term.
A 28-point quarter-time lead grew quickly into a 30-point deficit early in the second term and then was whittled down into just under two goals by half-time with a five goal second term, with some drawing comparisons to their earlier encounter at Etihad Stadium this year, when the Lions were ahead by as much as 38 points, before the Dogs overran them in the end.
This time around, it was almost watching the exact opposite thing. With the assistance of the Bulldogs continuing to butcher their forward 50 entries, the Lions eventually got the game back on their terms and saved themselves from another belting with their ability to match them in the contested spaces and restrict their ability to run and create to a certain degree.
Brisbane were also down a man by half-time as the young running defender Cedric Cox was spotted on the bench with ice on his ankle - signalling a premature end to his evening, he wouldn't return to the game, they nearly lost another defender in Darcy Gardiner after he was accidentally struck in the face in a marking contest midair before crashing to the ground with a sickening thud, but he was cleared of any concussion.
Despite the injury to Cox, it didn't appear to faze the Lions as they piled on four unanswered goals to take an 11-point advantage into three-quarter time. In front of goals, the Dogs could do no right, only registering five behinds from 14 inside 50 entries in the third quarter, whilst the Lions were able to make the visitors pay for their errant kicking in front of the big sticks. By three-quarter time, the Bulldogs had four more scoring shots than the Lions, yet were down by two kicks.
Any chance of the Bulldogs running away with this contest like the last time these two met was beginning to loom likely when the Bulldogs kicked the opening two goals of the last quarter. Marcus Bontempelli finally got himself a goal after four attempts for three behinds (two that hit the goal post) and an out on the full. This one coming at the start of the final quarter - a moment in which the Dogs needed someone to stand up.
The Dogs got the next couple of goals to open up a nine-point advantage midway through the final quarter, before former North midfielder Ryan Bastinac popped up with two goals of his own to give Brisbane back the lead 20 minutes into the term. The Lions weren't going to roll over on this occasion and set up a nervous few minutes ahead for the Bulldog supporters who were expecting an easy victory in Brisbane.
But the reigning premiers, led by the steely resolve of Marcus Bontempelli and Toby McLean held firm to record a gritty 14-point win, not only securing the Dogs' first win in Brisbane since 2009, but a spot inside the top eight at the end of the weekend - currently sitting in seventh spot on the ladder.
Does that sound familiar to you Bulldog fans?
Leading The Way
The Bulldogs were dominant in the centre clearances, beating Brisbane 20-7 as well as being on top in overall clearances 45-30, they also outmatched the Lions going inside 50, with the Dogs going in a staggering 64 times to Brisbane's 37. Realistically, the Bulldogs could've and probably should've won by a lot more, given that the Bulldogs had 33 scoring shots to Brisbane's 24, but a win is a win, and the Bulldogs really need them as we head into the final straight of the home and away season.
Jack Macrae was a standout in the midfield, recording a game-high 32 disposals along with 11 marks, eight inside 50s and six clearances. He had solid assistance in the form of Toby McLean (28 disposals, six marks, four inside 50s and one goal), who continues his great form in the midfield and Lachie Hunter (29 disposals, seven marks and one goal) who continues his recent purple patch, whilst Shane Biggs also continues his good form in defence, registering 23 disposals, five marks and five rebound 50s.
Marcus Bontempelli continues his form in which I can only describe as incredibly frustrating. Rotating between forward and midfield, Bontempelli's game was statistically outstanding - 23 disposals, seven marks, six clearances, five tackles, five inside 50s and two goals. What frustrates me is his poor accuracy in front of goal. Ahead of their game on Saturday, Bontempelli had 18.22 in a very inaccurate season in front of the sticks, and continued his ways with a wayward 2.4 and given the spots he was kicking them from, he really could've been the best on ground if he had kicked straighter.
Jack Redpath was also very inaccurate, but was the next biggest threat down forward, kicking 3.4 from 12 disposals and nine marks and like Bontempelli, he could've easily had more. Questions were raised whether or not Redpath and Travis Cloke could work together as a key forward pair, and it must be said, looked like they could co-exist. Cloke might have only kicked one goal and missed a sitter, but he was busy, finishing with 17 disposals, seven marks, six inside 50s and a number of goal assists.
I mentioned earlier in the year that the Brisbane team have turned around what was a disasterous 2016 season, despite staring at the face of their first wooden spoon. Brisbane in 2017 have become more competitive in games, and if they can continue to put the games in these young boys, and encourage them to do what many couldn't in years gone by and stay up North, then the future is certainly bright.
It was a number of their experienced heads that were leading the way. Daniel Rich had a team-high 24 disposals as well as eight rebound 50s, seven marks and two goals - both of which came from outside the 50 in true Daniel Rich fashion. Dayne Zorko had a game in which I could describe similarly to the Bont's, he had 21 disposals, four clearances, four inside 50s, four tackles and a very inaccurate 2.4, whilst Tom Rockliff kept himself busy with 22 disposals, five clearances, four tackles, four marks and two goals.
I want to highlight some of the younger players that I thought were good, starting with Jarrod Berry's game. He wasn't Brisbane's best player, but he played tough and he showed that he's got a future in this club, possibly also a future leader. He finished with 18 disposals, six marks, six tackles and a goal. Jacob Allison is another young man that stood out. In only his second game, Allison recorded 17 disposals, eight inside 50s and seven marks, with his ability to run a huge asset and also Alex Witherden, who about nine months ago I compared him to Robert Murphy in terms of his use of the ball by foot and his creativity off half-back, he had 19 disposals - 15 kicks - and had five rebound 50s, trying to make things happen from defence.
These three, as well as guys like Hugh McCluggage, Eric Hipwood, Harris Andrews and Cedric Cox, they're going to be stars in the future and I am genuinely excited to see what these young Lions can do in terms of their growth in the near future.
Now in the eight and a game clear of a group of teams on 10 wins, every game becomes excruciantingly vital for the Bulldogs and their aspirations of going back to back. The reigning premiers have a six-day break before hosting the Greater Western Sydney Giants under the roof of Etihad Stadium in what is set to be another epic chapter in the budding rivalry of these two clubs on Friday night.
They have already played once this year, back in round six at Manuka Oval, which saw the Giants take the points over a very inaccurate Bulldogs side, much like the team we witnessed on Saturday. Perhaps some will be thanking their lucky stars it was only Brisbane they were inaccurate against on Saturday, for as sides like GWS - on their good day, could definitely make a team with wayward kicking pay the price.
The Bulldogs must continue to win, even with the injuries mounting up again, much like last year. They have proven they can be a force in the league, and with three games to go, still remarkably find themselves a game and a half out of the top four when it was only a month ago, we were consigned to watching the Western Bulldogs miss out on the Finals.
Anything is still possible in season 2017.