History is set to be made on Saturday afternoon as the city of Ballarat gears up for it's first official AFL game for premiership points as the Western Bulldogs host Port Adelaide at the Dogs' home away from home that is Ballarat's Mars Stadium.
Expect a capacity crowd at the newly-refurbished stadium on Saturday afternoon as both sides are desperate for wins. For the Bulldogs, who sit ninth on the AFL ladder, were very disappointing last Friday night against Greater Western Sydney, with a wasteful second quarter playing the catalyst in the Dogs' 48-point loss, with the Giants dominant in the second half.
Before that loss, the Bulldogs were on a four-game winning run, and looked set to be back on track for another finals appearance after a season best described as inconsistent, but with the loss to the Giants, the Bulldogs are back in the logjam for the final spot in the top eight. They must win the final two games of the home and away season and that starts with their contest against Port Adelaide.
Port Adelaide have been a really funny side to assess this year. Despite sitting a game outside the top four, the Power have yet to establish themselves as a bona fide premiership contender in 2017, failing to beat any of the teams in the top four, with their most recent loss to the Adelaide Crows a prime example of Port's inability to hang with the competition's elite - the Crows embarrased Port to the tune of 84 points.
Quite a few of their wins in 2017 have come against some of the competition's easybeats. They have beaten Fremantle by 89 points, Carlton by 90 points, Brisbane by 83 points, Gold Coast by 72 points and North Melbourne by 70 points, but when it comes to the sides you need to beat such as Adelaide, GWS, Richmond and Geelong, the Power have failed to win every single time.
Travelling into Victoria, their form hasn't been so great, with Port Adelaide winning only once from their four games in 2017, and their form against the Bulldogs hasn't been so kind either, winning only three of their past 13 clashes against the reigning premiers, and their last win over the Dogs in Victorian soil going all the way back in 2003.
This will be the 27th time that these two teams clash since Port arrived onto the AFL scene in 1997, but it is without question, the most important game in the history of these two sides, with so much at stake with September just around the corner. The Power still an outside chance of a top-four berth and the Bulldogs continuing their fight for survival. A can't-miss game on Saturday, will the Dogs continue to keep their September dreams alive?
IN: Jason Johannisen, Dale Morris
OUT: Jack Redpath (Suspended), Mitch Wallis (Omitted)
B: Shane Biggs, Zaine Cordy, Dale Morris
HB: Robert Murphy, Lewis Young, Matthew Suckling
C: Lachie Hunter, Marcus Bontempelli, Bailey Dale
HF: Jason Johannisen, Jake Stringer, Liam Picken
F: Luke Dahlhaus, Travis Cloke, Tory Dickson
FOL: Jordan Roughead, Tom Liberatore, Jack Macrae
INT: Toby McLean, Josh Dunkley, Bailey Williams, Caleb Daniel
EMG: Mitch Wallis, Fletcher Roberts, Mitch Honeychurch
The Western Bulldogs have made two massive changes following their loss to Greater Western Sydney last Friday night, bringing back in Norm Smith Medallist Jason Johannisen after missing a couple of weeks with hamstring tightness and ever-so-reliable defender Dale Morris after he only missed just three weeks with a broken arm that he sustained during the Dogs' win over Gold Coast. No matter what club you support, one has to admit that is an unbelievably courageous effort.
Jack Redpath will miss the following three games after his appeal to have his two week ban for a rather soft hit on a pretty soft Phil Davis was thrown out and was given a three-week suspension, which was met with a very negative response from all the Bulldogs' supporters, and understandably so - I could rant on and on about the Match Review Panel, but that will be for another time. Mitch Wallis will also miss this game after he was surprisingly dropped after his poor performance against Greater Western Sydney in which he only registered nine disposals.
IN: Riley Bonner, Sam Powell-Pepper, Todd Marshall
OUT: Brendon Ah Chee, Jarman Impey (Both Omitted), Jasper Pittard (Calf)
B: Riley Bonner, Tom Clurey, Dan Houston
HB: Darcy Byrne-Jones, Tom Jonas, Hamish Hartlett
C: Justin Westhoff, Ollie Wines, Jared Polec
HF: Sam Gray, Todd Marshall, Robbie Gray
F: Aidyn Johnson, Charlie Dixon, Chad Wingard
FOL: Paddy Ryder, Brad Ebert, Travis Boak
INT: Jake Neade, Sam Powell-Pepper, Karl Amon, Dougal Howard
EMG: Jackson Trengove, Matthew White, Jarman Impey
Port have made three changes following their win over Collingwood last weekend, including one young man set to make his debut on Saturday, naming their first selection in last year's AFL Draft in Todd Marshall. Marshall is a key forward from Deniliquin who was selected by Port in with the 16th overall pick in last year's AFL Draft and has been seen as a long-term prospect, but was rated among the best key forwards in last year's draft class.
They have also named Riley Bonner for his second career AFL game after making his debut in the final round of 2016 and a Rising Star favourite in Sam Powell-Pepper after he was rested from last week's win over the Pies, but his influence in Port's midfield has been incredible in his debut season. Powell-Pepper was taken a couple of picks after Marshall in the 2016 AFL Draft, taken 18th overall by the Power.
Jasper Pittard will miss this game with a calf complaint he sustained at training during the week, and will be considered a bit of a blow as he is a very good player off half-back, averaging 20 disposals, five marks and four rebound 50s in 2017. However, the pair of Jarman Impey and Brendon Ah Chee have been dropped from the team and sent back to the SANFL.
Recent History (Past 10 Meetings)
Round 12, 2016 - Adelaide Oval: Port Adelaide 14.13.97 def by Western Bulldogs 15.10.100
Round 19, 2015 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 19.14.128 def Port Adelaide 9.10.64
Round 10, 2015 - Adelaide Oval: Port Adelaide 16.4.100 def Western Bulldogs 9.8.62
Round 14, 2014 - Adelaide Oval: Port Adelaide 19.14.128 def Western Bulldogs 8.8.56
Round 10, 2013 - TIO Stadium: Western Bulldogs 10.7.67 def Port Adelaide 8.10.58
Round 12, 2012 - Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 13.17.95 def Port Adelaide 8.9.57
Round 22, 2011 - AAMI Stadium: Port Adelaide 15.7.97 def by Western Bulldogs 24.13.157
Round 16, 2010 - TIO Stadium: Western Bulldogs 12.11.83 def Port Adelaide 7.5.47
Round 12, 2009 - TIO Stadium: Western Bulldogs 21.11.137 def Port Adelaide 7.2.44
Round 14, 2008 - TIO Stadium: Western Bulldogs 20.15.135 def Port Adelaide 11.15.81
Players To Watch
With Jack Redpath suspended until possibly the opening round of 2018 and Tom Boyd making his return from mental illness via the VFL this weekend, the pressure on Travis Cloke to perform grows immensely this week. Since returning to the team in round 19, Cloke hasn't been too bad, averaging 13 disposals, five marks and a goal per game, but if the Dogs are to get the win, they need a big game out of Cloke. His forme against Port hasn't been too flash, kicking 23.23 and averaging six marks per game in 14 outings against the Power.
Last week against Greater Western Sydney was easily the worst game in Lewis Young's four-game career, but every young man has their bad games, especially in their first couple of years. This week is about how he bounces back and I can sense a big game coming from him. I'd love to see him take on the debutant Todd Marshall, but the real threat comes in the form of Charlie Dixon, who has kicked 38 goals so far in 2017. I'll be very interested to see how Young goes on Saturday.
Unquestionably Port's most dangerous player this year. Gray has predominantly played forward this year after spending the past few seasons as a midfielder and as a result his disposal average has dropped from 26 per game to 18.5, but his influence on games hasn't diminished one bit, as he has often been the man that's got Port Adelaide over the line this season, kicking 44 goals so far in 20 games (A personal best). The Dogs must keep a close eye on him, remember what happened to St. Kilda a couple of weeks ago? It might be a similar story on Saturday if they don't put the leash on Gray.
The former Bomber is enjoying a career-best season at Port Adelaide this season. In his second season at Alberton since being traded from Essendon and his first season since serving his 12-month suspension for his involvement in Essendon's supplements scandal, Ryder has averaged just under 13 disposals, and career-highs in hitouts (36 per game), inside 50s (three per game) and clearances (four per game). A big task for Jordan Roughead to quell Ryder's influence on Saturday.
This is a real toss of the coin game here - that's how close I think it will be. Given the Western Bulldogs' form of last week and given how poor they have been in terms of going into attack and translating their inside 50s into goals, I don't expect them to beat Port Adelaide on Saturday. However, I believe the Dogs will be spurred on following the retirement of beloved captain Robert Murphy during the week, and Port will be aware of this.
If the Dogs bring the contest to Port for a full 120 minutes, they'll make it an extremely tight contest from start to finish, but for the Dogs to win this game, but they must fix their horrible inefficency inside 50. They average the fifth-most inside 50s in the entire competition, averaging 55 per game, just three inside 50s less than the ladder-leading Adelaide Crows, however them and St. Kilda lead the league in scoring behinds, both sides averaging just under 14 behinds per game. They get enough of the ball to be a contender, but this is a problem that cost them last week against GWS as well as quite a few other games this season.
Without any conviction, I'm tipping Port Adelaide in what should be a very close game. Look out for Robbie Gray to have a massive game and Charlie Dixon to monster the young Bulldog defenders, but all in all, I think this game will be one of many incredible games in the city of Ballarat.
Port Adelaide By 4 Points