Outgunned and outplayed in the first half, the West Coast succumbed to a fast Bulldogs side on Sunday in a nail-biting thriller at the Marvel Stadium. Here are six of our key takeaways from the weekend’s loss to the Bulldogs.
Footy for the Ages
Looking past the bitter result, that match had nearly everything.
A thrilling finish, two sides that were near inseparable for most of the game, and bags of quality on show. It will undoubtedly go down as one of the games of the season.
We knew going into the contest that these two teams were pretty evenly stacked, with the Dogs depth in midfield and the Eagles height going forwards being where the game would be won for either side.
And there’s no doubt the Dogs will be in the mix for a top-four spot come the end of the season.
Jack Macrae’s ball work was simply a joy to watch in the middle of the park, while at the back, Dogs’ defender Bailey William’s efforts to hold up the Eagles onslaught in the final quarter were impressive.
For the Eagles, Josh Kennedy’s accuracy and Liam Ryan’s tantalising footwork helped keep the West Coast within a scores reach of the Dogs during the first half.
Nic Naitanui once again put on a ruck masterclass, recording a whopping 40 hit outs and 11 clearances, while Tom Barrass shored things up at the back, spoiling multiple Dogs attacks coming over the top.
And who doesn’t like to watch fast running footy? With the game opening up in the final quarter, both teams rolled the dice and went hell for leather to secure the four points.
That brought us down to a nail-biting finale, and although we were watching from behind the sofa, there was no doubt this was a spectacle of footy we won’t forget any time soon.
Overrun in midfield?
For most of the first half, the Dogs controlled the match. They were superior to the Eagles in midfield, getting a swarm of players to each contest while moving the ball cleanly through the hands. The West Coast just couldn’t keep up.
“In the first half, we got beaten up around the ball at the contest. So the last thing you want to try and do is try to attack from your back half,” Eagles Head Coach Adam Simpson said to the club website yesterday.
“You want to get some good clearances, defend behind your entries, and get deep entries, and we spent a lot of time defending from too deep.”
With 107 more possessions than the Eagles during the match, key Bulldogs’ midfielders Macrae, Bontempelli, and Tom Liberatore all took advantage of the Eagles relaxed press moving the footy around the Eagles and make multiple entries into the West Coast 50.
This is something the Eagles will need to seriously look at before they go up against Port Adelaide in round three on Saturday.
Port also love to pass the footy around and will, like the Bulldogs, try to swarm the middle of the field with midfielders like Travis Boak and Ollie Wines.
🔔 LIVE: Western Bulldogs v West Coast— aflratings Game Day (@aflratings_Live) March 28, 2021
FT Top Disposals
40 Jack Macrae
30 Marcus Bontempelli
29 Tim Kelly
26 Caleb Daniel
FT Top AFL Fantasy
122 Josh Dunkley
117 Marcus Bontempelli
111 Jack Macrae
108 Tim Kelly
For Adam Simpson, the Eagles didn’t put enough pressure on the ball carriers during Sunday’s loss, and that was their downfall.
“We were just a little bit off around the pressure around the ball,” he said. “The Doggies play a completely different system, rely a lot on handball and using their numbers. We’re a bit different, and it looked like their way was working better than ours in the first half.
Big players stand up in big games, and Marcus Bontempelli certainly stood up for the Bulldogs on Sunday.
Trying to contain him was tricky for the Eagles.
“Some players are just pretty hard to stop, you know the Dustin Martins the Bontempellis, you know,” Eagles ruckman Nic Naitanui said in a press conference on Monday.
“So we sent Jackson Nelson to him in the third quarter, and he did a reasonable job on him, but when guys are on fire like that, it’s pretty hard to slow them down, and he had a massive influence on the game.”
Jackson Nelson worked hard in the third quarter to almost nullify Bontempelli, but as soon as he was marked, two more Dogs midfielders, either Adam Treloar or Latham Vandermeer, popped up in his place to spearhead another attack.
But it was the Dogs captain Bontempelli who ran the show, racking up 30 disposals, a whopping 14 score involvements, three goals, and seven inside 50s. It’s pretty hard to stop that kind of class.
Eagles Forwards Stand Out Again
Despite the loss, there were many good things to reflect on from the weekend, including the Eagles accuracy in front of goal. Although the Eagles did miss a few key chances, their kicking percentages were 20% more than the Bulldogs’, who squandered multiple easy opportunities.
Particular credit should go to Josh Kennedy, who once again put on a kicking masterclass to nail four out of five of his set shots from tight angles on the goal. Kennedy also took six marks inside the 50 and had a hand in 8 of the Eagles 14 goals.
Alongside Jack Darling, Kennedy’s goals in the first half were vital to keeping the Eagles in the match and sparked the incredible third-quarter comeback that pulled the West Coast back into the game.
Liam Ryan was another player who stood up for the West Coast. And while he impressed in the air, reaching high to take several stunning grabs, he also put his hand forward for what could be one of the goals of the season. Receiving the ball deep in the Bulldogs’ 50, Ryan danced his way around the Dogs last defender, Ryan Gardner, tying the Gardners legs in a knot to get himself a clear shot at goal. It was a joy to watch.
Tom Barrass – The Key to the Defence
The Dogs were coming thick and fast, and under a barrage of entries, it was the Eagles backline who stood up to help keep the West Coast in the match. The Western Bulldogs should have been a few more goals up at half time, but for the brilliance of defender Tom Barrass who was superb in front of the sticks.
Taking ten marks during the match, Barrass had a lot to do to cover Josh Bruce and Bontempelli coming onto goal, and he delivered. Blocking the line share of the Doggies deep entries, Barrass spoiled, tackled, and outmuscled the Dogs attackers, forcing them to play more shallow entries into the 50, away from Barrass at the back.
Oscar Allen – Shoulder Scare
We’ve noticed Oscar Allen carrying a bit of a shoulder problem for some time now, regularly turning out with his collarbone and upper arm covered in tape.
And after taking a nasty knock during the third quarter, it looked like he might have done even more damage to his shoulder, coming off the field to receive some treatment before going back on.
“Ozzie (Oscar Allen) has obviously had a bit of a scare with the shoulder. We were all a bit taken aback when we saw the incident, but he’s pulled up well,” General manager Craig Vozzo said in Tuesday’s injury update.
Fortunately, the prognosis is good, and Allen will likely be back in the side to play against Port Adelaide this weekend.
“He’s a little sore, but there’s no structural damage, the scans and the doctors have confirmed.
“Just a little bit tender, he’ll have a light week, and if he gets through training as we expect he will, he’ll be available to train this week.”