It's funny to think that the last time these two teams met earlier in the season, they were occupying the top two spots on the ladder, but on Saturday night the seventh-placed Western Bulldogs host the eighth-placed North Melbourne in a showdown at Etihad Stadium.
Since the last meeting, both sides have been struck down with injury and indifferent form. The Western Bulldogs had a number of their best 22 players missing from their line-up last Friday night against Geelong down on their home turf, and although they lost the match, they didn't lose many admirers for their efforts. Despite all their injuries, the Bulldogs will not lie down to anyone and will be a side to watch come September.
North Melbourne themselves have had a rollercoaster of a year so far. After starting off the season 9-0, the Roos have suffered from a downward spiral since, only winning three games from nine encounters since, and sit behind the Bulldogs in eighth spot on the ladder only by percentage. But they're on the back of a two game-winning streak, after easily accounting for Collingwood a fortnight ago, and then St. Kilda in Brent Harvey's milestone game.
With the top eight 95 percent set in stone (St. Kilda and Port Adelaide still mathematically a chance), both sides remain as the two huge outsiders for the flag, with this game certain to play a big part in where both sides finish on the ladder at the conclusion of the 2016 home and away season.
IN: Dale Morris, Matthew Boyd, Nathan Hrovat, Lukas Webb
OUT: Koby Stevens, Jed Adcock (Both Omitted), Tom Liberatore (Ankle), Jack Macrae (Hamstring)
B: Dale Morris, Fletcher Roberts, Easton Wood
HB: Jason Johannisen, Joel Hamling, Matthew Boyd
C: Lachie Hunter, Marcus Bontempelli, Liam Picken
HF: Lin Jong, Jake Stringer, Clay Smith
F: Tory Dickson, Tom Boyd, Caleb Daniel
FOL: Jordan Roughead, Luke Dahlhaus, Josh Dunkley
INT: Nathan Hrovat, Zaine Cordy, Lukas Webb, Shane Biggs
EMG: Toby McLean, Will Minson, Bailey Dale
The Dogs have made four changes to the team that lost to Geelong, with Dale Morris and Matthew Boyd back in the team after missing last week's game with a hamstring and achilles injury respectively. Lukas Webb comes back into the team after two huge games in the reserves since he was last dropped from AFL level, whilst Nathan Hrovat makes his first appearance for the season after starring in the VFL the last two weeks. Hrovat has been suffering from ankle and shoulder injuries for most of the year and his inclusion couldn't have come at a better time for the Bulldogs.
Tom Liberatore and Jack Macrae are forced outs for the Bulldogs, as both suffered injuries in last weeks loss to the Cats. Both men face a race to be back before the Dogs' season is over. Koby Stevens and Jed Adcock have both been dropped for this game.
IN: Majak Daw
OUT: Jarrad Waite (Hip)
B: Scott Thompson, Michael Firrito, Aaron Mullett
HB: Jamie Macmillan, Robbie Tarrant, Nick Dal Santo
C: Sam Gibson, Daniel Wells, Ryan Clarke
HF: Lindsay Thomas, Ben Brown, Brent Harvey
F: Jed Anderson, Drew Petrie, Jack Ziebell
FOL: Todd Goldstein, Andrew Swallow, Trent Dumont
INT: Brad Mackenzie, Ben Cunnington, Shaun Atley, Majak Daw
EMG: Lachlan Hansen, Corey Wagner, Declan Mountford
North have only made the one change to the line-up that beat the Saints last Saturday night, with Jarrad Waite a huge out as he recovers from surgery from a hip injury. Waite's omission would warrant a sigh of relief for Dogs fans as he was arguably the best on the ground in their last meeting.
But the Dogs have some history with the man who is set to take Waite's spot on Saturday night, with Majak Daw coming into the side. Bulldog fans I don't think will fondly remember the game three years ago, where Daw kicked six goals on the red, white and blues in what was only his fourth career game in the AFL.
Last Time They Met – Round 6, 2016
Western Bulldogs: 6.9.45
North Melbourne: 9.7.61
It was first vs second on a rare Friday night for both teams, but it was the unbeaten Kangaroos that came out on top by 16 points over a gallant Western Bulldogs in a scrappy, low-scoring contest at Etihad Stadium. With this win, North went to 6-0 for the first time since 1979.
North led at every change, kicking four goals to two in what was looking like a fast-paced game that was slowed down from quarter time with intense tackling pressure from both sides, with both teams going on to kick a further nine goals for the match.
Jarrad Waite proved to be the match-winner on the night with four majors and was a constant thorn in the sides of the Bulldogs' defenders. Scott Thompson on the other end of the field was outstanding in the back-half with 26 disposals and nine marks, Daniel Wells had a team-high 27 disposals and Ben Cunnington and Andrew Swallow combined for 28 tackles for the winners.
For the Dogs, Lachie Hunter had a stellar night, recording a career-best 44 disposals, whilst Matthew Boyd and Jack Macrae both notched up 33 disposals each. Six Bulldogs kicked a goal, with one of them not being Jake Stringer, who had a game he would much rather forget.
Players To Watch
After two weeks in the VFL, Hrovat finds himself slotted right back into the AFL line-up for the first time this season, but with a number of key midfielders out for the Bulldogs, needs to step up instantly. He had a 30-plus possession game on the weekend on the back of a positive return from injury the week before.
He had a mammoth game against the Kangaroos in the last meeting, and is having a career-best season, averaging just under 30 disposals a game, but hasn't hit the 30-disposal mark in over a month. He could either find himself having a field day, or being heavily tagged by the opposition on Saturday night.
Petrie has long been a name that would make a lot of Bulldog supporters squirm, and with good reason, he has often torched the Dogs whenever the two sides get together, kicking 46 goals in 20 meetings with the Bulldogs, and with Waite out of the side, Petrie, along with Ben Brown, will need to fire up if North are to get over the line.
With a lot of North's older players out of the side due to injury, this opens the door for a lot of their younger players to grab an opportunity to cement a spot in the Roos' best 22. 19 year-old Ryan Clarke has had an impressive first month of footy, averaging 20 disposals over the past month, including a Rising Star nomination in North's win over Collingwood a fortnight ago.
With so many injuries to the Dogs, one has got to ask the question of 'How much is left in the tank?' They were gallant in defeat against Geelong last Friday night, but unfortunately, you don't get premiership points for giving it a red-hot crack.
North's last two wins suggest they're back on track, but you can't count the Dogs out of it. If they can put in the same effort they showed against the Cats, then they are every chance of winning this game. This one might just be too close to call, but I'm going to go with the Bulldogs, because I reckon they will be the more desperate side to get the four points
Western Bulldogs By Four Points