With only two weeks to go until the conclusion of the home and away season, the Western Bulldogs have two extremely winnable games within the next fortnight. On Sunday evening, the Bulldogs are at Etihad Stadium for the last time in this home and away season, playing against Essendon in an away game for the Doggies.
After last week's nerve-wracking three-point win over the Magpies, the Bulldogs could use some much easier opposition in the lead-up to the finals, and with a top four spot remarkably still up for grabs, the Dogs wouldn't want to treat the Bombers or next week's opposition too lightly. An upset loss to the Bombers would not only spell curtains for the Doggies' top four aspirations, but it would also deal their chances of a home elimination final a significant blow, with sixth-placed West Coast having won their game against the Hawks on last night, and fifth-placed GWS expecting to take care of Fremantle this afternoon.
The Bombers pulled through for their first win last Sunday when they just got over the line against the Gold Coast Suns, with only a kick separating the two sides when the final siren sounded. This broke a 17-game losing streak and remain a chance to remarkably avoid the wooden spoon this year, after having 12 of their best 22 players missing all year long due to the ramifications of the supplements scandal. But in more pleasing news for Essendon fans, they will look set to regain most, if not all of their suspended stars after enduring a horrid season as many had expected before the beginning of the year.
IN: Toby McLean, Roarke Smith
OUT: Matt Suckling (Achilles), Jake Stringer (Omitted)
B: Shane Biggs, Fletcher Roberts, Easton Wood
HB: Jason Johannisen, Joel Hamling, Matthew Boyd
C: Lachie Hunter, Marcus Bontempelli, Liam Picken
HF: Lin Jong, Zaine Cordy, Clay Smith
F: Tory Dickson, Tom Boyd, Caleb Daniel
FOL: Jordan Roughead, Luke Dahlhaus, Josh Dunkley
INT: Nathan Hrovat, Toby McLean, Lukas Webb, Roarke Smith
EMG: Jake Stringer, Koby Stevens, Will Minson
The Dogs have made two big changes to the team that won last Friday night over Collingwood. Matt Suckling's achilles' problems have flared up again and will sit out, whilst Jake Stringer has been omitted. Some might be shocked, but since his return from a shoulder injury, he has looked far from his 2015 best. Whether or not he plays VFL this weekend in an attempt to get form up is a different story, but with finals just around the corner, 'The Package will be an important figure in the Bulldogs' finals campaign.
Coming into the Doggies' team this week is the rookie-listed Roarke Smith, who's playing only his second AFL game in his short career, and first AFL game since he injured his ACL late last year. Also in is Toby McLean in for his first game since round 11, where he injured his foot.
IN: Darcy Parish, Kyle Langford, Mark Jamar
OUT: Sam Grimley, James Polkinghorne, Jonathan Simpkin (All Omitted)
B: Matt Dea, Michael Hartley, Martin Gleeson
HB: Orazio Fantasia, Mitch Brown, Patrick Ambrose
C: David Zaharakis, Zach Merrett, Jackson Merrett
HF: James Kelly, Jayden Laverde, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti
F: Darcy Parish, Joe Daniher, Jake Long
FOL: Matthew Leuenberger, Craig Bird, Mathew Stokes
INT: Adam Cooney, Kyle Langford, Conor McKenna, Mark Jamar
EMG: Mason Redman, Jonathan Simpkin, Sam Grimley
The Bombers have made three changes to the team that beat the Gold Coast by a goal last Sunday, seeing young prospects Darcy Parish and Kyle Langford back into the team as well as top-up player Mark Jamar. Out of the team are Sam Grimley, James Polkinghorne and Jonathan Simpkin, all three of them also top-up players.
It's a big day for one Adam Cooney, a former Bulldog superstar now a Bomber who is playing his 250th game on Sunday after announcing during the week that this season will be his last. After giving 11 seasons of fantastic service to the Western Bulldogs, which saw the former number one draft pick earn a Brownlow medal, Cooney was traded to the Bombers at the end of the 2014 season.
See Bulldogs Centre's tribute to Adam Cooney Here:
Two other Bombers reach milestones this week, with top-up player Mathew Stokes playing game number 200 after spending ten seasons, 189 games and winning two premierships with Geelong before agreeing to join Essendon just for this season after initially retiring at the end of last year. Martin Gleeson will also play his 50th game after debuting for the Bombers in 2014, a rebounding defender, Gleeson was actually drafted at the end of 2012, taken at pick 53 in the National Draft.
Last Time They Met – Round 18, 2015
Western Bulldogs: 19.13.127
The Western Bulldogs hadn't beaten the Bombers since 2010, but after five long years, they got their win over the red and black, and did so in emphatic fashion, demolishing the Bombers by 87 points on a cold Sunday afternoon under the roof at Etihad Stadium.
Only one goal was kicked in the opening term through former Bomber Stewart Crameri, but after quarter time, the floodgates opened up, as the Dogs piled on seven goals to two in the second term to open up a 39-point lead at half time, but things only got worse for the Bombers as the Dogs kicked another seven in the third quarter to open up an unassailable 70-point lead at the final break.
The star of the show for the Bulldogs was in fact Crameri who had a day out against his old side, bagging a career-best seven goals. Jake Stringer and Tory Dickson also showcased their goal-kicking talents, both of them recording four goals each. Lachie Hunter had the ball on a string with 36 disposals, whilst Luke Dahlhaus (29 disposals, eight tackles), Jack Macrae (27 disposals, seven tackles) and Mitch Wallis (26 disposals, one goal) were also prolific in the midfield.
For the Bombers, it was one of their more dispiriting performances underneath the James Hird regime, which ultimately led to his sacking just weeks later. Brent Stanton, Dyson Heppell and Zach Merrett all still found plenty of the footy, with the trio all recording 30-plus disposal games.
Players To Watch
With the omission of Stringer for this match, this looms as a big game for young Toby McLean to step up and make his presence felt with a strong performance. McLean had played every game up to round 11, where he injured his foot and spent a good portion of time on the sidelines. He's got a strong nous for the goals and on his best day, can definitely get a fair bit of the ball.
Usually a defender, Zaine Cordy has enjoyed his past three weeks playing as a forward, kicking four goals over the past three weeks. Last week he was fantastic for the first half slotting two important goals, before fading away a fair bit in the second half. With Stringer out this week, the team could be looking to him for goals and might be in for a big evening.
What a season this young man is having, and he isn't even 21 yet. Even more astonishing is the fact that this was the pick that the Doggies gave up to acquire Stewart Crameri a few years ago. Merrett is averaging just under 30 disposals, six tackles and four clearances a game this season and has played every game so far. Some are even arguing that he is in All-Australian considerations.
He might be in opposition colours now, but the love and appreciation that Adam Cooney has received throughout his tenure at Essendon from the Bulldogs' faithful has been incredible. If he was to bow out this weekend, what a way to do it against the former club, I would love for him to turn in a vintage Adam Cooney performance just one last time for both sets of supporters, just make sure the Doggies get the 'W' though.
On paper, even with the list of injuries the Dogs have, it should be an easy win for the Sons of the West, but nothing is ever set in stone these days. Melbourne should've beaten the Bombers earlier on in the year but failed to do so, and we don't have to go back so far to remember the last time a cellar-dwellar toppled the Dogs. Round 23 last year against Brisbane was a game the Dogs were expected to win and win easily, but couldn't do it.
Essendon should be riding a wave of confidence after beating the Suns last weekend, but given that there is a lot at stake in regards to where the Bulldogs are going to finish at the end of the home and away season, they should prove to be too strong over Essendon here.
Western Bulldogs By 41 Points