We're at the final round in the 2016 home and away season, the Western Bulldogs travel up to Domain Stadium to take on Fremantle with hopes that win number 16 can bring them a home elimination final, after West Coast essentially shut down any hopes of an unlikely top four finish after comfortably beating Adelaide last night.
These two sides met in the first round this year, and it's pretty safe to say the result of that game set the tone for both teams' respective 2016 campaigns. Whilst dealt a heavy hand with injuries to several key players, the Western Bulldogs have stuck to task pretty well and will be playing finals for the second year in a row. The Doggies have not won in Western Australia since 2010, when they comfortably beat West Coast. Since that game, the Doggies have lost the last six games at Domain Stadium.
For Fremantle, their 65-point demolition job at the hands of the Dogs back in round one set the tone for their miserable season. Since that sunny Easter Sunday afternoon, the Dockers lost their first ten games of the season, and have only recorded three wins for the entire year and looked destined to finish the year in 16th. A stark contrast to their 2015 season, where they won the first nine games of the year and finished on top of the ladder.
If the Bulldogs win this game, they still need to rely on either Collingwood beating Hawthorn or North Melbourne beating Greater Western Sydney if they hope to secure a home elimination final in the first week of the finals series. But despite what the record suggests, Fremantle will be wanting to farewell a legend of their club in style come Sunday afternoon.
IN: Dale Morris, Will Minson, Matthew Suckling, Koby Stevens, Bailey Williams
OUT: Jordan Roughead (Calf), Easton Wood (Ankle), Roarke Smith, Lukas Webb, Toby McLean (All Omitted)
B: Shane Biggs, Fletcher Roberts, Dale Morris
HB: Jason Johannisen, Joel Hamling, Matthew Boyd
C: Lachie Hunter, Marcus Bontempelli, Liam Picken
HF: Lin Jong, Zaine Cordy, Clay Smith
F: Tom Boyd, Tory Dickson, Caleb Daniel
FOL: Will Minson, Luke Dahlhaus, Josh Dunkley
INT: Matthew Suckling, Nathan Hrovat, Koby Stevens, Bailey Williams
EMG: Tom Campbell, Toby McLean, Lukas Webb
The Western Bulldogs have made five changes from the side that easily took care of Essendon last Sunday. However, there is still no sighting of Jake Stringer who's performance at VFL level last weekend was not enough to earn a spot back in the side, but there are still a few good ins for the Dogs here.
Key defensive player Dale Morris is back in after missing a couple of weeks with a hamstring strain, he helps their defensive unit immensely. Matthew Suckling is also back in after sitting out of last week's win with a recurring achilles' complaint, as is Bailey Williams who's missed the last two months of AFL with a knee injury, Koby Stevens who's back after a few weeks in the VFL and Will Minson in what might be his last game as a member of the Western Bulldogs.
Easton Wood will sit out of this game after he injured his ankle last Sunday, but could be back in time for the elimination final after the details of the injury don't look too serious. Jordan Roughead will also sit out of this game with a calf complaint he also sustained in last week's win. Roarke Smith, Lukas Webb and Toby McLean have all been forced to make way.
IN: Zac Dawson, Matthew Pavlich, Aaron Sandilands, Matt De Boer
OUT: Matt Taberner, Jonathan Griffin, Sam Collins, Zac Clarke (All Omitted)
B: Tommy Sheridan, Zac Dawson, Lee Spurr
HB: Garrick Ibbotson, Alex Silvagni, Danyle Pearce
C: Michael Walters, Stephen Hill, Ed Langdon
HF: Shane Yarran, Chris Mayne, Lachie Weller
F: Michael Apeness, Matthew Pavlich, Hayden Ballantyne
FOL: Aaron Sandilands, David Mundy, Lachie Neale
INT: Darcy Tucker, Connor Blakely, Cameron Sutcliffe, Matt De Boer
EMG: Jonathan Griffin, Tendai Mzungu, Matt Taberner
Fremantle have made four changes themselves, all of them unforced changes. Matt Taberner, Jonathan Griffin, Sam Collins and Zac Clarke have all been given the axe and will miss this game, with two of Fremantle's club greats amongst the inclusions. Matthew Pavlich will play his 353rd and last game on Sunday after deciding to hang up the boots at the end of this season. The former Fremantle captain made his debut in round five of the 2000 season and since then has recorded 699 goals for his career and has been one of the club's greatest ever players. Pavlich only needs just one goal on Sunday to get to the milestone 700th career goal.
Also in for the Dockers is tall timber Aaron Sandilands who has struggled to get on the park all season long, only managing to register four games in 2016, with a rib injury forcing him to miss most of this year. Also in for the Dockers is Matt De Boer who has also struggled for game-time this year after spending most of this year in the WAFL and Zac Dawson who comes back in after serving a three-match suspension.
Last Time They Met – Round 1, 2016
Western Bulldogs: 15.13.103
In the opening round of the 2016 season between two sides that finished in the top eight the year previous, many had expected a tight tussle between the Western Bulldogs and Fremantle, but at the first bounce, only one team showed up. From the moment Marcus Bontempelli kicked the opening goal of the game in the first 20 seconds, the Dogs were on top of the Dockers, kicking seven goals to none to essentially win the game by quarter time, with the margin at 41 points at the first break.
The Dockers stemmed the Dogs' flow of goals in the next two quarters, only allowing the Dogs to kick three goals in that timespan, but the damage done in the first quarter proved to be too much for the Dockers, with the Dogs storming home with a five goal to one last term to run out 65-point winners.
The Bulldogs had numerous winners from all areas of the ground. Jason Johannisen and Shane Biggs led the Bulldogs in disposals with both men recording 35-disposal games. Robert Murphy, Lachie Hunter and Jack Macrae also had 30-plus disposal games. Marcus Adams had a dream debut, after keeping Matthew Pavlich to just one goal and six marks, whilst he took eight marks of his own and 15 disposals and Jake Stringer was the Bulldogs' only multiple goal-scorer with five majors.
For Fremantle, there were a number of players that were expected to perform a lot better than what they dished up on that day. Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe was only kept to 15 disposals, Hayden Ballantyne and Chris Mayne was hardly spotted and there was no influence from the likes of David Mundy and Stephen Hill. Lachie Neale was probably Fremantle's best player, after he recorded 32 disposals in solid effort.
Players To Watch
Playing his 191st game this weekend, this could very well be Will Minson's last game in the red, white and blue after only appearing for the Doggies just once in season 2016 – that coming in the Doggies' incredible win against the Sydney Swans. If this is in fact Minson's last game, he would love beat a long-time ruck rival in Aaron Sandilands who has been one of the competition's premier ruckmen for years. An interesting ruck duel awaits 'Big Will'
I don't think there is anyone in this Western Bulldogs' lineup right now who is in hotter form than Marcus Bontempelli, despite averaging 24 disposals a game in the last month, it's what he's done around the ground that's made him earn this title. He tackles, he uses the ball well, he can kick goals and has set up team mates for goals. You could very well expect 'The Bont' of going to town on an understrength Fremantle midfield.
An obvious player to watch out for, as he plays his 353rd – and last – game for the Fremantle Dockers on Sunday afternoon. Matthew Pavlich has had an outstanding career for the Dockers and is arguably the best ever Fremantle player. He's been All-Australian six times, he's a six-time club best and fairest, an eight time club goal-kicking champion, a three-time Ross Glendinning medallist for being best-on-ground in the WA Derby and of course, the captain of the Dockers from 2007-2015. He sits on 699 goals right now and could very well be the 22nd player to kick 700 goals in an AFL career. If the Dockers fail to get over the line, let's hope Pavlich gets to 700 goals and join some elite company as he calls time to his career.
Arguably the best player in Fremantle's line-up this year, Lachie Neale has had one of the best seasons in what is an otherwise dismal team. He's averaging a career-high 33 disposals a game this year as well as career-highs in tackles (4.75 a game), clearances (7 per game) and contested possessions (16 per game). He will almost certainly be an All-Australian this year and will be one of the many keys for Fremantle's rise back up the ladder in years to come.
Fremantle will be looking to send their club legend in Pavlich out on a high and I've got no doubt that the club will give it their absolute all to get over the line against a Doggies side that's will have an eye towards a home final, but they first need to beat the Dockers if they're any chance
I just don't think the Dockers have the personnel or the firepower to go for four quarters against a Bulldogs team that is injury depleted, but have proven time and time again this season, that they can find themselves on the winning side by the final siren in those tight encounters. It must be and should be win number 16 for the Bulldogs, but stranger things have happened in the final round before.
Western Bulldogs By 32 Points