It's been a while since the Western Bulldogs have been announced as the pre-game favourites. On Sunday afternoon, they have a great chance of winning their third game in a row for the second time this season as they are back under the roof of Etihad Stadium for the last time in 2018, to take on the wooden spoon-bound Carlton in a bid to win five in a row against the Blues for the first time in the history of the club.
It will be the second time this year that the two sides have squared off. The first time all the way back to round six, when these two found themselves under the Friday night lights. That was a game full of struggle and it was perhaps among the worst Friday night games we've been subjected to this season. Since then, the Blues have managed to find themselves a couple of wins in what has been a dark season, and the Bulldogs are just starting to find some rhythm.
Their past two weeks have seen them knock off both St. Kilda and North Melbourne in somewhat similar fashion. Against the Saints, they were down by as much as 28 points early in the second term, before blowing them away with 14 goals in the second and third quarters to put the Saints to the sword. Against North last week, they were down by 28 points at half-time before piling on an eight-goal third term to give them a lead that they held on to in a spirited performance.
For the first time ever, three players managed to reach 40 disposals or more. Lachie Hunter (44), Jack Macrae (40) and Caleb Daniel (40) all had the football on a string last week and added how in-form Marcus Bontempelli has been in the past fortnight (four goals in the third term against the Saints and a 35-disposal, two goal game against North), the Bulldogs find themselves in a prime position to finish the season a lot better than how they started.
Whilst the Blues have been dismal this season, they showed pleasing signs up in Perth last weekend, leading Fremantle by 13 points at half time, before conceding 7.3 to the Dockers in the third term – a quarter that had left coach Brendon Bolton 'absolutely filthy' with the effort in the third term. A win against the Bulldogs gives them an extremely outside chance of avoiding its fifth wooden spoon since 2002.
IN: Easton Wood
OUT: Zaine Cordy (Sinus Fracture)
B: Easton Wood, Aaron Naughton, Ed Richards
HB: Hayden Crozier, Dale Morris, Jason Johannisen
C: Lachie Hunter, Jack Macrae, Toby McLean
HF: Billy Gowers, Josh Schache, Caleb Daniel
F: Tory Dickson, Marcus Bontempelli, Jordan Roughead
FOL: Jackson Trengove, Josh Dunkley, Mitch Wallis
INT: Patrick Lipinski, Fergus Greene, Lin Jong, Brad Lynch
EMG: Lewis Young, Mitch Honeychurch, Callum Porter, Tim English
Only one forced change from the Bulldogs side that defeated North Melbourne by seven points last Sunday afternoon, with Zaine Cordy forced out with a small sinus fracture that he suffered last week when he copped an errant boot from Ben Brown into his face. His replacement though is in the form of the Bulldogs captain Easton Wood, who will play for the first time since the round 13 game against Port Adelaide, where he suffered a severe hamstring injury.
IN: Tom De Koning, Jacob Weitering, Aaron Mullett
OUT: Nick Graham (Calf), Sam Kerridge, Jarrod Pickett (Both Omitted)
B: Lochie O'Brien, Sam Rowe, Dale Thomas
HB: Ciaran Byrne, Jed Lamb, Jacob Weitering
C: Marc Murphy, Patrick Cripps, Darcy Lang
HF: Sam Petrevski-Seton, Charlie Curnow, Cameron Polson
F: Ed Curnow, Harry McKay, Matthew Wright
FOL: Matthew Lobbe, Kade Simpson, Paddy Dow
INT: Caleb Marchbank, Jack Silvagni, Tom De Koning, Aaron Mullett
FOL: Harrison Macreadie, Angus Schumacher, Sam Kerridge, Jarrod Pickett
Carlton have made three changes to their side, including one debutant. 19-year old ruckman Tom De Koning will be the 1,199th player to make his debut for Carlton when he steps onto Etihad Stadium on Sunday. From Mt. Martha, down by the Mornington Peninsula, De Koning was the 30th pick in last year's AFL Draft and has been impressing for the Northern Blues in the VFL throughout this year. His father – Terry De Koning – played 31 games for Footscray in the 1980s.
De Koning will join former number one draft pick Jacob Weitering and ex-North defender Aaron Mullett as inclusions this week, with Bolton opting to axe Sam Kerridge and Jarrod Pickett, whilst Nick Graham will miss this week – and possibly next – with a calf injury.
Round 15, 2010 – Etihad Stadium: Carlton 8.10.58 def by Western Bulldogs 20.6.126
Round 5, 2009 – Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 13.12.90 def by Carlton 21.7.133
Players To Watch
As I have mentioned at the top of the preview, Caleb Daniel is enjoying some career-best footy at the present time. Had a season-high 29 disposals against St. Kilda in round 20, which was then bettered the following week against North Melbourne, where he racked up a personal best 40 disposals. Luke Beveridge has trialled Daniel at half-back in recent weeks, where his elite decision-making ability and his good skills by foot should come in handy – and if the last two weeks is any indication – it certainly has helped the Dogs' fortunes.
Very intrigued to see where Jordan Roughead's head is at this week, after news broke out that the out-of-contract big man is heavily linked to West Coast, who are in search of a ruckman for 2019 – following Nic Naitanui's latest knee injury and the pending departure of back-up ruckman Scott Lycett. Had 19 disposals and nine marks against St. Kilda and then just 12 touches last week against North Melbourne last week and has only played just the 10 games. Will be a player to keep an eye on as the end of the season draws closer.
For those that remember the last time the Blues and the Bulldogs played each other, you'll remember this man was looming as a significant threat in the last quarter. He missed some really gettable shots in the final term and finished the game with 1.4 – would be stiff to say that his inaccuracy cost them the game, but he could've made a huge difference if he had slotted a couple of those shots. Carlton fans will be hoping he has his kicking boots on this weekend – has slotted 32.20 this year in what has been a positive for the Blues this year.
It was less than two years ago, I remember hearing myself saying that Dale Thomas had to give it up – he had endured countless injuries and it showed whenever he stepped onto the field – the flair he used to have in his Collingwood days looked long gone. This year though, he's been one that has stood up in a year where not many Carlton players have. He's averaging over 20 disposals per game for the first time since 2013, when he was in his last year at the Pies and is fresh off a 30-disposal game against Fremantle last week. Will be one to watch, roaming out of defence.
Expect Carlton to come out with something to prove – they would've seen this game a while back as a game to win, and given that they gave themselves a real chance in the last quarter in the last time these two sides met, they will still have that quarter in their memory. There's no doubt that Carlton can beat the Bulldogs. Unfortunately for them though, this is one game that the Bulldogs should win.
Their last two games – although their starts have been very poor – the Bulldogs have shown really exciting footy in patches and have proven they can blow teams away in a particular quarter. All year long, they have been really poor in producing third quarters, but their last two games have seen them kick a combined 16 goals in their two third quarters – which is an extraordinary turnaround. Another quarter like that should see them take care of the Blues well and truly.
I look forward to another instalment of the Patrick Cripps/Marcus Bontempelli rivalry. In the last meeting, the Bont had 30 touches and seven inside 50s and Cripps had 32 disposals and 12 clearances – both men are running hot heading into this match, so it will be interesting to see who has the bigger impact in this game – a lot of people are liking Cripps a lot more than Bontempelli at this stage.