They say you can't win them all. For the Western Bulldogs, winning their first three games of the season is going to have to wait another year, after the Gold Coast Suns pulled out a shock five-point victory in front of over 22,000 onlookers at Marvel Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Being there at the game yesterday, I do need to acknowledge that the Gold Coast deserved this win. Why? Well there are two reasons here – the first being that the Suns, when they got the ball, they knew what they were doing with it. When they didn't have the ball, they were methodical and their defence really stifled the Dogs' forward opportunities. It's hard to argue that they deserved this win.
The second reason being that the Bulldogs reverted back to the form of the past two years. They were slow, the skills were appalling and the lack of finishing in front of the big sticks were on full display again. They won the clearances 44-30, yet most of these were just hack kicks out of the stoppage and more often than not, it played into the hands of the Gold Coast defence, who I thought were outstanding all game long.
It was the Suns that got out to a fast start, kicking the opening four goals of the match to open up a 24-point lead early by the 15th minute of the opening term. This was on the back of sloppy Bulldog play and the Suns, much like what Hawthorn were able to do all throughout last week's win, were able to capitalise on these mistakes. The Dogs got their first of the afternoon through a Matt Suckling pearler from outside the 50 metre line, but the Suns responded and maintained their 24-point lead heading into quarter time.
From there, the Bulldogs managed to lift from what was a pretty poor first quarter. They started being first to the footy and controlled the general play. In similar fashion to last week, the Dogs couldn't reap the full rewards of their domination. Part of it was due to the rubbish entries they had – the rest of it was due to the sturdiness of the Gold Coast defence, which should be applauded and will be as the review goes on. Nonetheless, the Bulldogs won the quarter and found themselves down by 16 at half time.
From there, it became a real ugly game of football, with not much to write home about. Both the Bulldogs and the Suns combined for 2.7 in the third quarter, with numerous errors, poor decision making and some shambolic finishing in front of the big sticks. Listening onto the radio, one expert commentator – who shall remain nameless – labelled it as one of the worst games of the year so far. It was pretty spot on, but if you were Gold Coast Suns coach Stuart Dew, you probably wouldn't have it any other way, as long as you're winning.
The final quarter picked up a fair bit as the Bulldogs made one last effort. Josh Dunkley made amends for a poor set-shot in the first quarter with a beauty in the pocket – only for it to be cancelled out by Anthony Miles shortly thereafter. When Jack Bowes kicked the Gold Coast's 10th major in the ninth minute, they were up by 23 points and looking really cozy.
Marcus Bontempelli got a free kick from about 40 metres out, with no angle to speak of. He symbolises what was a horrid day for the Bulldogs as his kick skews to the left for another minor score. This was at the the 16th minute of the final quarter and the Dogs were still down by 23 – it looked done from here, but if it's one thing I've learned about the Bulldogs so far this year, is don't count them out of a contest – even if it hasn't been their day.
Mitch Wallis kicks one not long after the Bont's third miss of the day to reduce it to 17. From the next stoppage, Billy Gowers takes a mark on the edge of the centre square and then receives a fifty metre penalty to bring him to the edge of the goal-square – he kicks his first and it's back down to 11 with plenty of time to play. The young Suns did everything in their power to maintain possession and keep the Dogs at bay. Jack Martin kicked a point to make it an even two-goal game.
As the play winds down, it was looking more and more ominous that a draw was on the cards if the Dogs were to complete another comeback. Aaron Naughton takes a big pack mark just outside of the goal-square and with over a minute remaining, makes it a six-point margin. From the next centre bounce, the Dogs win the clearance and a Taylor Duryea kick finds a man in Gowers in a pack. From about 40 metres out on a very acute angle, the kicks strays right for one behind with 30 seconds left. It was enough for the Gold Coast to hang on - just.
As Terry Wallace once said: What does a fantastic effort mean if it doesn't get us anything? Yes it was another good effort to come back from a seemingly difficult spot, but the facts are that footy is a 120 minute game and for the Bulldogs – I believe the effort was there for three quarters, the skill was only there for about less than a half of the game, and that's being generous. Bring this sort of play to Collingwood next week at the MCG and it'll only be a matter of how much they get done by.
Leading The Way
There probably wouldn't be too many Bulldog players that I'd say had good games. I really liked Lewis Young's game in defence. When the Suns made their presses forward, he was often one that tried to have an input in the matter. Whether it be punching the ball over the boundary line or generating the play from defence, I thought he was very good. Also props to third-gamer Bailey Smith, who played extended stints in the middle and finished the game with 22 disposals, four clearances and six tackles – he got more involved as the game went on, and that's encouraging.
Tom Liberatore was the Bulldogs' best on for mine. He had a game-high 12 clearances to go along with his 30 disposals and nine tackles. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that Libba's best footy is back – he's had a cracking start to 2019. Marcus Bontempelli's work in the middle of the ground was outstanding – a game high 34 disposals, six clearances, seven marks and seven inside 50s – the only thing that marred his performance was his woeful accuracy in front of goal, kicking three behinds.
Jack Macrae (33 disposals, six clearances, nine tackles) again showed his consistency with another good performance. Lachie Hunter (27 disposals, eight marks and four inside 50s) was busy again, whilst Caleb Daniel overcame a rough start to the game, where he was targeted by Gold Coast players to finish up with 24 disposals, five rebound 50s and five inside 50s in another solid game across the half-back line.
It's taken three years, but I believe now that the Gold Coast Suns - providing injuries - can no longer be the easy beats of the competition. The defence stood up in large parts of the game. Jack Hombsch and Sam Collins have been good finds this year and made it very frustrating for the Bulldog forwards. Jarrod Harbrow (18 disposals, five marks and eight rebound 50s) and Lachie Weller (26 disposals, 11 rebound 50s and six marks) generated a lot of run and carry from the back line.
Jarrod Witts absolutely smashed Tim English in the ruck. English had just 15 hitouts, Witts had 52 – jot that down to the experience of Witts, who has played way more AFL games than English he'll have the body to combat him soon enough I think. Brayden Fiorini (27 disposals, six marks, five clearances and five tackles) was very good playing in the middle, likewise Jack Bowes, who had 25 disposals, three clearances, six tackles and a goal in the final quarter.
Jack Martin is a player that is starting to come into his own. He was highly talked about when the Suns took him back at the end of 2012. Injuries had more than their say and when the Suns were branded a basket-case, Martin didn't exactly set the world on fire when they needed someone to step up. On Sunday, he showcased why he was highly touted – he finished with 23 disposals, seven marks, six tackles and 1.4 from the day. His aerial work a highlight and if he had finished off a few of those shots on goal, he would've been the best player on the ground by far.