The Western Bulldogs are back at Ballarat's Mars Stadium in 2019. This weekend will see them play one of two matches at the venue. Awaiting them there are a very formidable Brisbane Lions team that has made a real barnstorming start to the season and after seven rounds, are already firming for a spot in September for the first time since 2009.
Bloody strange when you think that. Personally, I've enjoyed watching the Lions flourish under Chris Fagan over the past couple of years. In Fagan's first season in 2017, the Lions won five games for the year. Last year, they won five games as well. So far in 2019, they've matched the number of wins and dare I say they will win at least another five before the year is done. Their young kids have taken leaps and bounds in their development and the recruits they have brought in over the past 24 months have done wonders to this side.
The Lions started the year with three straight wins – against West Coast and Port Adelaide at home and a hard-fought win against North Melbourne away. After a fortnight of struggle against Essendon and Collingwood, the Lions are currently on a two-game winning streak, dispatching of Gold Coast easily, before putting away Sydney for the first time in 10 years last week. They will be eyeing off this game as a must win for them – they have only beaten the Bulldogs once in their last six encounters.
However, should they come across the same Bulldogs' outfit that had their way against Richmond last weekend, this will be a very difficult encounter for the Lions. They harassed, they pressed and they looked very good whenever the Tigers coughed the ball up. There were some very encouraging signs from their younger kids. But whether or not they can back up a good performance is going to be the tough question.
IN: Matthew Suckling
OUT: Tory Dickson (Omitted)
B: Jason Johannisen, Jackson Trengove, Hayden Crozier
HB: Caleb Daniel, Zaine Cordy, Easton Wood
C: Lachie Hunter, Tom Liberatore, Ed Richards
HF: Billy Gowers, Aaron Naughton, Sam Lloyd
F: Toby McLean, Marcus Bontempelli, Mitch Wallis
FOL: Tim English, Josh Dunkley, Jack Macrae
INT: Matthew Suckling, Bailey Smith, Will Hayes, Lachie Young
EMG: Lewis Young, Fletcher Roberts, Patrick Lipinski, Bailey Williams
One unforced change from the Western Bulldogs will see Matthew Suckling back in for his first game since round four – having missed three games with a groin injury. Before his injury, Suckling had been in some good form, averaging 24 disposals, seven marks, five rebound 50s and three inside 50s per game. His inclusion is at the expense of Tory Dickson, which is probably fair considering his form in the past few weeks has been ordinary at best. There would be quite a few that know he is a better player than what he has produced across the past three games.
IN: Harris Andrews, Zac Bailey
OUT: Lewis Taylor, Josh Walker (Both Omitted)
B: Luke Hodge, Harris Andrews, Daniel Rich
HB: Alex Witherden, Darcy Gardiner, Mitch Robinson
C: Jarrod Berry, Lachie Neale, Hugh McCluggage
HF: Cam Rayner, Eric Hipwood, Lincoln McCarthy
F: Charlie Cameron, Daniel McStay, Oscar McInerney
FOL: Stefan Martin, Dayne Zorko, Jarryd Lyons
INT: Tom Cutler, Zac Bailey, Ryan Lester, Noah Answerth
EMG: Ben Keays, Josh Walker, Jacob Allison, Archie Smith
Two changes to the Brisbane team that beat Sydney last week – both of them unforced. However one of these sees one of their more important players back in, with Harris Andrews named for his first game since he injuring his hamstring. His inclusion will be huge considering the game that Aaron Naughton just had against Richmond less than a week ago. Zac Bailey comes in for his first game since round three. Andrews' inclusion means that Josh Walker is forced to make way, whilst Lewis Taylor was also dropped.
I love the way this first-year kid is conducting himself so far at the Bulldogs. After a slow start to the year, his form across the past month has shown that he has adapted to the top flight so quickly. In his past four games, Smith is averaging 19 disposals, 4.5 marks and 3.5 inside 50s per game. His game last week against Richmond was perhaps the best of the lot, racking up six clearances, along with 22 disposals and a goal. I can't believe that he hasn't been nominated for the Rising Star award just yet, but I just feel like one is around the corner for him.
Brisbane Lions – Charlie Cameron
It's way too easy to put Lachie Neale here, because he is arguably one of Brisbane's most important players – that's the impact he's having in his new club this year. But another recruit that has shown a lot since arriving at Brisbane at the end of 2017 is Charlie Cameron. His form at the start of last year was blistering before injury ended his year abruptly at the mid year point. So far this year, he has been very damaging as a forward, kicking 12 goals in seven matches. However, his accuracy is also a problem, kicking 13 behinds so far this season. He kicked three straight against the Bulldogs last year – one to watch big time.
Final Verdict – Brisbane Lions By 15 Points
Pains me to tip against my own team here, especially when they put in such a good game against Richmond. However, the Richmond side that they came across last weekend were a tad under strength and right now Brisbane have shown that they are playing football that is better than that of the Tigers. Also add to the fact that the Bulldogs have only won once in three occasions at Ballarat. Maybe the one saving grace is that it is predicted to be a very cold one in Ballarat and perhaps raining, which you don't really get in Brisbane.
If we get wet conditions, then having a trio of talls up forward for Brisbane may backfire. I like Eric Hipwood, I like Oscar McInerney and I like Daniel McStay, but in conditions like that, it would be difficult to get all three up and about. I would really love to see Jack Macrae and Lachie Neale go head-to-head in a battle of the ball magnets. Macrae notched up a career-best 47 disposals last time these two sides met and Lachie Neale has started the year very well – recording 40 disposals or more in three of the first four games. This will be a very interesting match up – win this and the Bulldogs are well and truly back in the mix.