The Western Bulldogs are a well-coached football team. That much should be evident in the fact they’ve made the preliminary final after the injury setbacks they’ve had this season.
It should be evident from them knocking out both of last year’s grand finalists.
It should be evident by the way they looked so much better with the ball and just seemed to have more space in the second half against the winners of the past three premierships.
But it would also seem Luke Beveridge’s influence goes beyond what’s immediately apparent.
Interviewed by Triple M on Saturday, Luke Dahlhaus didn’t miss an opportunity to praise Bevo and initiatives from the coaching staff.
He spoke about the ‘Handball Club’ at training that has led to the Dogs’ clean hands this season, about Beveridge pushing for players to be capable of multiple roles, about the techniques he uses the motivate or inspire the team.
It went some way to explaining why the Dogs are where they are.
Can they carry on winning? Of course they can, but the path ahead isn’t easy. Awaiting them is a GWS Giants side that could do anything. And whoever emerges winner from the Geelong-Sydney preliminary final will have well and truly earned their spot.
So who’s closest to the flag? Who’s farthest away? Let’s dive into the rankings:
Preliminary final vs Western Bulldogs (Spotless Stadium, Saturday 5:15pm AEST)
As impressive as the Dogs were, they’ll still have to beat the Giants to make the grand final. That’s going to be a tough ask.
The week off may not be such an advantage for the men in orange when the Dogs are the freshest they’ve been in some time, but we’ve seen the Giants harness time off brilliantly in the Sydney game. If they play to that level, they should win.
Preliminary final vs Sydney Swans (MCG, Friday 7:50pm AEST)
The Cats would definitely have taken some enjoyment out of sitting back while the injuries piled up during the Sydney-Adelaide game.
Jarrad McVeigh and Gary Rohan are both in doubt for the Swans, which could reduce the difficulty of beating the top side from the home-and-away season. At this stage, with the week off and home state advantage, not to mention the Swans having only a six-day break, the Cats have to be considered ahead.
Preliminary final vs Geelong (MCG, Friday 7:50pm AEST)
The Swans went back to some of their best footy and have reason for confidence this week. Four players topped the 30-disposal mark and Josh Kennedy had 42. It’s tough to counter a midfield with that output.
Nick Smith was superb in looking after Eddie Betts. Indeed, the list of Crows kept quieter than normal was lengthy. At a team level, there weren’t many stats the Swans weren’t ahead in.
Focus will turn to how the scans come up with McVeigh and Rohan, but then Kurt Tippett could be in line for a return, which would be an important inclusion against Geelong.
Preliminary final vs GWS Giants (MCG, Saturday 5.15pm)
The Dogs had 50 more contested possessions than the Hawks. Their top two ball winners (Jack Macrae with 39 disposals and Marcus Bontempelli with 27) both went at more than 80 per cent efficiency. The Bont also kicked two goals.
All round, a great finals performance – and despite those earlier setbacks, the team that’s out on the park is healthy.
Let’s be clear: the Dogs extending their run another week is entirely possible. But they’re bumped to fourth here because the Giants appear better placed this week and, if it comes to that, next week (given an impressive record against Geelong and Sydney this year).
1. How quickly will we declare Hawthorn back on their feet again?
People like to throw around the phrase ‘end of an era’ at times like this, which is fine – so long as it’s not confused with ‘end of them winning’. Not so fast.
If the Hawks can indeed land Jaeger O’Meara and Tom Mitchell, it might not be all that long before we start talking about them as a premiership threat again.
2. What does the post-mortem at Adelaide reveal?
Adelaide in 2016 were a good side that didn’t come up in the big moments. They blew the double chance in Round 23 by losing to West Coast. They were off the pace in the semi-final against Sydney. Season over.
What was behind their nonperformance when it mattered? The coaching staff will have to chew on that over the off-season.
3. Seriously… Spotless Stadium?!?
The venue choice for Saturday’s preliminary final will continue to be debated. Western Bulldogs fans wouldn’t be the first people from Melbourne to find themselves locked out in Sydney, but there would be outrage if that’s what eventuates.
I’m happy to wait and see how it plays out. Maybe it won’t be a sellout, in which case the AFL look like geniuses. Embarrassed, relieved, very conflicted geniuses.
Or maybe the ticket sales will at least make it obvious that if the game was moved, the prospects of a crowd bigger than 30,000 were slim. You feel a crowd of 30,000 at ANZ Stadium wouldn’t have done the occasion justice either.