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Western underdogs need Stringer to fire on Saturday

Jake Stringer needs to fire for the Doggies to have a chance this weekend. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Expert
29th September, 2016
17

I have never understood the hype around Western Bulldogs forward Jake Stringer. When leading into this season the Herald-Sun rated him the 10th best player in the AFL I was flabbergasted.

That newspaper’s chief football writer Mark Robinson ranked the enigmatic Stringer as a better player than the likes of Joel Selwood, Robbie Gray, Dan Hannebery, Jarryd Roughead, Josh P Kennedy and Dustin Martin.

His fellow players did not think nearly as highly of Stringer – he was 38th in the AFL’s player poll on the top 50 footballers.

This assessment made more sense to me. There is no doubt that Stringer, at his peak, is an extraordinary footballer capable of feats matched by few other players in the land. But to be a truly elite player, worthy of being ranked ahead of champions like Selwood, you can’t just flash in and out of games, or be dominant one week and subdued the next.

Stringer did not have the consistency to earn the superstar billing he was afforded at the start of this season. His lustre has dullened significantly across this season to the point where he was dumped just before the finals.

Stringer’s attitude was appalling at times in the games before he was dropped. Repeatedly he made half-hearted efforts and at times he looked as if he just wasn’t interested in being out on the ground.

This did not go unnoticed by Luke Beveridge. The Bulldogs coach had reportedly given Stringer a spray mid-season over similarly lacklustre displays and made the huge move of dropping him just before the finals.

Stringer was always going to be recalled in September. The Bulldogs are an admirably hard-working team but they do lack forward firepower compared to the likes of fellow finalists Adelaide, Sydney, GWS and West Coast.

The Bulldogs couldn’t afford to play finals without Stringer who, at the very worst, would draw the best opposition defender, and at the very best could lead them to victory off his own boot.

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He has been a mixed bag since returning to the team. As his side rolled over West Coast in Perth Stringer barely was noticed, collecting just ten touches and a solitary goal. He was vastly improved the next week against Hawthorn, slotting two goals in the third quarter as the Bulldogs overran the back-to-back-to-back premiers.

Then he returned to relative anonymity in the preliminary final win over the Giants. Stringer went goal-less, although he did show impressive intensity in his defensive efforts. But what the Bulldogs really need from him this week is offence, not defence.

If he fails to hit the scoreboard again it is hard to see the underdogs upsetting Sydney. When the Bulldogs knocked off Sydney at the SCG in Round 13, Stringer bobbed up to kick three goals, which was crucial in the low scoring match.

This weekend’s grand final shapes as another low-scoring encounter. The Bulldogs don’t need Stringer to be best on ground. They don’t need him to play like the 10th best player in the AFL.

What they need is for him to stay in the game for as long as possible, to work up and back, up and back, even if things aren’t panning out for him.

If he does that grunt work his immense talent should sort out the rest. If he doesn’t, the underdogs from the West will lack balance up forward.

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