Western Bulldogs vs GWS Giants: Friday Night Forecast

Ryan Buckland Columnist

By Ryan Buckland, Ryan Buckland is a Roar Expert

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    The Dogs and Giants have played two of the most compelling games of football in recent years in their last two outings, and there’s no reason to expect tonight’s finals-shaping encounter won’t make it a trilogy.

    Last year’s preliminary final was one of the best games of the decade to date, for football and non-football reasons. Round 6’s rematch, on a frigid Friday night in Canberra, did its best to live up to the original – a similarly tight, fast-paced outing unfolded, and the Giants got their revenge. Two games doesn’t make a rivalry, but three? Now we’re getting closer.

    Tonight has all the makings. GWS find themselves second on the ladder despite injury and absence ravaging their season. Their next three weeks are tough, but one more win should be enough to see them finish in the top four – two or three puts them into home field advantage territory.

    Meanwhile, the Dogs are on a four-game winning streak, knocking off three of the bottom four (meh) and a fellow finals contender in Essendon (much less meh). A win tonight keeps them in the top eight for another weekend, while a loss could see them drop as low as 11th.

    Are they back? The Ws say yes, the quality of opposition says pump the breaks. Tonight is an enormous and important test of the Dogs’ credentials.

    Footscray has cut a twisting trail through the 2017 season, never quite looking as competent as they were for last year’s finals series. Since starting the year 4-1, the Dogs had seen their season long winning percentage gradually drift lower to a nadir of 7-8 in Round 16.

    After a 59 point loss to the Adelaide Crows, I penned a eulogy to their season, but spoke of their next life, and why they were the best buy-low candidate in the league.

    As has been the pattern with these things – Ryan thinks a thing is happening, writes about it, the opposite thing happens – the Dogs have looked better since the loss in Adelaide. Their improvement has come forward of the ball, with the Dogs scoring on 51 per cent of their inside 50 entries in the past month. If that were their full season mark it would be second in the league behind Essendon.

    Under the hood, it looks as though coach Luke Beveridge has pivoted back to the outside-oriented game plan he tried to employ in the first half of the season. The Dogs have taken 105.5 marks per game during their win streak, well up on their season average of 79 marks per game. What’s interesting though is the team has still recorded a negative differential in two of their four games, the only major positive count coming against the lazy Gold Coast Suns.

    Luke Beveridge deep in thought

    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    It’s difficult to know fully what’s going on, but from what we do see it looks as though the Dogs are trying to slow the pace of the game by holding a structure forward and through the middle of the ground, using the full width available and making a conscious effort to retain possession of the ball.

    The Dogs have held the ball for an extra five minutes per game in the past month compared to their season average, and have had a ten-fold increase in their average time in possession differential (from less than a minute to just shy of +10 minutes per game).

    The Dogs also appear to be far more interested in looking for marks inside 50 as opposed to ground balls. Weak teams tend to give up more grabs inside the stripe, but it is instructive that the Dogs have taken 16.3 of them in the past four weeks (which would lead the league if over the full year) compared to 11 in their first 15 games.

    To emphasise the degree to which this is a choice, the spread of marks inside 50 has been remarkable: nine Dogs players have taken at least one per game, a further four are one away from doing so, and five others have taken one every two games.

    Let’s get one thing straight: this could all be bunk, a dead-dog bounce influenced by a cushy patch in the fixture. But that’s why tonight looms as so important.

    Indeed, should the Dogs choose to play this way, Giants coach Leon Cameron will be delighted. GWS love nothing more than space to roam, and this new scheme by Beveridge will afford them just that.

    This makes me wonder whether the Dogs will instead go back to what they know best, and try to make the ground smaller by playing their swarming style through the middle of the ground. Tonight’s coaching match up is a football nerd’s dream.

    GWS Giants coach Leon Cameron

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    As expected, the Giants have bought back Jonathon Patton from injury and Toby Greene following the end of his suspension. Devon Smith has a knee injury, while Shane Mumford is out suspended.

    The Dogs have made three changes, with Jake Stringer and Josh Dunkley returning from injury and Tory Dickson coming back into the team. The outs include Easton Wood on account of a hamstring injury, with Clay Smith and Lukas Webb omitted.

    The Giants look to be waking up in time for the pointy end of the season. But as we’ve seen, there’s every chance the Dogs are doing the same thing. There’s so much at stake, and so much uncertainty.

    Ultimately I am still not convinced what we’ve seen from the Dogs represents a corner being turned. Yes they’ve won four in a row, but three of these were against teams who’ve gone a combined 1-11 over the same stretch – and that one win was Brisbane over Carlton. Their win over Essendon was full of merit and perhaps the evidence one could hold on to if one were that way inclined.

    No matter the result, tonight looks set to be a two hour chess match between two of the sharpest minds in the competition. The Giants will win, by less than ten points just for fun, and if this happens then we can start calling this a rivalry.

    That’s my Friday night forecast, what’s yours?

    Ryan Buckland
    Ryan Buckland

    As an economist, Ryan seeks to fix the world's economic troubles one graph at a time. As a sports fan, he's always looking one or two layers beneath the surface to search for meaning, on and off the field. You can follow Ryan here.

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    The Crowd Says (29)

    • August 11th 2017 @ 7:46am
      Geoff Schaefer said | August 11th 2017 @ 7:46am | ! Report

      “Ryan thinks a thing is happening, writes about it, the opposite thing happens.”
      You got that right Ryan. Your last four Friday night forecasts have all been wrong. I think you’ll get this one right though. Not because of your astute mathematical analysis, just because GWS are are very good football team whilst the Bulldogs are just slightly better than average.

    • August 11th 2017 @ 7:55am
      Philthy said | August 11th 2017 @ 7:55am | ! Report

      GWS’ form on the road is still shaky. Stringer and Dickson back give the Dogs more goal kicking power, but Patton and Greene are big ins for GWS.

      Last week could have been a 10 goal win for the Dogs if the Bont and Redpath had kicked straight.

      Dogs at home for me.

      • August 11th 2017 @ 8:43am
        I ate pies said | August 11th 2017 @ 8:43am | ! Report

        I’m glad someone else recognises last week for what it actually was Philthy.

        • August 11th 2017 @ 11:37am
          Glenn said | August 11th 2017 @ 11:37am | ! Report

          That’s interesting, ate, if I remember correctly, the Swans were lucky to beat the Bombers, and yet, if the Swans had kicked straight, they’d have flogged them. Just seem to choose what you recognise.

          • August 11th 2017 @ 12:34pm
            I ate pies said | August 11th 2017 @ 12:34pm | ! Report

            Huh? What’s that got to do with it? Essendon was up and they choked. They should have won that game.

            • August 12th 2017 @ 8:03am
              Glenn said | August 12th 2017 @ 8:03am | ! Report

              Thanks for proving my point. Swans kicked 20 behinds that night. If just 3 of those were goals before Essendon became “up”, they would have been 10 goals down and the whole perspective of the game is different. 4 or 5 and it would have been over and 17 of those behinds were kicked before 3 quarter time.

    • August 11th 2017 @ 8:01am
      Mattyb said | August 11th 2017 @ 8:01am | ! Report

      The Giants by ten points?
      I have to heavily police that.
      In all seriousness,it should be a great game. The dogs backlines a worry but if the Giants fail again in Melbourne it will be hard to take their premiership chances seriously. Surprised the dogs didn’t recall Roberts,especially with Patton back for the opposition.
      Some good ins for the reigning premiers who I think will get up in this one.

      • August 11th 2017 @ 8:42am
        I ate pies said | August 11th 2017 @ 8:42am | ! Report

        Definitely some good ins Matty. Webb and Smith being omitted says to me that we’re going in with a pretty strong line up. It think Cordy can do enough to hold Patton to a couple of goals. We will back ourselves to not allow GWS to have easy ball into the forward 50 and then rebound off their lazy forwards.
        I’m confident that we have turned a corner. The boys have looked sharp and motivated in the last couple of weeks, and I suspect we’ll come out hard again tonight. Libba is becoming Libba again, which is important for us.
        Here’s hoping that Deledio does a calf again tonight.

        • August 11th 2017 @ 10:07am
          Paul said | August 11th 2017 @ 10:07am | ! Report

          Gee pies, given our random weekly injury that’s really tempting the footy Gods.

          Really looking forward to tonight and to keeping them winless at Etihad this year.

          • August 11th 2017 @ 10:14am
            I ate pies said | August 11th 2017 @ 10:14am | ! Report

            If someone does a freak injury tonight feel free to blame me. I’m disgusted by Deledio’s treachery, so I find it hard to wish him well.

        • August 11th 2017 @ 12:29pm
          Mattyb said | August 11th 2017 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

          IAP,I’m happy to see Smith out,and Webbs form hasn’t been great. I like Smith but his condition for a professional footballer is very unprofessional.
          Dunkley was OK in the reserves last week,but coming straight back with one reserves game under his belt shows how poor Smith has been. And Smith was gifted his spot back anyway due to injuries.
          On paper it’s probably been the best our forward line has looked in a while,but the weakest our backline has looked.
          Cordy will be important. Interestingly,if we consider that Cordy played in the GF as a CHF,we only have one backman in the side from that wonderful premiership side which is Biggs.

          • August 11th 2017 @ 12:38pm
            I ate pies said | August 11th 2017 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

            I’m not too concerned about the backline Matty. I reckon being mobile is more important than being big nowadays, and Josh Kennedy is the only big forward that kicks bags now. I’ve been super impressed with Lewis Young; he’s already ahead of Roberts. It’d be nice to have JJ this week though.

          • Roar Guru

            August 11th 2017 @ 5:17pm
            Pumping Dougie said | August 11th 2017 @ 5:17pm | ! Report

            I noticed that too Matty. The backline is completely different.

            Clay Smith’s form in the VFL seemed exceptional based on his stats, but he’s really struggled to even turn-up when he’s played with the seniors this year. Strange. He’s a good footballer and he had good VFL form, so I can understand him being selected but I can also understand him being dropped.

            I’m as surprised as you are about Dunkley. Just shows how highly they rate him internally. I thought Matty Boyd would be back in this week and I also thought Fletcher was a chance (but happy enough that he hasn’t been picked). Great to see Libber returning to form and Stringer back in the side.

            Have you heard anything on Tom Boyd? I read somewhere that he’s back training – is he picked to play with the VFL team yet? We need him back now.

            Go Doggies!!

            • August 11th 2017 @ 7:31pm
              Mattyb said | August 11th 2017 @ 7:31pm | ! Report

              Tom Boyd resumed training during the week yes. Not sure it’s full time or not. I know he went down to the club for M.Boyds fair well announcement so him training may have coincided with that,good to see him out there though.
              The VFL side has a bye this week so he won’t be playing. Don’t worry about VFL stats though,the best reports are right here. Smiths been far from outstanding,and the week before his recall he was serving a one week suspension. Clays not playing well because he’s visibly chubby and unfit.
              On other matters I’m hearing the dogs are looking to trade for Tippett. Apparently if we pay the money Sydney will let him go for a late pick,possibly a fourth round. Richmond,Carlton and of course Collinwood also in heavy discussion. Also Carlton and Richmond are in heavy talks with Redpath. Dogs unwilling to offer more than one year due to his knees but he’s likely to stay but clubs are sniffing.

              Matty Boyds injured apparently,his VFL form has been excellent. I also thought Roberts would play. My guess is Dunkleys back because we are out of options and Smith and Webb have been so bad. Not sure how Honeys going but he’s been really sick. So sick he’s actually been admitted to hospital on a couple of seperate occasions.

        • Roar Guru

          August 11th 2017 @ 4:46pm
          Pumping Dougie said | August 11th 2017 @ 4:46pm | ! Report

          I don’t share your wishes for Deledio, IAP, but I’m hoping Hodge gets reported this weekend so we don’t have to play a fired-up Hawthorn in Round 23!

      • August 11th 2017 @ 4:45pm
        Peter the Scribe said | August 11th 2017 @ 4:45pm | ! Report

        Agree Matty…..a close game most likely but Dogs by 17 points.

    • August 11th 2017 @ 8:20am
      GoSwans said | August 11th 2017 @ 8:20am | ! Report

      I’m tipping GWS by 33. The Giants’ tsunami (as coined by Gerard Healy) was flowing last week. The Giants will get on a 15 minute roll like they did last week and take out the game.

      I believe they have won most of their games this year through one quarter of domination and Ryan I would be interested to see some analysis of that?

    • August 11th 2017 @ 8:20am
      GoSwans said | August 11th 2017 @ 8:20am | ! Report

    • August 11th 2017 @ 9:13am
      Sydneygirl said | August 11th 2017 @ 9:13am | ! Report

      Think it will be GWS narrowly to win. Should be a good game.

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