First game back, and THIS happens!
It was a mark that sent danger signs to back-sixes across the league.
Shadowed by Hawthorn’s most resolute defender Shawn Burgoyne, Bulldogs’ star Marcus Bontempelli dashed towards a low, wide kick from teammate Tom Liberatore, before flying higher than any Hawk could to seize the ball with ease.
A traditional forward’s grab.
“You could clone two of him and have an All-Australian center-half forward,” Demon’s legend Garry Lyon bellowed.
“Not many can do it… get him forward.”
It’s fast becoming a feature of the game, star midfielders spending added time in attack.
We saw it last year when Geelong star Patrick Dangerfield kicked five goals against the Hawks.
And then again when reigning Brownlow medalist Dustin Martin booted four against Carlton to kick off a history-making season.
With Bulldog coach Luke Beverage’s love affair with dual-position players, Bontempelli is set to spend significant time up forward in 2018.
If the young gun can lance up his goal-kicking boots this season, he can join Dangerfield and Martin in the top-tier of elite footballers.
The Dogs’ vice-captain was influential closer to goals in his sides JLT Community Series win over the Hawks, tallying up 25 disposals and seven inside 50s.
After the dominant display, former Bomber Tim Watson urged the Western Bulldogs to play the 22-year-old more as a permanent forward.
Speaking on SEN Breakfast, Watson described the two-time reigning Charles Sutton medalist as a ‘match-up nightmare’.
“He’s one of those players who not only does he contest in the air and is capable of marking, but he’s so clever when the ball hits the ground.
“He can really distribute the ball to someone in a better position and create goal scoring opportunities.
“I’d be playing him 60-40. 60 per cent forward, 40 per cent midfield.”
Physically Bontempelli’s qualities echo that of a prototype key position forward. Towering over opposition midfielders at 193cm and weighing 93 kilos, he’s the Dogs’ best contested mark and most damaging player.
Through his career Bontempelli has average around a goal a game and has shown glimpses of a goal-kicking prowess – no game more so than when the Dogs headed to the nations capital to take on the GWS Giants.
Despite a narrow two-point loss, the Dog’s star, who kicked three goals to go alongside 22 disposal and seven tackles, received best-on-ground honors and three Brownlow votes to go.
But some argue playing the 2016 All-Australian as a forward could be a backwards step for the Luke Beverage’s side.
As the Dogs best midfielder he offers something no other playing in the AFL can – the dexterity, poise and elite ball-skills with the frame and skills of a key position player.
The Dogs midfield loses someone special when Bontempelli trots towards the 50-metre arch. Whether they have the talent to cover is a question in itself.
A blemish on the 2016 All-Australian’s résumé is his inconsistencies in front of goal. The Bulldog star had 49 shots on goal for a return of only 20 majors last season.
But as Tim Watson said, Bontempelli’s ability to distribute the ball to someone in a better position, creating goal-scoring opportunities is what makes him so appealing forward of the ball.
He let the Dogs in goal-assists in 2017, and was second to Luke Dahlhaus in score-involvements.
With the Bulldogs taking on the Pies in their final JLT Community Series game on Saturday, and Bontempelli named as a forward, viewers will get another chance to see whether one of the leagues most exciting midfielders can produce as a forward too.