The Roar
The Roar


Six Points: Why Dogs' disaster isn't all Bevo's fault, Eagles on their way, and 2024's biggest beat-up

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14th April, 2024
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Five rounds are in the can for season 2024, and the ladder is beginning to take shape.

Brisbane and Collingwood are on the path back. GWS and Geelong remain unbeaten. Fremantle have had their hearts broken two weeks in a row. And the less said about Hawthorn and North Melbourne, the better.

West Coast got off the mark with a dazzling, Harley Reid-inspired performance to finish the weekend, while Gold Coast were equally impressive in dispatching the Hawks – it’s just a shame most of us were watching the Port Adelaide-Fremantle game that started at the exact same time. The AFL should probably consider doing something about that.

But there’s only one thing that could possibly lead the agenda this week – so let’s not beat around the bush and get stuck straight in.

1. It’s time for a rational discussion about Luke Beveridge

There has been a lot written and said about the Western Bulldogs over the last few days, most of it directed at Luke Beveridge, none of it good.

If there was any doubt about which coach is sitting in the hottest seat in the land, it’s gone now. From the media to the general public to Bulldogs supporters – especially Bulldogs supporters – there’s little doubt now that his coaching future is, for probably the third time in 12 months, in real jeopardy.


There are a lot of things wrong with the Dogs at the moment – some, maybe most, directly attributable to Beveridge’s coaching. But it’s worth pointing out a couple of things first that have been lost in the swirling vortex of hot takes and furious reactions to Friday night’s loss to Essendon.

One: it is not Beveridge’s fault that either Tom Liberatore or the Dogs’ medical staff told him the issue which caused him to collapse in the last quarter was down to a dodgy ankle. As concerning as that vision was, no coach will ever publicly (or even privately) question his doctors, while it is, as far as we know, true that Liberatore didn’t and still hasn’t exhibited signs of concussion.

Call it a dereliction of duty from the medicos to not immediately attend to him on the ground, or to cover-up a suspected concussion if that’s what you think happened – keeping in mind there was no vision of a head knock that is typically the biggest indicator that action is required – but the vitriol directed at Beveridge for standing by his player and doctors in his post-match media conference was excessive.

Two: it was not a ridiculous move for him to make Bailey Dale the sub on Friday night, just as he did Jack Macrae last week and Caleb Daniel in Round 1. Anyone who has watched the Bulldogs closely this year, or indeed across 2022 or 2023, would know that Dale is not the All-Australian footballer he was in 2021; his kicking has been wayward, defensively he has been regularly a liability, and there have been precious few line-breaking runs that you’d expect of a half-back whose main role is to be a rebounding threat.

James O’Donnell’s return to the backline for his expense was a structural decision to add extra height to a backline that was vulnerable aerially against Geelong, and it’s far from ridiculous for Beveridge to hold the view that Lachlan Bramble has played better football than Dale to this point in the season, despite his far less decorated credentials.

As it happens, Dale was exceptionally poor when brought on in the last term, just as Macrae was unimpactful as sub against the Cats; anyone who claims their performance is a result of Beveridge wrecking their confidence should consider why it’s still seen as a masterstroke for Ross Lyon to make a selection statement by sending Nick Dal Santo and Stephen Milne to the VFL back in 2008.


Or why when John Longmire did the same to Ryan O’Keefe back in 2014, the general consensus was that others fulfilled more important roles than the veteran and didn’t immediately call for his head – especially when they kept winning.

Three: it’s entirely reasonable for Ryley Sanders to have been subbed out on Friday night; the claims that he was the Dogs’ toughest midfielder on the night and his removal messed up their stoppage structure are just plain mistruths. His 100 per cent disposal efficiency was borne of low-risk backwards handballs, he had one contested possession and zero clearances in a team with no shortage of midfielders, and he was the only Bulldog on the night to not have a score involvement.

No one gave a stuff when another young midfielder, Cam Mackenzie, was subbed out by Sam Mitchell on Friday night, and there’s no way Beveridge would be pinned for destroying the confidence of a young player if he’d taken Harvey Gallagher off. The only reason the footy world has it out for Beveridge over that is because Sanders is a popular Fantasy football pick and the other two are not – there is literally no other just reason to be pissed off about that substitution.

Any meaningful criticism about Beveridge and the way the Bulldogs play consistently gets lost in this cheap, shallow, reactionary analysis. Adding to the issue is that his historically antagonistic relationship with the media, and yes, his reputation as Fantasy footy poison, means there’s very little recognition when he gets things right or the Dogs play well, as they did in Round 2 against Gold Coast and in many ways against Geelong last week.

The problems are deeper than having former stars be made the sub, or deciding young high draft picks who weren’t playing all that well might not be capable of running a game out.

Luke Beveridge.

Luke Beveridge. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)


They are in a centre bounce structure that features too many ball-hunters and was shown up by an Essendon group that held its width and waltzed into open space running forward time and time again.

They are in the continual inability for Tim English, the reigning All-Australian ruckman, to impose himself on all but the most outmatched of opponents; he had his worst game in many years on Friday night, and his lack of body strength at ruck contests is now being often exposed while his marking around the ground, particularly in defence, dwindles. It might be time to acknowledge that while he has many attributes, he’s not a great fit for a midfield that needs someone more competitive at stoppages.

They are in a forward line hamstrung by the fact its two best players, Aaron Naughton and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, are statistically the worst and third-worst kicks for goal since the start of 2021 in the AFL. The Dogs actually finished 0.2 points behind the Bombers on expected score, and barring ten minutes in the third term where the Dons ripped the match to shreds, it was a game that was pretty much being decided on accuracy when kicking for goal.

The thing is, all the above can be true without disputing the point that Beveridge’s time at the Dogs might be up. Whether he’s lost the players is something we honestly can’t know beyond rumour and innuendo – if Macrae is wandering around out there annoyed that he’s been pushed to the fringes of the midfield rotation, that’s an indictment on him and him alone for not sucking it up and playing for the team – but there are consistent issues with the way the Bulldogs play that are shown up by teams with a more cohesive structure and better defined roles regardless of talent.

I honestly thought his time was up at the end of last season, but he survived, and as galling as Friday night’s loss was, there have been necessary changes made to the game style. Some of them have even worked.

A breath of fresh air might be just the thing the Bulldogs need. Or it might not.

But there’s a personal vendetta against Beveridge at the moment where every single thing going wrong at the Whitten Oval is planted on its head, and following that line of thought misses the fact that there are many, many other factors at play here.


2. Harley’s Eagles are on their way

Yes, Richmond have a third of their best side out, and yes, they weren’t much chop to begin with.

But all the same, West Coast’s commanding win on Sunday evening feels like a turning point for a club which has endured almost nothing but wall to wall misery for two years.

The green shoots were evident in an admirable loss to Sydney last week, but in front of a raucous home crowd that brought to mind the ‘House of Pain’ days when Perth was the most bruising road trip in footy, the Eagles’ performance was just as big a throwback.

Jake Waterman had a Josh Kennedy-esque game; clunking everything that came his way, kicking sharply for goal and following up superbly at ground level, his was a career-best game as he capitalised on at last having a decent chunk of supply to work with. In the midfield, Elliot Yeo and Tim Kelly looked rejuvenated, cracking in hard at every stoppage and moving smoothly on the outside to get things going – Yeo in particular is having an excellent bounceback season.

Of course, the star attraction was Harley Reid, all but certain to be this weekend’s Rising Star. It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that everything he does is box office, from his brute strength in breaking tackles, to his explosive speed bursting away from centre bounces and driving the ball long. His 27 touches were as impactful as anyone on the ground, and I’m sure the Eagles fans who packed the stands felt similarly.


The Eagles were never going to go through 2024 winless, and there will be plenty of bumps along the way before days like Sunday can become a regular occurrence.

But there’s light at the end of the tunnel now, and it hasn’t shone brighter than this for a long, long time.

3. Tarryn Thomas must serve his ban before AFL return

Who knows if Geelong will, as has been rumoured for a while now and not ruled out by Chris Scott mid-week, give Tarryn Thomas his second AFL chance.

It’s not for me, or indeed anyone really, to say whether he deserves one given an extensive rap sheet and a seeming lack of commitment to change – the opportunity to turn one’s life around can’t be denied to anyone, and if the Cats are willing to give it a shot and are confident enough in their culture to afford him that, then power to them.

Still, whether it comes next year or the year after or in five years’ time, it’s worth noting that he still has an 18-match AFL-mandated ban hanging over his head, given he was sacked by North Melbourne before a game of that was served.


Before Thomas gets that second chance, if indeed he does, he has a debt to pay the game. And if Geelong, or anyone else, are willing to give him the chance, they must take him despite it.

Tarryn Thomas of the Kangaroos handpasses

Tarryn Thomas. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

4. The Saints are so close

St Kilda were comfortably outplayed by GWS for three quarters of their clash in Canberra – to end up losing by a solitary point will no doubt be a frustration for Ross Lyon, but there are plenty of positives to take out of it all the same.

No doubt the loss of Sam Taylor early made the Giants’ defence especially vulnerable, but it was the Saints’ outside game that made the biggest difference in the last quarter: moving the ball with speed and dare uncharacteristic of the way they’ve approached things since midway through last year, they surged into a spacious 50 and gave a Max King-less forward line lots to work with. Bradley Hill has surely not had a better game than Saturday since arriving at St Kilda at the end of 2019, as one example.

It’s why even if King does miss a week or two with a knee injury that’s thankfully not serious, it’s not the end of the world for the Saints. Rowan Marshall was sensational in the last quarter, busting his gut to consistently serve as a makeshift tall forward target while still doing nearly all the ruckwork. Anthony Caminiti, Mitch Owens and Tim Membrey are all strong enough aerially to compete, but it’s when the ball hits the ground that their follow-up efforts make them triply dangerous.

The Giants are among the premiership favourites, and pound for pound are better than the Saints in their current iteration. But while they sit 12th with a 2-3 record, all their losses by 10 points or less, St Kilda are substantially better than that.


They’re in this finals race up to their eyeballs, but having blown three very winnable games so far this season, they’re making things tough for themselves.

An eight-point game awaits against a Western Bulldogs outfit which will likely be coming off a week of media scrutiny – Saints fans have long lamented their team’s ill luck in getting oppositions in this precise situation. Now’s the chance to prove just how good they are.

5. 50k on Friday night? Get real

Much has been made of the 50,144-strong crowd that attended Essendon’s win over the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium – the biggest attendance at the venue for an AFL game since 2013.

When it flashed up on the big screen on Friday night, I thought it unbelievable – as in, I genuinely didn’t believe it. There is simply no way known there were legitimately over 50,000 patrons packing into Docklands for that game.

Don’t get me wrong, there was still a healthy crowd – but an attendance of that magnitude essentially means that there are no spare seats, with the limited standing room on offer filling up fast too. Yet everywhere you looked, particularly on the non-broadcast side of the ground, there were empty seats as ever, with Level 2’s Medallion Club sparsely populated as always – as the below vision from the first quarter proves.


I’d put the crowd in at around 45-46,000 – a more than decent crowd considering the Bulldogs were the home side, but far from big enough to receive the sort of acclaim it was given later that night on the radio, where both sets of fans were praised for coming along en masse.

The reason for the inflated number, in my opinion, is that the first 10 rows on Level 3 for the full length of the ground were ‘reserved’, and I suspect that like Marvel have done for the Medallion Club for years, all those seats were counted whether people sat in them or not. It’s the only explanation I can come up with.

The reason I mention it here is that 50,000 is so grossly overestimating that crowd’s size that it genuinely calls into question the recent attendance records the AFL have been proudly boasting for the last two years, earlier this season especially.

Were there really an AFL record 414,253 spectators attending Round 1, or is the AFL and its stadiums simply calculating crowd sizes differently than they used to? Has the league really growing its attendance year on year, or are the numbers being massaged?

We’ll never know the extent of it – but I’m now suspicious.

6. 2024’s biggest beat-up yet


I can’t be the only one who was sick to death of the Noah Answerth-Harrison Petty non-story within five minutes of te replay being shown on Thursday night.

Yet for the next 24 hours, it dominated discussion around the footy media landscape – it’s the kind of event that allows coverage to be doubled, with some safely able to question the taunt while others could fill the airtime by claiming it was the beat-up that it was.

I understand the irony of giving it more airtime to denounce it, so I’ll keep this short and sweet: Answerth’s worst crime in taunting Petty was that it was a pretty crap sledge. That’s it.

To compare it, no matter how loosely, to the Jeremy Finlayson homophobic slur is a freezing cold take – essentially, it’s a sledge about a time someone was sledged. And to question why he was engaging in such a taunt with the Lions well ahead, then I ask you, when else are you supposed to make one?

No one sledges when they’re behind – you’d look ridiculous.

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Random thoughts

– Noah Anderson is getting kind of scary now.

– He’s been a bit maligned across his career, but Chayce Jones had a properly good last five minutes against Carlton.

– Max Gawn is still the game’s premier ruckman, but Rowan Marshall is coming with a bullet. Follow-up work remarkable.

– It’s lost in the thrashing, but Mykelti Lefau had his best game by a mile on Sunday. Looks to have great hands.


– Two terrific matches in a row from Charlie Comben in a backline getting dominated. Love to see it.