What would the Bulldogs give for a forward right now?
At half-time on Monday night, the Western Bulldogs led the inside 50 count 25-12 yet led the match by just three points. Despite the All-Australian quality midfielders winning the ball in the middle, they struggled to find any real connection with their forward line.
It is a familiar tale for the club in 2020 who, despite being fourth in the competition for possessions, are in the bottom half of the competition for marks inside 50 and goal efficiency. This can be somewhat explained by the absence of Aaron Naughton but is a sorry story for offseason recruit Josh Bruce.
The former Saint has failed to find his feat at the Kennel in 2020. His two possession performance against the Power the nadir of a disappointing season. With Bruce signing on for four years at the end of 2019, there is plenty of time for him to turn the situation around. But with the Bulldogs still crying out for a forward after his acquisition, what looked like a trade period bargain is beginning to look like a bust.
How the Game Was Won
As both teams retired to their respective dressing rooms at half time, they did so with the visitors holding sway of the contest but without scoreboard reward. During this break in hostilities, Ken Hinkley set in motion Port Adelaide’s winning formula.
“We had to change the way it looked around the ball so we did, we went to work and changed our stuff around the footy. Personnel changes, structure changed, there’s a bit that went into it,” is how Hinkley explained the situation post match.
One of the key on-field architects of the turn around was Tom Rockliff whose performance was singled out by Hinkley. “He does enjoy the contest, he enjoys getting in the way of people at times,” he explained. “He’s proud and he wants to play.”
“He knows there are some things he has to have right in his game and one of those things he brings to his game that doesn’t get marked very well outside of the fence is the structure stuff that he brings to us. He’s the architect around the stoppage for us, he can control lots of people so his football brain, and his ability to win it and be composed.”
Zak Butters was another who helped kick start the revival as the Power turned the game on its head in the third quarter. He would end the game with a career high 24 disposals and helped his team win the inside 50 battle in the third quarter 17-4.
While the Bulldogs forwards struggled when their team was in the ascendancy in the first half, Charlie Dixon was not going to make the same mistake when the Power had their turn in the second. His contested marking a feature in the third term as Port kicked four goals to nil to run away with the match.
The Buldogs would fight till the end but the damage had been done. Their inability to get reward for their efforts in the first half combined with a ruthless Power performance in the third quarter consigned them to a 13-point defeat.
What the Coaches Said
A relieved Ken Hinkley was proud of his teams resilience to overcome a short turnaround between games to defeat a fast starting Bulldogs team. “We’ve been able to conquer a lot of things this year as a footy club – we’ve had to,” he said after the game. “We’ve embraced the opportunity and our boys, to their credit, I think we were trying to fake it a little bit, we were trying to pretend that we were really fresh and up and about but, I don’t care who you are, every team is going to witness it and feel it – it’s a tough environment.”
“Our resilience again I think was pretty special. We were almost entitled to be a fair bit down (on the scoreboard) at half time but our defensive group and team actions really held up for us so that’s really pleasing to be able to do that. And as we’ve done a few times this year, we’ve been able to adjust, re-set and get it done.”
Luke Beveridge tried to remain upbeat post game despite the disappointing loss. “It’s critical for the code that we all fly the flag and keep remaining positive and seeing what we can make of the season,” he said. “I still think we’re a chance to get there in the end. We’ve got seven games left and we’ve got to make every post a winner.”
“We’ll stay positive, we’ll be grateful for what we’ve got and the fact we’re probably fortunate to be out of the state and have mini-freedoms that others don’t have even though we’ve got pretty strict protocols. We’ve just got to keep the players positive and get them to rebound as quickly as they can and stay positive. Who knows what can happen?”
He believed the sacrifices being made to be part of the hubs in Queensland were serving an important service for their fans in Melbourne. “It maybe means more to people who are remote and watching it on telly, if their club’s doing well that it gives them that boost. We need something to feel good about even though there’s a lot going south in people’s lives at the moment, unfortunately.”
In the end though, he admitted the nature of the defeat on this night might prove costly. “The scoreboard tells the story in Port’s favour but it’s one that got away,” Beveridge said.
PORT ADELAIDE 1.2 3.2 7.5 8.7 (55)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 2.5 3.5 3.6 5.12 (42)
Port Adelaide: Dixon 2, Gray 2, Farrell, Ladhams, Powell-Pepper, Wines
Western Bulldogs: Lloyd 2, McLean 2, Weightman
Port Adelaide: Butters, Wines, Ladhams, Rockliff, Gray, Amon
Western Bulldogs: Liberatore, Macrae, Smith, Dunkley, Lloyd
Port Adelaide: Nil
Western Bulldogs: Nil