Is Aaron Naughton the difference between the Bulldogs contending or pretending?
In his second game back from a syndesmosis injury, Aaron Naughton reminded the football world what the Bulldogs had been missing with him on the sidelines. He had four goals to his name before the half-time interval and finished with a career high six in a devastating performance up forward.
The 20-year-old key forward is one of the most exciting prospects in the competition and the Bulldogs are a different team with him prowling their attacking 50. While we know this performance was against the winless Crows, and the Bulldogs always look impressive against the bottom teams, we couldn’t help but wonder if Naughton is the missing piece of their jigsaw in 2020?
Unlike many questions we ponder, we won’t have long to get our answer on this one. With matches against Melbourne, Geelong and West Coast next up we will quickly find out if the Doggies remain flat track bullies or are a genuine contender again with Naughton up front.
How the Game Was Won
With the Bulldogs dominating pretty much every statistical category there is, there isn’t a lot of analysis required here. At the end of the day, Ruckman Reilly O’Brien was pretty much the only Crow to consistently get his hands on the ball but invariably his touch would be followed by a Bulldog takeaway.
With one way traffic at the stoppages, the Bulldogs were able to monopolise possession and territory. They won the stoppages 44-19, with the Crows only just shading Marcus Bontempelli 19-12, the inside 50s 61-32 and the possession count by over 100.
To say that this is where it began and ended though, would be a disservice to just how much the Bulldogs outworked their opponents. They were harder at the contest, winning contested ball by 39, and ran harder off the ball to win uncontested ball by 80. Their work without the ball was so much better than the Crows too. Despite the Crows only having possession of the ball for 35% of the match, the Bulldogs were still able to out tackle them 54-40.
This was men against boys stuff. In every facet of the game the Crows were completely overwhelmed by a team better equipped and more determined to win.
What the Coaches Said
Luke Beveridge wasn’t completely satisfied with his teams performance but he was particularly pleased with their midfield dominance and the efforts of Aaron Naughton. “We need to continue to go to school on probably our ball use as much as anything because I felt some of those blatant turnovers just really hurt us going the full length of the ground at times,” Beveridge said.
“But I was so pleased, we had so many different role players today, and in a team that was piecemeal. It was put together through some lads who have earned an opportunity, and some boys who have probably gone back to where they started in our back end, such as Roarke Smith and Ed Richards. Really pleased with how functional we were all through the lines, but we probably let them score too much.”
He reserved special praise for the returning Lachie Hunter. “He has been an important player for our club for a long time and we miss his work. He showed this afternoon what he is capable of,” Beveridge said. “That’s great for him because it’s been a difficult time for him. He’s always been invested … he is an influencer, not in a social media sense in a football club sense. He has great care and empathy for his teammates and his words and actions really marry up.”
Matthew Nicks admitted there was very few positives to take away from his team’s performance. “We just didn’t really bring (it), did we?,” he said. “We were outmuscled, beaten in the contest convincingly – (which is) the area we focus mainly on trying to keep ourselves in the fight, and come away with games proud of what we put out there.
“We aren’t doing that, we didn’t do that today.”
“If you are not consistent in the contest you are not competitive, so we will go away and work and we will get hard,” he said.
“We’ve got five weeks to re-right the ship.”
The fightback after falling five goals behind in the first quarter was one positive for his team. “We have been unable to do that when we’ve been challenged so far this year, so we fought back for a quarter,” he said. “(We) came into that break and thought ‘we’ve done well, we’ve been able to fight our way back into the game’, but then after that to be beaten like we were, in the end, beaten by a much stronger midfield group.
“They have bigger bodies, we were unable to stick tackles, they were cleaner with the ball. We win hit-outs and we get a chance with first possession, but we fumble. Some of that we knew what we were coming up against, we knew coming in that they had a very strong midfield but you can’t have numbers like we did. We lost tackles by 13, we lost contested ball by nearly 40, you can’t be doing that.”
WESTERN BULLDOGS 6.3 8.8 12.12 16.15 (111)
ADELAIDE 4.1 5.3 5.5 8.6 (54)
Western Bulldogs: Naughton 6, Bontempelli 2, Cavarra 2, Dale, Lloyd, Hunter, Dunkley, McLean, English
Adelaide: Stengle, Walker, Himmelberg, Murphy, Smith, Laird, Mackay, M.Crouch
Western Bulldogs: Naughton, Bontempelli, B.Smith, Hunter, Liberatore, Daniel
Adelaide: O’Brien, M.Crouch, Keays, Smith, Laird, Poholke
Western Bulldogs: English (ankle)
Adelaide: McPherson (hamstring)