MATCH REPORT: Western Bulldogs v St Kilda | Round 2, AFL 2023
So many memorable victories have come against the Bulldogs it’s starting to become a touch cliché. A couple of cheeky prelims, a fifty-five-point comeback, an elimination final and then, of course, there’s Round 2 2023. Saturday night felt special. It felt fresh and passionate, like something is brewing – some kind of Ross Lyon special stew. This potions master of a coach spent all summer dousing Moorabbin in his magic touch and the team has returned revitalised and rediscovered its mojo.
Thirty seconds into the game Phillipou snapped truly, stretching the number of consecutive matches with a goal in the first minute to four. Twenty seconds later, Mitchito had one on the board and the energy at Marvel was vivacious. The Saints had turned up to play and the Dogs were asleep. It felt as though we had taken the Bulldogs to an off-leash park but then kept them on their lead; refusing to relinquish control even for a moment. The Saints pressure was suffocating, unrelenting; the Dogs shouldn’t have traded away Lachie Hunter because they were now being hunted with ease. I’m unsure what the pressure rating was exactly, but I’d hazard a guess that the Channel 7 pressure gauge would have exploded within ten minutes and just smouldered for the rest of the evening. Boy oh boy wow-ee. Jack Steele had a set-shot and kicked possibly the straightest goal ever kicked – the ball didn’t deviate even a millimeter over the course of forty meters. After twenty minutes the Dogs had only recorded one possession in their forward fifty, and for the second quarter in a row we had kept a side goalless. Lyon has the team attacking with ferocity and without fear, but on the flipside, it is increasingly hard to score against us. It’s the best of both worlds, to use the wise words of Hannah Montana.
The first Bulldogs goal came with only six minutes left in the half, if we had of held off just one more minute it would have been 100 minutes since an opposition team kicked a six-pointer against us. 99 minutes feels good though, Bradman-esque if you will. We let our guard down briefly and the Dogs kicked four goals in five minutes to bring the margin back to under a kick. A five-point halftime buffer felt unjust for how dominate we had been. Our entries into forward fifty were going unrewarded, with our makeshift forward line failing to capitalise on our second quarter dominance, only registering 1.3 for the term. A little bit of biffo on the halftime siren was nice to see, with the messiah himself, Zaine Cordy, right in the thick of it, letting The Bont know he should have joined him at Moorabbin. Josh Battle’s first half was huge, seemingly everywhere when the ball went into our backline, and Wilks and Dougal were impenetrable. At stages it looked as though the Bulldogs were playing tennis against a brick wall, caught in a cycle of kicking it forward and having it bounce straight back.
The big Pou kicked the first of the third, just as he had kicked the first in each of the previous quarters. A massive roost from 55 out sailed over the goal umpires hat and it was game-on. Mattaes didn’t have a lot of the pill, finishing with seven touches, but hot damn was he instrumental – this boy can play, how did he slip to pick 10? A few minutes later the Dogs kicked their last goal of the game – they had kicked four goals in eleven minutes and then only one for the rest of the game. You love to see it. We held the ball out, taunting them, probably saying ‘U Can’t Touch This’ because it was Hammer time. The MC kicked his first sausage roll in beautiful circumstances; a chase-down tackle from Butler on Jones, a quick kick to Hammer who turned and wheeled and went BANG from fifty setting Marvel alight (figuratively, not like The Gabba on Friday.) This was now our time to start flexing. Jack Sinclair looked oh so much like Harvey as he ran rampant across the ground, mullet flowing in slow motion, calves pulsating with each graceful stride. At one point, he intercepted a ball in defensive fifty and by the time we transitioned to the forward fifty, it was Sincs who put it in there – the gut running of this man is a work of art. The effort he showed was shown across the board by every player too. The pressure, the tackling, the second, third and fourth efforts were sublime and intense. Ross Lyon has worked miracles. It goes to show, if you’re intent is there you can win no matter what players take the field.
It would be remiss of me not to talk about future Hall of Famer, Zaine Cordy. As day-one fans of my articles would be aware, me and Zaine haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, but I am ready to bow down at his feet and profess my ignorance. The man can kick! He looks like a dad at the local park unloading torps from 80 out whilst still wearing his thongs, but somewhere deep inside him, he possess the ability of Gary Ablett. Watch me change my tune quickly if he duds it up next week but for now, I am invested. Speaking of investments, the Stock(er) Market is strong and I am buying. Liam Stocker had another good game, it’s hard to believe no one wanted him. Six tackles, eight marks, a Saints man as a young boy, welcome home Liam. I haven’t mentioned him yet, but possibly the most important player on the field for us last night, and the one who set up the most goals, was Josh Bruce. Our former flame had an absolute mare of an evening and wasn’t it great to see? One thing we didn’t see though was any jumper tugging and chest-beating from him – maybe because he actually has to touch the ball for that to be acceptable. Sorry Josh, I did have fond feelings for you at one stage. In the last quarter we kicked three goals and they kicked three points. The Dogs ended the game with only 37 inside fifties – abysmal. I’m gloating now but I’m unapologetic about it, Saints footy is back baby. Mitchy Owens finished the game with three goals and will play 400 games. Mason Wood has turned himself into a bona fide player, having another extraordinary game with 24 touches a snag. He played back, middle and forward, he is unstoppable at the moment. Byrnes failed to live up to last weeks lofty standards, consistency is now the key for him, and Jack Steele took the absolute micky. There is an injury concern with Jack though, our captain requiring some shoulder strapping in the last and Ross saying afterward they are ‘hopeful’ – I am scared. The lid is almost off. Almost. Next week is an absolute curse for the club. A marquee game? Prime time? AGAINST ESSENDON? I won’t fully believe this is real until we can beat Essendon. They absolutely destroy us every year, even when they’re trash and we’re good, even when we’re honoruing Spud, even when we win nineteen games in a row… Essendon always ruins us. If we can come out next week, on The G, on our birthday, and throw jabs at Essendon (which they’re all too accustomed to) and come away with the chocolates, I am buying Grand Final tickets to see us smash North Melbourne in that final weekend of September. Key takeaways: Saints good, Dogs bad. Cordy good, Bruce bad.
Tiff’s votes: 3 – Sinclair 2 – Steele 1 – Owens