Saturday night’s semi final sees two top-four mainstays pitted against each other, and it doesn’t seem fair that one of them has to be eliminated this early into the finals series.
Can the Lions avoid their second straight sets exit in three years?
Or will the Bulldogs ensure they capitalise on a dominant season?
Last time they met
The Bulldogs and Lions last meeting was all the way back in round four at Ballarat’s Mars Stadium, with the Bulldogs prevailing by 19 points.
With Josh Bruce out for the remainder of the season, the Dogs can take comfort in knowing it was Aaron Naughton and Tim English who spearheaded their forward line against Brisbane, slotting five goals between them.
The Bulldogs led at every change on their way to the 10.13 (73) to 8.6 (54) victory, with midfielders Jack Macrae and Marcus Bontempelli, along with Bailey Dale and Alex Keath down back, among their best.
Oscar McInerney (29 hit-outs, eight clearances), Hugh McCluggage (25 disposals) and Daniel Rich (608 metres gained) were the standout performers for Brisbane.
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Concussion has ruled out Daniel McStay for the Lions, a big loss considering they’re already without Hipwood, while Jaxon Prior’s been omitted. Jack Payne and Deven Robertson are coming into the team, and Rhys Mathieson will again line up as the Medical Sub.
Following their win over Essendon, the Western Bulldogs have named a completely unchanged line-up, with Jason Johannisen the Medical Sub.
Why Brisbane can win
The Lions are a sound outfit.
They may be coming off a loss, but Melbourne was good enough to beat anyone to beat anyone that day, so they shouldn’t be disheartened.
And although the Dogs rediscovered their winning ways, it was against weaker opposition in Essendon. Momentum will count for little.
McStay’s absence is a big blow, but Brisbane can get away with it considering the Dogs haven’t named a tall team.
The Lions may have come off second best last time the sides met, but the Dogs had Stef Martin in the ruck. With Lewis Young the Bulldogs’ main man this time around, McInerney should play a more dominant game, giving the Brisbane midfield first use on more occasions. And every edge is crucial coming up against the Bulldogs’ formidable engine room.
At the end of the day, it’s going to be an extremely close game, and making an argument for either team is almost impossible.
It could simply come down to desire, and spurred by promising yet unsuccessful finals campaigns of the past two years, that’s something Brisbane have in abundance.
Also have the home ground advantage, which could prove decisive with a roaring Gabba crowd behind them.
Why Bulldogs can win
A lot can change in a week.
Coming off three straight losses just six days ago, it felt like the Bulldogs season was hanging by a thread.
Now that form slump is nothing but a bad memory, and the Dogs will feel like they’re back to their best.
They know they can rely on having the best midfield in the competition to account for any of Young’s shortcomings in the ruck. On the teamsheet, names like Liberatore and Smith don’t even fit into the Dogs starting midfield, such is their depth.
They also have two of the most promising young forwards in the game, being Aaron Naughton and Cody Weightman.
Naughton’s the key forward’s key forward: leading with conviction, presenting strongly, and taking the Sherrin with clean hands. You’d back him in as much as an experienced campaigner like Joe Daniher to break the game open.
And Weightman showed us what he can do last week. Regardless of how he was awarded the free kicks, he was ice-cold, nailing four crucial set shots.
There’s a reason the Dogs found themselves in the top two nearly all season. Can beat anyone on their day.
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Players to watch
Charged with manning Joe Daniher, Alex Keath will have his work cut out for him on Saturday night. If he manages to blanket the Lions centrepiece like he did in round four (holding Daniher to eight disposals, one goal, and one mark), then Brisbane will be hard-pressed to find goalkickers.
Staying on the theme of defence, keep your eye on the rebounders at either end of the field. Bailey Dale and Daniel Rich lined up next to each other on this season’s All Australian half-back line, but they’ll oppose each other come semi final time. Rich’s booming left boot can release the Lions from any defensive set-up, while the poise and class of Dale is second to none.
Moving to the small forwards, both Charlie Cameron (five goals last week) and Cody Weightman (four goals last week) are at the peak of their powers, and could light the game up.
Weightman’s already been touched on, and what he lacks in experience when contrasted with Cameron, he makes up for in the extra layers of his game. Much like Bayley Fritsch, Weightman’s able to lead up at the footy and play as an undersized key forward, but he’s also everything you want in a small forward. His pressure is off the charts, and he knows where the goals are.
Already one of the best small forwards in the game, Cameron has nothing to prove, but plenty to play for. He’d love to add premiership player to his CV, and could very well do so in 2021 if he keeps finding the goals like he has been.
Then there’s Zac Bailey, one of the game’s most improved players in recent times. He’s a versatile high half forward that can win the footy and kick goals. Definitely one to watch.
The ruck battle’s also a curious case. McInerney will win the hit-out count, but it’s not a case of how many, rather how influential. The Dogs have proven time and time again that hit-outs don’t necessarily equate to wins, and if Young’s able to hold his own, then even better.
You can count on an enthralling encounter, and one that will go down to the wire.
The Bulldogs will hunt furiously, but the Lions will prove too good. Just.