Tim English needed some help. The Western Bulldogs went and got it for him and the early indication is that the athletic big man could cause massive headaches for the rest of the competition in 2021 playing primarily as a key forward.
That was a key takeaway from Wednesday’s practice game against Hawthorn at the Whitten Oval, which resulted in a 15-point win, 15.7 (97) to 12.10 (82) after the Hawks kicked the last four goals of the game.
English kicked two goals but always looked dangerous prowling the forward line, and the Dogs certainly didn’t lose much when 34-year-old Brisbane recruit Stef Martin handled the ruck duties.
The return of competitive football to Melbourne after 264 days could not have gone much better. Much of the hit-out between the two clubs was fast and clean. AFL football general manager Steve Hocking was in attendance and would have been pleased with the spectacle and interestingly, just one 50-metre penalty was played under the new rule banning any movement by a player on the mark. Bulldogs star Marcus Bontempelli was the culprit, creeping sideways and gifting the Hawks a goal in the final quarter as they stormed home.
One pre-season match with limited intensity won’t tell the story, but teams were prepared to kick laterally after winning the free kick and trying to create some overlap run to speed up the game, which is precisely what Hocking is after.
For Hawthorn it was a pleasing afternoon and it already seems like they have found a player. NGA graduate Connor Downie, their fourth selection at last year’s national draft, played a terrific second quarter and was good thereafter. He added much needed run and carry for the Hawks, enjoyed the contest and would seem a likely starter for the Hawks come the start of the home and away season.
They’d also be pleased with key defender Kyle Hartigan, who in his first game since crossing from Adelaide at the end of last season halved many contests and with his spoiling and other defensive acts. He is a readymade replacement for James Frawley.
Luke Breust kicked four goals for the Hawks and got them back in the game, while Tim O’Brien, James Worpel, James Cousins, Changkuoth Jiath and Damon Greaves were also busy. New skipper Ben McEvoy and Jon Ceglar split time in the ruck, while Magpie recruit Tom Phillips played well in bursts and interestingly, was rotated through the centre bounce on several occasions.
Bontempelli was excellent for the Dogs, especially early, while Rhylee West, Hayden Crozier, Mitch Wallis and Caleb Daniel were also prominent. Rookie-listed Lachlan McNeil, a mature-aged recruit from Woodville-West Torrens was among the Bulldogs best and is in the frame for round one selection.
Liberatore left the ground late in the last quarter with blood streaming from his head, no doubt impressing his father, Bulldogs great Tony Liberatore, who was one of a handful of spectators watching the game – which was closed to the public – from behind a fence near the Barkly Street goals.
Both teams were well below full strength. The Dogs were missing Easton Wood, Jack Macrae, Zane Corey, Aaron Naughton and Adam Treloar, while Taylor Duryea, Lewis Young, Ed Richards and 2020 no.1 draft pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan played in the VFL practice game that followed.
Veterans Liam Shiels and Shaun Burgoyne trained beforehand and did not play, joining Jack Gunston, Tom Mitchell, James Sicily, Chad Wingard and Jack Scrimshaw among a talented list of Hawks watching on.
The Bulldogs play Melbourne at Marvel Stadium in their AAMI Community Series clash on March 8, while Hawthorn take on North Melbourne at Arden Street two days before.