When the Western Bulldogs hosted Melbourne in round 11, pretty much the entire football world stopped to watch.
They were the two best-performed teams of the season until then. If anything, the Dogs went in with slightly better form, but they were utterly dismantled.
Melbourne stymied their run and carry off half-back, stifled their scoring and made them cough up the ball at an alarming rate. The takeaway afterwards was that the Demons were the flag favourites and that the Bulldogs had some work to do.
It has been an interesting season for the Demons ever since. On the one hand, a brilliant second half to beat Brisbane and a powerful four-quarter effort to knock over Port Adelaide on the road, but on the other, losses to Collingwood and GWS (having lost to Adelaide earlier in the year) and last Saturday night’s draw with Hawthorn.
By evening up the numbers in Melbourne’s back and half and in particular, making it a ground ball game in Melbourne’s defensive 50, the Hawks were able to quell the influence that intercept kings Jake Lever, Steven May and Christian Salem had on the game.
It provided a blueprint as to how the Demons can be beaten and the fascination on Saturday night will be whether Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin will change things up and if Luke Beveridge decides to borrow from the Hawthorn playbook or just play the game his way. The suspicion here is it will be the latter.
These tactical ducks and drakes are what makes footy so interesting, but there is also the late season question of whether both sides lay it all out tactically or keep an idea or two on the backburner for September when there is every chance they’ll meet again.
It will make for compulsive and illustrative TV viewing on Saturday night, which sadly, will be the only way for fans to see it.
It’s also a big week for:
The McKay twins: After a childhood of backyard battles, the football rivalry between twins Ben and Harry McKay moves to Marvel Stadium on Saturday afternoon as the marquee attraction of the Carlton-North Melbourne clash. Carlton’s Harry is on track to win the Coleman Medal, while vastly improved key defender Ben will be tasked with trying to curb him. Hopefully there will be some sort of exemption so that their family members can attend the game. Ben and Max King hog much of the attention when it comes to twins in the AFL, but this story is more compelling in some ways because unlike the King twins, they’re likely to stand each other in games for the next eight to 10 years.
Jason Horne: The consensus No.1 live pick in the forthcoming national draft cannot predict with any certainty where he might play his football from next year. But he will likely keep a keen eye on Saturday night’s clash between Adelaide (16th) and Hawthorn (17th), which has been relocated to Marvel Stadium. A win the Crows means he can pretty much plan to be making the move to Victoria to play because the Crows will be out of wooden spoon contention. But if the Hawks get the win, then staying home to play with the Crows becomes more of a chance and the round 23 clash between the Crows and the Kangas might get to be known as the Jason Horne Cup.
Queensland footy: Buried in the lede of the Brisbane 2032 Olympics announcement was that the AFL and in particular, the Lions will be the huge beneficiary. The Gabba will be torn to the ground and rebuilt as the main stadium for the Games but will thereafter be the perfect shape and size for footy (and cricket). The Lions will need to endure another eight or nine years of having the worst capital city stadium in the AFL, but from 2033 it will be a different story. It’s a nice story to tell ahead of a Q Clash that comes at an interesting time with the Suns arguably in better form than the Lions, who desperately need the win to stay in the hunt for as top four finish.
Richmond: The reality has set in now that the glow of Jack Riewoldt’s 300th game has faded into the background. No Dustin Martin for the rest of the season. There remain a stack of great players in the Tiger line-up, but as we have seen on countless occasions, especially the 2017 and 2020 Grand Finals, Damien Hardwick has lost his break ‘glass in case of emergency’ superstar. No Dusty brings Richmond even further back to the field. And against the in-form Cats at the MCG on Sunday, we will get an early read on how the Tigers plan to navigate the rest of the season without the greatest player of the last five years.