The Western Bulldogs hope their skipper and All-Australian defender Easton Wood can inject new life into their forward line in 2018 but admit he has plenty to learn about the craft.
The club unveiled a new-look attack in their 22-point win over Hawthorn in their opening JLT Community Series game, with recruits Jackson Trengove performing well as a ruck-forward and Josh Schache playing the second half, operating as a ruckman and kicking a goal.
Ten players chimed in for 15 goals that were gained from just 46 inside-50 entries against a relatively strong, but rusty, Hawthorn defence.
The move of Wood was the biggest surprise and he took until the 20-minute mark of the second quarter to touch the ball. But the 28-year-old gradually worked his way into the game, kicking a goal and showing his aerial skills at times in the final quarter.
Assistant coach Daniel Giansiracusa, who made his living as a crafty forward, said they wanted to give Wood a chance in the role knowing they can always swing him back in games if needed.
“He’s a pretty good swingman. We’re going to give him a crack at it there,” Giansiracusa said.
“[He is] a pretty powerful and quick player so he is going to put defences on edge as well. He is going to continue to learn and it will take time.”
The Bulldogs kicked away in the third quarter of an entertaining contest with five goals to two to win by 22 points, finishing with 15.10 (100) to Hawthorn 11.12 (78).
With Wood and the versatile Trengove forward, new recruit Hayden Crozier, Shane Biggs and Matt Suckling now have the task of creating rebound from defence after the retirements of Robert Murphy and Matthew Boyd.
Trengove was impressive in his first hit-out for his new club, with Giansiracusa saying the former Port Adelaide veteran had lifted the group’s training standards with his competitiveness.
“He has really added to the group in terms of the aggression that he brings and he has really built a competitiveness around the ruck stocks,” Giansiracusa said.
Having struggled with tags in 2017, Jason Johannisen has been pushed higher up the ground giving him more freedom to dictate terms and he looked exciting.
The moves have also made the Bulldogs’ defence relatively inexperienced, particularly with Dale Morris sidelined with a knee injury.
Their first pick of last year’s draft Aaron Naughton showed good signs although the Hawks key forwards, as you would expect, were too strong for the 18-year-old at times.
Liam Picken, who sat out the first quarter on the bench, was forced to sit out the last as well when he received a heavy knock in a marking contest but he was walking and clear of structural damage after the game.
— AFL (@AFL) March 3, 2018
In the middle Tom Liberatore looked fit but Jack Macrae (23 possessions, two goals) is now the Bulldogs’ second-best midfielder. Lin Jong was busy in his first game back from a knee reconstruction.
Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson was relatively happy with the performance, forgiving of some mistakes and relieved to escape without injury as they prepare to play Collingwood in round one.
“You are just searching as best you can to get somewhere around 80 minutes of footy into most of your players and then start to recognise some of the things that you have been working on over the summer,” Clarkson said.
The Hawks had a familiar look about them after the upheaval last season with Ben Stratton returning to the back six for his first game since round eight last year, with James Sicily and Ryan Burton for company.
Both Sicily and Burton use the ball well from defence and Blake Hardwick, wearing former skipper Luke Hodge’s famous No. 15 jumper, has a tough edge to him that will make the Hawks hard to score against.
“They made some good progress with their footy last year and they are going to have to step again this year for us to be any sort of challenge at the end of the year,” Clarkson said.
Sicily is still fiery with opponents ready to antagonise him at the first sign his wick is burning low.
Tom Mitchell (30 disposals) just kept winning the ball roving to Ben McEvoy and Marc Pittonet while Jaeger O’Meara moved well although he will take time to cause damage. His first option was to handball, an instinct he developed last season, having one kick and five handballs in the first quarter before ending the day with eight of each.
Clarkson said O’Meara was progressing well but it would take time for him to build chemistry with his teammates given he played just six games last season and little more over the previous three.
“We’ll work that out. Every game that he gets and every minute that he gets is really valuable for him and us,” Clarkson said.
Jarman Impey began the game on fire with five touches in the first five minutes, burning off a wing and breaking the lines. He then went quiet but he can have an impact in a running role particularly if his ball use improves.
“He is going to be pretty electric for us,” Clarkson said.
For both teams it was a promising start giving opposition teams enough of a warning that they will be hard to beat in 2018.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 6.0 7.3 12.8 15.10 (100)
HAWTHORN 5.2 8.5 10.8 11.12 (78)
Western Bulldogs: Bontempelli, Macrae, Johannisen, Hunter, Trengove
Hawthorn: Mitchell, Sicily, Breust, Shiels
Western Bulldogs: Dunkley 3, Macrae 2, Honeychurch 2, Dale 2, Daniel, Wood, Trengove, Schache, Picken, Liberatore
Hawthorn: Schoenmakers 3, Roughead 2, Gunston, Pittonet, Breust, Hanrahan, Smith, Mitchell
Western Bulldogs: Picken (concussion)
Hawthorn: Roughead (corked thigh)
CROWD: Approx. 4565 at Mars Stadium, Ballarat