I thought this had the makings of an interesting game. Despite misfiring as regularly as Sean Spicer’s White House press briefings, the Dogs have been doing enough to win games- aside from their surprise loss to Fremantle- and although the Roos’ winless start paints a bleak picture, I think they are a better team than that and one that has the potential to be very good on their day.
It was a fast-paced start to the game. The ball was almost constantly in dispute and bodies were flying around like it was a Fast and Furious movie. The Dogs’ pressure was particularly good and they were doing more of the attacking, however they were uncharacteristically sloppy at times, causing their attacks to break down just as they looked threatening. One of their better passages of play found Stringer in space deep forward and forced Thompson to make front-on contact, with the Dogs’ forward kicking a goal from the free kick.
But sequences like this were rare without an error. Tom Boyd dropped an easy mark in the centre of the ground and the turnover caught his team mates out of position, finishing with Brown walking into an open goal for the Roos. Adding insult to injury (or perhaps that should be the other way around) Boyd hurt himself as he tried to recover the dropped mark and was taken off to take no more part in the game.
The Dogs’ pressure soon caused its own turnover when Liberatore intercepted a kick in the forward half and gave to Bontempelli, who broke a tackle as he ran through 50 and put his kick straight through the goal posts.
The Dogs should really have made more of their opportunities in this quarter, but they often broke down trying to be too slick with their handballs and with their kicking inside 50, whilst their forward targets were being well beaten by their direct opponents. The best opportunities for the Roos seemed to come from turnovers when they caught the Dogs defence with less structure than one of Donald Trump’s twitter rants. Late in the quarter this happened again and Goldstein took a mark alone in the goal square to level the scores.
This trend continued in the second half, with the Dogs making more mistakes than Pauline Hanson on the campaign trail. Dahlhaus and Murphy each made bad turnovers on the half back line and both times the Kangaroos capitalised with goals to Brown and then Turner. North, for their part, weren’t a whole lot better for much of this quarter and large parts of it were harder to watch than Married at First Site.
Despite trailing at half time, you still expected the Dogs to lift ten percent and roll over the Roos at some point, but in the early minutes of the third term this assumption began to look as flawed as the assumptions of trickle-down economics. Another turnover from Murphy gave Brown another easy goal on the rebound, before a missed opportunity in the Dogs’ attacking half saw the ball quickly brought the length of the ground to again find Brown, who with four goals at this point, was by far the best forward on the ground.
A few moments later, Simpkin soccered another goal after a goalmouth scramble and the Roos were out to a five goal lead. After looking as patchy as the NBN rollout, the Dogs suddenly stopped making as many errors and began to belatedly hit the scoreboard, slashing the deficit like Liberal Government slashing penalty rates. Suckling and Murphy both goaled on the run from just inside 50, while Stringer picked out Dunkley, who marked close to goal and converted the set shot.
The Dogs had largely given up on their efforts to hit targets on the lead, unless they were completely unmarked, and instead were bombing long to packs and relying on their crumbing forwards and the change in strategy looked to be paying dividends. Cloke goaled from a free kick in the goal square out of a pack marking contest and a moment later Dahlhaus roved a ball and kicked as he was tackled, with the ball bouncing through the goals. The Dogs had the lead, but only for as long as La La Land had the Oscar for best picture, with Murphy giving away a free kick to Turner close to goal, which was duly converted.
The final quarter was frenetic with the two teams trading blows like Abbott and Turnbull. Dahlhaus missed an easy mark early on, but goaled soon after thanks to quick hands by Picken. North replied with a mark and goal by Higgins. McCrae snapped another goal for the Dogs before North hit back with consecutive goals to Simpkin and Garner. At this point, North had begun to open a lead, but the Dogs surged back after a strong mark and goal to Liberatore, followed by a brilliant tackle by Smith that allowed the ball to spill to Stringer running into an open goal. When Suckling took a contested mark and converted his shot, the Dogs were out to a nine point lead, only for Ziebel to snap a goal off a pack to close the gap once more.
Both sides threatened to score again in the final hectic minutes- that I’m sure to Luke Beveridge must have felt dragged on more than an episode of My Kitchen Rules- but the Dogs held their lead, with Thomas missing a chance to win the game on the siren.
It was really hard to pick the best player today, due to the high number of errors by both teams. Cunnington and Macrae were both good for their respective sides, winning plenty of the ball and not butchering it in the way others did. Ben Brown was strong up forward for the Roos but some of his goals were very easy and more the result of good work by his midfielders. Despite making one costly error, Dahlhaus was my pick of the players today. The majority of his ball use was good, he fought hard for the ball and produced a number of pieces of skill that resulted in scoring shots, as well as kicking a few goals himself.
There were a few players who struggled today. Murphy arguably cost his team three goals, throughout the game, but also produced a number of moments of class. The player who looked most out of sorts was Suckling, who despite kicking a pair of goals, had a noticeably poor game in which he missed a number of targets, dropped marks and gave away free kicks. Even though he improved as the game went on, he would not be looking forward to seeing the replay of that game and could really have used a Snickers at the start of the game.