There is always an added air of excitement around an AFL stadium when the table-toppers go head to head. On this occasion, a deserted Docklands Stadium would provide the backdrop to the top-of-the-table clash between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs.
There wasn’t a shortage of subplots surrounding the fixture given that the Bulldogs had suffered a massive injury blow earlier in the week after it was confirmed that Adam Treloar would be out for around two months.
The talk had been focused on whether the Dogs could keep up their momentum without their star man, and a test against the team snapping at their heels was the best opportunity to show that they could.
It turned out to be a dreadful night for the Bulldogs after Melbourne came away with a 28 point victory. It wasn’t so much the defeat that was catastrophic or the fact they did lose without Treloar, but rather the way that Melbourne exposed them to the degree that they did.
It felt like the perfect blueprint on how to beat the Bulldogs was provided to the rest of the league. A team can bounce back from defeat easily enough, but the psychological damage of being two steps behind all night would have taken its toll on Luke Beveridge and his team.
Disappointing night at Marvel. pic.twitter.com/5dDWZVBsba— Western Bulldogs (@westernbulldogs) May 28, 2021
Melbourne were able to neutralize the Bulldogs’ greatest strength by restricting their fluid ball movement and pressuring each quick handball. That usual zip the Bulldogs possess when they move the ball laterally wasn’t there as the Melbourne defence closed down the angles with ferocious determination.
It was a perfectly executed game plan that Simon Goodwin deserves a lot of credit for.
The 44-year-old’s tactical masterclass would have undoubtedly earned him praise from the rest of the league who will no doubt thank him for exposing the usually rampant Bulldogs. Interestingly, the latest Aussie Rules betting reflects the mood around the rest of the AFL, with Melbourne now the outright favourites to win the Grand Final at 7/2, whilst the Bulldogs
have dropped to 5/1.
That is a significant drop in only a matter of days which suggest that Goodwin and his troops have done significant damage to the Bulldogs hopes of their first silverware since 2016 when they won the grand final.
It should be said, smothering the Bulldogs like Melbourne did and restricting their dangerous midfield from running rampant is easier said than done. Not every team will be fit enough to produce the same output that Melbourne did in pressing the Bulldogs into submission.
But if teams are able to repeat the Demons’ effort, then there’s every chance that they will be in a position to knock the Dogs off.
The Bulldogs will have to lick their wounds. Their challenge now is to try and find a plan B before their flag hopes suffer any more lasting damage.
Indeed, the secret is out now after the first real questions of the Bulldogs’ grand final credentials have been asked.