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The Western Bulldogs and Adelaide Crows meet in Ballarat to open the AFL action on Saturday, with the game set to be a real test of whether the Crows are genuinely in the top eight.
The Bulldogs (2-3, 100.7%) found form in the 68-point Good Friday win over North Melbourne last week.
But Luke Beveridge’s side have been dealt a cruel blow with Tim English’s hamstring injury as Stefan Martin enters for his first game of 2022, while Lachie Hunter and Mitch Wallis also exit for personal reasons.
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The Crows (2-3, 94.8%) picked up a big win over the Tigers last week to breathe new life into their season despite Rory Sloane’s fall with a season-ending ACL injury.
Following the victory, Fox Footy commentator Dwayne Russell said the Crows appeared to be a “threat to the final”.
This match kicks off at 1:45 PM AEST from Mars Stadium.
Watch it live on Fox Footy on channel 504.
SLIDING MATCH REPORT
There were no late changes on either side, with Rhylee West (Bulldogs) and Will Hamill (Crows) being named medical replacements.
Adelaide had the early ascendancy of the territory, leading to Lachie Sholl’s first goal of the game after winning a free-kick before Shane McAdam produced a brilliant instant goal to leave the Bulldogs stunned.
And when the Bulldogs went forward, Adelaide’s leading defenders made several interceptions, while at the other end Ned McHenry applied “fierce” pressure, according to Bulldogs legend Brad Johnson.
“Very good closing pressure from the Crows. They’re here to play,” Brownlow medalist Gerard Healy told Fox Footy.
Johnson added, “They’re outperforming the Bulldogs.”
As the Crows were hot, star rookie Jordan Dawson climbed high to take a spectacular catch.
The Bulldogs started to win more footy as the first term progressed, leading to their first goal through Jamarra-Ugle Hagan before Adam Treloar kicked in a terrific goal on the run and Aaron Naughton found some the space to kick a set-piece goal and give the Chiens the lead in the quarter.
In the last 10 minutes of the first trm, the Bulldogs went to 80% efficiency on foot compared to 45% for Adelaide.
“A big change has come in this game,” Healy told Fox Footy.
“The Bulldogs’ kicks in the first 15 minutes weren’t up to par and their entries in the front 50 weren’t up to par. But in the last 10 minutes, they just flipped the switch and hit targets.
Adelaide hit the scoreboard first early in the second term, with Taylor Walker in the right place at the right time to score his first goal of the game.
But scoring was hard to come by as both teams struggled for pace with their ball movement.
“It’s been a good old fight this term,” Healy said.
The Crows were dealt a blow midway through the quarter when in-form striker Lachlan Gollant was forced off the pitch with a nosebleed after coming under friendly fire from a teammate.
Adelaide had the upper hand at the start of the third term. Tremendous ball movement allowed McAdam to take a solid contested mark and score a goal from a set piece to put Adelaide back in front.
The Dogs momentarily broke free of the Crows’ pressure, moving the ball with speed down the wing to set up Naughton’s second goal against the breeze and against the tide of the game.
But Gollant, who had recovered from the second-term friendly shot, then pushed forward and kicked in from a set piece to give Adelaide a break.
“They’re on a mission the Crows and they’ve given themselves a great platform,” Healy said.
The momentum returned in favor of the Dogs late in the quarter, with Josh Schache netting an opportunistic goal just before the third quarter to be within three points of Adelaide.
THE “BURGESS EFFECT” HELPS CROWS PROSPER
Adelaide’s biggest signing of the offseason could help him become a real threat in the finals – and he’s not even a player.
The Crows were one of the most active teams during last year’s AFL trade period, trapping Swan gun Jordan Dawson during the trade period and using his first draft pick to signing exciting striker Josh Rachele, who is emerging as an early candidate for the rising star.
But the acquisition of fitness guru Darren Burgess may ultimately be the Crows’ most significant acquisition.
Burgess – a highly regarded high performance manager in world sport having worked for Arsenal and Liverpool in the English Premier League as well as spells in Port Adelaide and Melbourne – signed with the Crows in September last year.
After helping the Demons secure their drought premiership, Burgess joined Adelaide as he returned home to South Australia for family reasons.
Six rounds in the Crows’ 2022 campaign and its influence on the team, according to Bulldogs games record holder Brad Johnson, is evident.
Against the Bulldogs on Saturday, Johnson was very impressed with the Crows’ work rate, which showed the Dogs both offensively and defensively. He said Adelaide’s work rate was “on another level”.
“I think it’s the Burgess effect, definitely,” Johnson told Fox Footy.
“He makes an impact wherever he goes in terms of a consistent quarter-to-quarter work rate for the clubs he’s involved with.
“They are extremely fit, this young team from Adelaide. They still have stages to cross in the years to come, but because of the stops and the traffic jams, they are the first to react and break with rapidity.
Three-time Prime Minister striker Cameron Mooney, who was borderline Fox Footy on Saturday, had a ringside seat to Adelaide’s relentless defence.
“With their fitness, you can tell with the pressure they’re putting on the pitch right now, it’s huge,” Mooney told Fox Footy.
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