MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 21: Marcus Bontempelli of the Bulldogs runs with the ball during the 2020 Marsh Community AFL Series match between the Western Bulldogs and the North Melbourne Kangaroos at Marvel Stadium on February 21, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 21: Marcus Bontempelli of the Bulldogs runs with the ball during the 2020 Marsh Community AFL Series match between the Western Bulldogs and the North Melbourne Kangaroos at Marvel Stadium on February 21, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Malthouse: My concern for Bont the skipper

In the months between Rounds 1 and 2, I have replaced the Western Bulldogs in my predicted final eight with St Kilda.

But there is a strong case for picking the Bulldogs against the Saints on Sunday.

I note with interest that many in the football media have tipped Marcus Bontempelli to win this year's Brownlow Medal.

I caution their optimism towards the new captain having another great season, although I hope my concern is misplaced.

Not all the best players will make the best captains.

Sometimes the leadership "burden" becomes too heavy a cross to bear.

 

 

Get your footy fix on KAYO ahead of live matches returning soon. Watch classic battles from the 60s to today, docos, news and more. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >

 

 

Let's use a cricket example.

One of the greatest all-rounders of the 1970 and '80s was Ian Botham. A brute of a batsman and a wonderful medium-quick bowler, he single-handedly destroyed Australia on several occasions. His personality was as large as his ability.

Marcus Bontempelli’s first game as Western Bulldogs captain was a heavy loss to Collingwood.
Marcus Bontempelli’s first game as Western Bulldogs captain was a heavy loss to Collingwood.

The English cricket establishment made him captain and his game unravelled.

The captaincy weighed down his performance so much that he was eventually relieved of the post.

Soon after he was back to his unstoppable best.

I'm not suggesting this will happen to Bontempelli, although based on his Round 1 performance as captain I am concerned for him and the Bulldogs.

Given, it was a strange occasion for his first outing as skipper.

No crowd and uncertainty surrounded the rest of the season.

A lot of things went wrong for the Dogs against Collingwood that night - they were slaughtered in every division - but as their game deteriorated so too did Bontempelli's.

Teams look to their captain for inspiration and strong direction, particularly in times of duress, so Sunday's game could be Bontempelli's captaincy making.

Ian Botham’s game suffered when he was made English Test captain.
Ian Botham’s game suffered when he was made English Test captain.

And therefore, the Bulldogs' salvation for season 2020.

I can't let their opponents, St Kilda, off the hook.

An injury riddled North Melbourne not only came from behind to win in Round 1 but outscored the Saints six goals to one in the second half to do so.

St Kilda was either unfit or complacent to finish the game like that.

I would hope they have learnt from it.

At Round 2, you know there's usually time in the season to get things right. At this Round 2 we know there's no wriggle room in a shortened season.

The Saints have recruited brilliantly and the inclusion of Bradley Hill (Fremantle), Zak Jones (Sydney), Dan Butler (Richmond), Paddy Ryder and Dougal Howard (both Port Adelaide) should pay dividends.

A dejected St Kilda captain Jarryn Geary after the club squandered a Round 1 lead against North Melbourne.
A dejected St Kilda captain Jarryn Geary after the club squandered a Round 1 lead against North Melbourne.

Teamed with natural progression of the youngsters, and the return from injury of Dylan Roberton (heart condition) and Jake Carlisle (back), the team is effectively in good nick.

The Western Bulldogs and St Kilda have, in many respects, similarities in style and personnel.

The Saints' backline is the springboard for their attack with multiple runners and good-sized defenders in Howard, Carlisle and Nathan Brown.

They have quality enough to negate the Dogs' forward line. Carlisle (if he plays back) against former Saint Josh Bruce would be a terrific duel.

 

Bruce is at his third club, and has the reputation of being a lazy footballer, but he has a chance to stand up and make an impact with the Bulldogs.

Alex Keath (Adelaide) is the tall answer the Dogs' need in their backline to form the bookends with Bruce.

Keath on Max King, Zaine Cordy on Tim Membrey, and Howard on Aaron Naughton will be match-ups well worth watching.

The Bulldogs' lack of run was perhaps their most disappointing aspect in Round 1.

Jason Johannisen and Easton Wood were hardly sighted running with the ball, which is generally synonymous with the Bulldogs' method. It's what makes them most dangerous.

It sounds like a cliche, but this game will be won or lost though the encounters in the middle.

Seb Ross, Jack Steele, Luke Dunstan and Dan Hannebery against Bontempelli, Jack Macrae, Josh Dunkley and Tom Liberatore will be the game decider.

Josh Bruce will be up against St Kilda for the first time since crossing to Whitten Oval.
Josh Bruce will be up against St Kilda for the first time since crossing to Whitten Oval.

Tim English was taken apart by Brodie Grundy in Round 1, but he is going to be a very good player for the Western Bulldogs.

Sunday will be another tough outing for him against raging bull Rowan Marshall.

The team which takes the game on and uses its pace to run the ball will be the better for it.

The Dogs' need to inject that enthusiastic run to be anywhere near their best.

My worry with the Saints declaring an all-out attack with the ball is that they neglect some of their other strengths.

One thing you do as a coach is identify the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition from recent performances.

The Saints have a weapon up their sleeve in Jack Steele and I wonder if his role as tagger is being considered for Sunday's game.

A player like Steele can zero in on Bontempelli to great effect and put him off his game and his leadership.

It would be a big test for the Bulldogs captain, but if he could overcome the tag it would provide considerable growth for him and his confidence as a leader.

If he succumbs, it would fuel his doubt and be detrimental to the team.

Both sides have an element of excitement when they move the ball quickly, but they must finish off the game, too.

One club will be 0-2 as of Sunday night and in a sprint finish that may mean they run out of puff to compete with the big guns.

 

 

 

Originally published as Malthouse: My concern for Bont the skipper

Marcus Bontempelli didn’t have his usual influence in Round 1.
Marcus Bontempelli didn’t have his usual influence in Round 1.


CAUGHT OUT: Dad busted trying to grow own drug supply

Premium Content CAUGHT OUT: Dad busted trying to grow own drug supply

The home-grown crop was far from the only drug charge landing this Southern Downs...

STREET CRED: Unique artworks reinvigorate Rose City

Premium Content STREET CRED: Unique artworks reinvigorate Rose City

The project aims to revive Warwick’s buildings and community spirit through trying...

BREAKING: Man in serious condition after crash in Killarney

Premium Content BREAKING: Man in serious condition after crash in Killarney

The man in his 50s will soon be airlifted to hospital.