Western Bulldogs not playing with the same hunger

By Dermott Brereton

ROCKY III famously gave us The Eye of the Tiger. It’s become a cliche, but at its core, the message holds true.

In a contest measured on physical brutality, never lose the eye of the tiger. Or bulldog.

There is no alarm siren wailing across Whitten Oval, rather an amber light suggesting that Luke Beveridge’s boys proceed with caution. Perhaps to even look back to see what made them great last season.

Even though they finished seventh on the ladder at the end of the home and away season, the statistics showed that the Doggies were one of the greatest contested ball winning teams we have ever seen.

In the finals, only the Eagles of 2005 had bettered them off the combination of contested ball and clearances.

Looking in at them from the outside, I can’t name a team that showed more “buy in” to the team mantra and coach’s direction.

At every stoppage, an opposition player literally held his breath, because he knew that at any moment he received the ball, or just gets his hands on it, the tackle from the Doggies and the physical pounding would be immediate.

This season, either the coach has changed his directions, or the “buy in” is not as absolute as last season.

In reality, some of the midfielders are leaving the contest early. And that is a pet hate of every coach that believes in honest hard work.

I have been told that the NRL has new vests that measure the pounding, the physical trauma that players are put under and indeed inflict on the opposition.

Should one of these vests have been worn by any one of the Bulldogs’ hardcore midfielders last season, and especially during their finals campaign, the data would have been through the roof compared with any other outfit.

In Round 1 the Doggies’ premiership midfield was outdogged by Collingwood. But being the team that they are, they held out the Magpies.

In Round 2 the desperately young Sydney Swans broke even with the Doggies midfielders in clearances and even managed to hit the front thanks to some Buddy Franklin magic in the last quarter.

The Dogs scrapped their way back into a win with some of the most committed gut running from Liam Picken that our cameras have ever captured.

In Round 3 the Doggies edged out the Dockers for contested possession, but only broke even against Fyfe & Co. in clearances. But in reality, the Dockers’ share of clearances more often than not resulted in real quality possessions that gave their players clear air and nothing but cut grass immediately in front of them.

What was very unusual was that the Dogs allowed them to breathe.

They simply didn’t contain the Dockers at the stoppage if the Doggies didn’t win the ball.

Against Sydney, Libba and Lin Jong racked up 30 tackles between them, leading the way to a modest tackle count of 84. Against the Dockers their combined total was 12. (Libba eight and Jong four)

For a talented team that prides itself on a blue collar work ethic, the Bulldogs laid only 63 tackles against Fremantle. And only six inside its own forward line.

Tackling isn’t always the “golden key” reading of a team and its pressure, but it has for ever been and will always be a great indicator for a team’s controlled hostile intent.

Especially a team that gives up four goals in an opening quarter and five in the final quarter when will to win is most required.

There is no doubt that the organisational skills that Dale Morris provides was missing last week.

There is mounting evidence that ruckman Jordan Roughead is much more important to their midfield than many would believe.

But their injury status, although unfortunate, is not out of whack with the majority of the league.

Indeed they have reintroduced their captain Bob Murphy. So this team is not wildly different in make-up from the one that held up the cup.

Success can be wonderful for you, but sometimes success sneakily invites complacency into your household.

I wouldn’t say complacency has a foot in the door at the Kennel, but Beveridge should maybe put on a sniffer dog at the gates just in case.

Don’t lose the hunger, Dogs. Don’t lose the eye of the Tiger. Not after just one flag.

This team is good, real good. But they need more than their ability alone and a good effort. They need to play on the edge if they want to do something extraordinary.