By Sam Young BALLARAT football fans were treated to glorious conditions for football on Saturday, with the Western Bulldogs hosting Hawthorn in both sides first JLT clash of the 2018 season.
The Bulldogs come off the back of finishing in 10th position last season after previously winning the premiership the year prior, whilst the Hawks scrambled their way to 12th.
The JLT clash opened an opportunity for the bulldogs to trail a few things with assistant coach, Daniel Giansiracusa, handed the reins for the first time in his coaching career leaving Luke Beveridge aside to focus and prepare for the 2018 AFL Premiership competition.
A 28-degree sunshine bathed MARS stadium with a three-goal breeze blowing to the Creswick Road made for ideal conditions for both relatively full-strength sides to play their first hitout of the 20`8 season.
The game began at a to be expected frantic pace with Hawthorn’s recruit, JarmanImpey, latching onto a loose footy to set up the first real attacking passage of play in the game for only Luke Breust dribbling ball to steer wide at the last second.
At the 4-minute mark, some ill-disciplined play by the Hawks on the half back line lead to a 50m penalty and Doggies small forward, Josh Dunkley, opening his account for the afternoon with the first major of the match.
Western Bulldogs definitely took the JLT game as an opportunity to swing players around.
Captain Easton Wood started forward with rebounding defender Jason Johannisen, with Doggies recruit, Hayden Crozier, taking their place and impressing early in his new position across half-back.
However, at the 8-minute mark Hawthorn captain Jarryd Roughead was unable to complete the contested mark in the goal square, but still had the whereabout to soccer it through to get the Hawks first.
Whilst resting forward, Bulldogs superstar Marcus Bontempelli found Mitch Honeychurch 45 from goal on fantastically on his non-preferred. He calmly converted at the 10-minute mark for the instant response.
JarmanImpey continued to show glimpses of brilliance, with the ex-Port Adelaide player involved again to allow Jack Gunston to snap truly in this early backandfourth affair. When ruckman, Marc Pittonet gaoled at the 14-minute mark it made for the first back-to-back goals of the game.
The Dogs responded through Dunkley again at the 17-minute mark, with Sucklings racking left foot kick catching some extra mileage in the breeze to allow an easy one out the back for the small forward.
3 minutes later another long ball somehow fell in the hands of Bailey Dale, with the Dogs getting back-to-back goals and the game turning into a real shootout.
As a shootout dictates, the Hawks would quickly respond with goals to Luke Breust and Ryan Schoemakers giving the Hawks the lead again, only for Jackson Macrae to kick two goals in a row and give the Dogs a 4-point lead at the first break.
Hawthorn did have the chance to pinch the lead back against the breeze after the siren, but Luke Breust shot falling short from only 30metres out on a 45-degree angle.
The Western Bulldogs held the Hawks to only 8 marks in the first term which is unheard of considering the Hawks desire to chip and move in previous seasons.
Hawthorn did get off to the perfect start with the breeze in the second term with pick 14 from the previous year’s Rookie Draft, Oliver Hanrahan, poking one through at the 4-minute mark. However, like the first term one side would instantly respond with Caleb Daniel getting on the end of one to make it seven straight for the Bulldogs.
At the 9-minute mark, captain Jarryd Roughead did brilliantly to tap it back to Luke Breust who laced one out to the leading Schoemakers. The Hawthorn journeyman converted his second to take back the lead.
Number 9 draft pick for the 2017 National Draft, Aaron Naughton, showed what dynamic he can bring to the side with a couple great marks in the second term. His composure down back allowed for Easton Wood to hold Hawks defender James Sicily relatively quiet in the first half.
On the half time siren, ex Redan and North Ballarat Rooster, Isaac Smith, goaled on the run 50 metres out to take his side to 8.5.53 to the Bulldogs 7.3.45 in his return to Ballarat at the major break.
The third quarter is often referred to as the premiership quarter and the Bulldogs needed to take advantage a strengthening breeze if they wanted to be victories on their home away from, MARS Stadium, for the first time.
Captain Easton Wood levelled the scores with a goal after costly Ryan Burton mistake, before Ryan Schoemakers continued to show his bad days are behind him with lovely set shot goal from the 50-metre arc to continue his good form and keep the Hawks momentum rolling.
However, the Dogs began to show their dominance in the clearances with Bontempelli driving his side forward on several occasions allowing recruits Jackson Trengove and Josh Schache kicking there first goals in Bulldogs colours at the 6 and 7-minute mark respectively.
At the 10-minute mark, Liam Picken marked deep in the right forward pocket and calmly slotted it home to make it four goals to one in the term in favourite of the home side.
The breeze began to cause a bit more havoc on the field, with it really affecting Hawthorn in the third term. Luke Breust, Liam Shiels and Ricky Henderson all missed gettable opportunities in front of goal to allow Tom Liberatore the opportunity to capitalise at the 17-minute mark with a great long-range goal.
At the 18-minute mark, the game took a turn for the worst with Liam Picken knocking himself out with a big clash with team mate Josh Dunkley.
The friendly fire instant stopped the game for several minutes with the incident a reminder of how damaging injuries can be even in the preseason competitions.
As Hawthorn had done in the previous two quarters they had the opportunity to get one real late. At the 27-minute mark, Taylor Duryea drove a long ball from the centre of MARS stadium to Jarryd Roughead, with the veteran converting and making it a 12-point ball game at 3 quarter time.
In what had been no doubt an entertaining contest, John Dunkley continued to show what a livewire he could be up forward this season for the Bulldogs. Dunkley flew high to take a great contested mark only to hit the woodwork from an acute angel; he did redeem himself moments later to kick his third a create a bit of a buffer.
At the 7-minute mark, a long Liberatore ball found its way in the hands of the also impressive Mitch Honeychurch and the game was to put bed with the Bulldogs then leading by 26 points.
Tom Mitchell was able to cap off another impressive performance with the ball magnet snapping what would be the Hawks final goal of the match at the 8-minute mark of the final term. Mitchell lead all comers on the field with 30 possessions and Jarryd Roughead’s 2.4 earmarked the threat the veteran could still hold in season 2018.
Bailey Dale kicked the final goal of the match at the 20-minute mark, thanks to a James Sicily 50 metre penalty to have the Western Bulldogs take out the JLT clash at Marsh stadium by 22-points.
Both sides showed that they have a lot to offer this season with the concussion to Picken being the only real injury to emerge from the game.
Next time AFL Football comes to Ballarat will be May 5th when the Bulldogs host the Gold Coast Suns in their Round 7 match-up. The Bulldogs will be looking to get there first premiership points in Ballarat whilst the Suns will be playing in Ballarat for the very first time.
Western Bulldogs 15.10.100 def. Hawthorn 11.12.78