Coach’s chilling warning to AFL rivals

In an ominous warning to the rest of the competition, Luke Beveridge believes the top-of-the-table Western Bulldogs are still finding out how good they can be following Saturday’s 49-point thumping of Adelaide.

In blustery conditions in Ballarat, the Bulldogs were a class above the Crows in a comfortable 15.15 (105) to 8.8 (56) win.

Sterner challenges will come as the Dogs continue to gain late-season momentum, but Beveridge was pleased to have gathered more intelligence ahead of a premiership assault.

“We’re emerging as a team … it’s not static,” Beveridge said.

“I know there is some dialogue around settling your team and having your best players playing here and there.

“But ultimately with injury tolls, form lines and a group who is still gaining experience at the level as well, you’re not afforded the luxury of being too settled.

“I’m really grateful for our players’ flexibility and adaptability and our coaches and staff … it’s been a big team effort to weather the storm a little bit.”

The Dogs kicked against a strong wind first but led by 12 points at quarter-time then made better use of the breeze than Adelaide to open a 35-point halftime lead that set up their 15th win of the season.

Bailey Dale and Caleb Daniel starred across half-back, which pleased Beveridge even though it didn’t fit his ideal blueprint for winning an AFL match.

“I’ve always said that you don’t want to win games through the productivity of your half-back flankers because it’s not the recipe,” he said.

“But particularly on windy days, when you’re setting up your structural aspect differently each quarter, your half-backs absolutely come into it.

“Both those boys made really important contributions.”

Josh Bruce, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Jason Johannisen kicked two goals each as the competition’s top-ranked attack passed the 100-point mark for the eighth time this season.

Even so, Beveridge felt his forward line lacked fluency, but conceded he was pleased with a spread of 12 goalkickers.

Another positive for Beveridge was the form of forward-turned-defender Josh Schache, who was strong in the air in his second game down back and helped quell the influence of Taylor Walker, who had one kick to half-time before bobbing up with two goals in the final term.

Beveridge’s side remains equal on points with fellow minor premiership aspirants Geelong, but the win increased the percentage gap between the rivals with three rounds to go in the home-and-away season.

Asked whether claiming the minor premiership formed part of his group’s motivation, the coach played a straight bat.

“We’re just keeping our head in the game … I don’t really want to talk about that because if I do I’ll be quoted,” he said.

“There’s three games left and it’s still really tight. We play Essendon, then Hawthorn and Port Adelaide in the last round.

“If we can just keep fronting up with the same motivation, the same willingness to contribute in our area and inspire each other then we’ll be OK.

“And whatever happens from there will take care of itself.”

2020 No. 1 Draft Pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan booted two majors on a windy Saturday in Ballarat. (Photo by Morgan Hancock/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images

Nicks looking up

Matthew Nicks has reassured Adelaide fans his battling team isn’t as far off success as it might seem after the Western Bulldogs handed out the latest in a string of harsh lessons with a 49-point thumping.

The Crows acquitted themselves well in last week’s win over fellow strugglers Hawthorn, but many of the problems that have dogged them through a disappointing campaign re-emerged in a 15.15 (105) to 8.8 (56) loss to the top-of-the-table Bulldogs in Ballarat on Saturday afternoon.

“What a great team for us to learn from … a team that we aspire to be,” Nicks said.

“We’ll be there sooner rather than later, I have no doubt.

“It’s amazing how close you can be and yet in some of these games you feel like you’re a long way from it … we’ll be there in time.

“We’re going to continue to look at players in the draft to build on our group, we’re going to continue to develop our players to compete.

“Today was a great example (for us), we played a team who plays exactly that (aggressive) style of footy.

“We played the top-of-the-table team, we played in conditions that forced the game into more of a contest with the wind going across to one side of the ground it challenged both teams with ball movement.

“We were beaten by a better side but there will be enough growth from this game and some really good learnings going forward.

“We’re in a bit of pain because our guys are out there to win games of footy, but from a coaching point of view we’ll learn a lot.”

Despite first use of a strong wind, the Crows trailed by 12 points at the first break and fell behind by 35 at half-time as they were repeatedly forced into costly mistakes by the ferocious Dogs.

Rory Sloane, Paul Seedsman and Rory Laird were prominent through the middle, but the Bulldogs were a class above when comparing midfield units.

The blustery conditions made it a tough day for forwards, but key tall Elliott Himmelberg, playing just his sixth game in a stop-start campaign, impressed with some strong overhead marks and two goals.

“If you talk about some of the growth out of the game (he) was definitely one of them,” Nicks said.

“We gave him an opportunity and I thought he made the most of it.

“I thought he looked quite dangerous in the air, which is good. It’s nice to see him hit his straps.

“It’s one of those things with Himmer and our forward line, we need to give him and them more opportunity.”

Nicks flagged the return of rested boom youngster Riley Thilthorpe in next week’s Showdown clash with Port Adelaide as he continues the search for his best forward mix.

Defender Chayce Jones is unlikely to face the Power after finishing the game on the bench with a badly corked quad.

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