Will the Bulldogs’ five changes pay off?

The Western Bulldogs have recalled five stars for tonight’s elimination final against West Coast at Domain Stadium.

Forward Jake Stringer will make his way back into the seniors after being dropped to the VFL for the last two rounds of the season. Stars Tom Liberatore, Jack Macrae, Easton Wood, and Jordan Roughead will also be brought back after injury stints on the sidelines.

But are these inclusions merely wishful thinking full of hope? Or is it a smart coaching move on Luke Beveridge’s part?

The Bulldogs coach did allude to these changes earlier in the week, saying the injured players were “close to 100 per cent”.

“Their training form has been good, but training and playing are two different things,” Beveridge said. “But in big finals you need to be bold and you need go all out. There’s no tomorrow after Thursday (if we lose).”

“They’ve got through everything we’ve asked of them so they’re pretty close to being selected.”

The selected side to go up against the Eagles will be the strongest Dogs team we’ve seen in months – at least on paper. But just because all of the stars are lined up, doesn’t mean strong performances will come along with the hype.

Firstly, there’s Stringer. The forward did find himself under a cloud of uncertainty after injuring his shoulder in Round 17. But his apparent lack of effort and influence on the game drew criticism from those in and out of the club.

While time in the VFL would have certainly had an impact on Stringer, there is no guarantee that any of his previous issues are now resolved.

Secondly, there’s the injured four.

Liberatore and Macrae have both been sidelined since Round 19 with ankle and hamstring injuries respectively. Roughead (foot) and Wood (ankle) only missed a single match in the final round.

But any time away from footy can be difficult to come back from, especially if that comeback game is an elimination final.

Undoubtedly, these players must have recovered from their injuries. The club would not risk an athlete’s health, or their own finals chances, with a player unable to perform at their best.

But physically fit doesn’t ensure mental preparedness. And the Bulldogs certainly can’t afford to have players who are not completely ready.

Their record at Domain Stadium is appalling. The Dogs have lost to the Eagles 14 times at the ground, only winning on four occasions, with one draw in the mix. They have also lost all three of their previous interstate finals.

Form coming into the finals series also favours West Coast. The Eagles have won nine of the last ten matches, while the Dogs have only won three of the last six.

And scoring has also been an issue all year. The Western Bulldogs average only 84 points per game, ranking 12th in the competition. On the other hand, the Eagles finished the season in fifth, averaging 99 points a match.

So the odds are not stacked in the Dogs’ favour. Poor record coming into finals, an abysmal record at Domain, and uncompetitive scores are definitely hurdles. Add in potentially underdone players and a win is looking unlikely.

But finals can throw up even the most bizarre scenarios. Maybe the Dogs’ five changes will be the difference.

One thing’s for certain, a famous finals victory for the Dogs is not off the charts.

(First published on The Roar on September 8th 2016)

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