21/04/2024

Jess Fitzgerald takes a mark in the loss to North Melbourne. (Photo: AFL)

The Western Bulldogs couldn’t make the most of their early inside 50s to keep their undefeated start to AFLW season seven going.

Led by Jess Fitzgerald bursting out of the middle, they generated 17 inside 50s in the first half, but only managed three shots from them. It was all too familiar for the side, with just seven scoring shots from 31 inside 50s last week.

The Bulldogs found the footy just fine, but couldn’t capitalise with it when it counted to take an early lead.

Coach Nathan Burke lamented their poor ball use, which gave the forwards less than ideal entries to get onto.

“I think we over-handballed slightly,” he said.

“That added a little bit too much pressure. I think we tried to change that around a little bit. We had 47 marks in the first half. They closed that down a little bit.

“The biggest difference was that they had control in the corridor. Whilst we may have been getting a lot of free ball out wide, we weren’t getting it in the middle where it counts.

“We probably kicked it to disadvantage more often than not. When we did move through the middle in good spaces, we just fluffed it in the last kick.

“We had Moods [Celine Moody] down there, took a lovely mark, kicked a goal. We didn’t give Moods the service they gave their talls.”

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Many of the forwards failed to have much of an impact on the game overall.

Moody did kick a goal, but managed just seven disposals and two marks otherwise. The same could be said of Richelle Cranston, who also kicked a goal, but only had four disposals.

Gabby Newton, who’s become renowned this season for her marking ability, had just the one.

But providing the late spark ahead of the ball was pacey youngster Rylie Wilcox. The Rising Star nominee kicked two goals, bringing excitement back when the Bulldogs looked all but done.

While the Kangaroos kicked away afterwards, she was a bright spot when the chips were down.

“That was an element to our game that we really lacked the past couple of years, that wing that can push forward and become dangerous,” Burke said.

“Rylie’s really brought that to the team. She’s made herself a really invaluable part of the team after five games at 17. It’s a real effort.”

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The Bulldogs would ultimately lose inside 50s by nine, as North Melbourne continued to elevate while they dropped off.

Superstar midfielder Jasmine Garner was front and centre for the opposition. They had no answer for her as she propelled herself to 27 disposals, eight clearances and seven marks.

There were upsides for the young Bulldogs, however.

After returning from injury late last season, 24-year-old Deanna Berry looks to be hitting her stride again. Moving into the midfield at times, she finished with 13 disposals, six marks, and two clearances.

Defensively, the Bulldogs also largely held firm until the flood gates started to open in the second half. Katie Lynch, Sarah Hartwig and Issy Grant combined for 15 marks.

Burke was pleased with how the backline stood up.

“I thought Issy Grant and Sarah Hartwig did some really good things today,” he said.

“We have had a lot of pressure. When we played Freo they pressured us, GWS pressured us a lot, even Port Adelaide over there pressured us a lot. We’re normally pretty good at [dealing with] that.

“Across the whole ground, it can become contagious. I know that’s not them, not how they play the game.

“I didn’t expect go through the season undefeated. Every win that you have, you’re closer to your first loss. Really good learnings out of today.”

The pressure will only get higher from here, as the Bulldogs face off against Geelong. The Cats are back in form, fresh off kicking their highest score for the season.

While they’ve done everything they can to set up a return to finals after five rounds, the Bulldogs will want to arrest their season momentum back quickly in Ballarat.

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