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THAT'S LIFE by Whispering Jack

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The fortunes of the Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs Football Clubs intersected when the two sides met in June last year at Etihad Stadium. The Demons were finally and slowly emerging from years of deprivation and suffering in the competition's lower depths while the Bulldogs were rapidly descending from the dizzy heights of the previous year's unexpected September glory.

Despite the fact that both sides seemed to be heading in different directions, the outcome was still a shock to all, with the hitherto inconsistent Melbourne combination dominating throughout and, perhaps in a portent of things to come, winning all four quarters. 

We thought we had made it. We almost had it all but it turned out, that the hopes of a top four placing or even a finals finish were to prove premature, perhaps because the Demons were experiencing a "That's Life" moment as described in the Frank Sinatra hit song. 

They were riding high during that particular month and they were cut down in the next one but you could mount an argument that it all began with what was otherwise a very happy afternoon at Etihad for Melbourne fans. 

The victory however, was soured in the final quarter when co-captain Nathan Jones (quad) and Jack Watts (hamstring tightness) were both taken off as a precaution for assessment during the coming week. In the end, both missed the next month and they were joined on the sidelines in the weeks to come by a number of others including the team’s other skipper, Jack Viney. 

Melbourne went on to record a great victory over the Eagles on the following Saturday but the number of consecutive six day breaks, the injuries and a controversial suspension to Tomas Bugg in the next game against the Swans, all took their toll. 

The weakened team found themselves flat on their faces and, despite attempts to pick themselves up and get back in the race, the tiring Demons were floundering. Despite the fact that they were perilously close to making the finals for the first time in over a decade, they simply rolled themselves up in a big ball and died at the last hurdle.

Poets, dreamers, philosophers and crooners like Frank might well ask whether the experience of a  "That's Life" moment last year was a sign for the club and supporters that it was too soon to be thinking of premierships; that had the Demons fallen into the top eight, they might well have suffered the same fate as their replacement Essendon, which was bundled out in humiliation at the hands of the Swans by 80 points in the Elimination Final.

The club has bounced back and we now find it again challenging  for the finals and a top four finish even more strongly but this time, the team is much better equipped with greater depth, class, durability and experience than it had at this time last year. 

Just as the great Sinatra was able overcome and recover from extended periods of failure in his career, the time is now right for the Melbourne Football Club. 

That's life!

*** Scroll Down for Whispering Jack's Prediction ***

THE GAME 

Western Bulldogs v Melbourne at Etihad Stadium, Saturday 2 June, 2018 at 1.45pm
 
HEAD TO HEAD
 
Overall: Western Bulldogs 76 wins Melbourne 86 wins 1 draw
 
At Etihad Stadium: Western Bulldogs 9 wins Melbourne 7 wins
 
Last Five Meetings: Western Bulldogs 3 wins Melbourne 2 wins
 
The Coaches: Beveridge 0 wins Goodwin 1 win
 
MEDIA
 
TV - Fox Sports Live at 1.30pm
 
Radio - Triple M 3AW ABC ABC Grandstand 
 
THE LAST TIME THEY MET

Melbourne 17.11.113 defeated Western Bulldogs 8.8.56 at Etihad Stadium, Round 13, 2017 

Melbourne smashed the reigning premiers by 57 points to move to fifth place on the AFL ladder. It was a spiteful  encounter fueled before the game when Tomas Bugg controversially taunted Bulldog Jason Johannisen on social media. The ploy worked as the Demons took advantage of a hesitant opponent to record a comfortable win and stamp their credentials for a place in the finals.

THE TEAMS  
 
WESTERN BULLDOGS
 
 
B: Matthew Suckling, Jackson Trengove, Ed Richards
HB: Bailey Williams, Dale Morris, Easton Wood
C : Jason Johannisen, Lachie Hunter, Patrick Lipinski
HF: Caleb Daniel, Josh Schache, Tory Dickson
F: Luke Dahlhaus, Marcus Bontempelli, Billy Gowers
Foll: Tom Boyd, Toby McLean, Jack Macrae
I/C: Hayden Crozier, Mitch Honeychurch, Jordan Roughead, Roarke Smith
Emg: Tom Campbell, Lin Jong, Lukas Webb, Lewis Young

In: Mitch Honeychurch, Dale Morris

Out: Zaine Cordy (concussion), Bailey Dale (foot)
 
MELBOURNE  

B: Michael Hibberd, Oscar McDonald, Neville Jetta
HB: Angus Brayshaw, Jake Lever, Jordan Lewis
C : Bernie Vince, Jack Viney, Nathan Jones
HF: James Harmes, Jesse Hogan, Jake Melksham
F: Tim Smith, Tom McDonald, Christian Petracca
Foll: Max Gawn, Christian Salem, Clayton Oliver
I/C: Bayley Fritsch, Mitch Hannan, Alex Neal-Bullen, Charlie Spargo
Emg: Tom Bugg, Cameron Pedersen, Joel Smith, Billy Stretch

NO CHANGE

THE PARADOX 

The paradox about a game in which Melbourne starts as clear favourite is the fact that the Western Bulldogs will take the field with more than half a team comprised of premiership players while their counterparts have just one, and only a handful have even been a part of finals football. Co-captain Nathan Jones, who will be playing in his 250th match, is the only current team member to have tasted the finals experience as a Demon.

That we have to go back in time only 20 months to the time when the Western Bulldogs stormed their way to the flag, is testament to the fickleness of our sport. They were on top one day and twelve months later, they finished in the bottom half of the ladder. Today, with almost half the season gone, they occupy a place in the bottom six with a percentage south of 80.

And yet, the Doggies still have some of the game’s elite within their ranks. The in-form Jack Macrae is at the head of many of the media’s best player rankings, Marcus Bontempelli is regarded among the game’s top shelf while it was not long ago that the likes of Luke Dahlhaus, Lachlan Hunter, Jason Johannisen and Easton Wood were the toast of the town. Despite their past two defeats at the hands of top eight sides, they did win three games on the trot in rounds six to eight.

The problem for the Bulldogs is that they have lost enough of the keys to the premiership success through retirement, injury or loss of form and have been unable to fill the void in class. As a consequence, their team appears unbalanced, inexperienced and down in confidence. In short, they are a long way from being capable of replicating the magic of September, 2016.

Going back to those very recent heady days, it would have been unthinkable to consider them as being vulnerable to Melbourne in any game played at  where the Bulldogs were lords and masters. These days however, the ground is a veritable fortress for the Demons who shook off the gloom of consecutive losses to Hawthorn and Richmond earlier this year to beat Essendon and St Kilda at the beginning of their current winning streak. They have won four games in a row at Etihad Stadium, a place which   was not long ago viewed by their fans with shock, fear and awe.

But it’s a different Melbourne these days. On the back of its current winning streak, it has established an unenviable record - it leads the competition in percentage, it’s the highest scoring team, number one for inside 50s and marks inside that area and most importantly, is the winner of the contested possession count. 

Add the dominance of ruckman Max Gawn and the fact that Jack Viney is finding his feet (and pardon the pun) after his long stint out with injury, it’s hard tipping against the Demons who could only lose if they start bathing in the glory of the complimentary publicity they’ve been receiving of late. 

With co-captain Nathan Jones leading then out for his 250th game reminding them of how much effort is required for a downtrodden side to lift itself back up to get in the race, I expect the team to be well grounded and up to the task of making it six in a row.

Melbourne by 51 points

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