The reigning premiers are back to their winning ways but coach Luke Beveridge admits the Western Bulldogs are having a hard time adapting to the AFL’s new ruck rules.
The Bulldogs opened their season with a 14-point win over a valiant Collingwood on Friday night at the MCG.
But it was far from convincing, with the Dogs smashed in two of their traditional strengths: contested possessions and clearances.
While Collingwood’s midfielders deserved plenty of credit, they also benefited strongly from a lop-sided hit-out tally.
With first-choice ruckman Jordan Roughead unavailable with a knee injury, the less-experienced Tom Boyd struggled against Collingwood duo Brodie Grundy and Mason Cox.
Roughead’s injury coincided with the AFL decreeing that only one nominated ruckman from each team may contest a stoppage – outlawing the tactic of a third player attempting to come over the top.
Bulldogs superstar Marcus Bontempelli was one of the most common proponents of the tactic last year and used it to good effect in his side’s drought-breaking grand final triumph over Sydney.
But Beveridge says his midfielders must adapt to the new order if they are to get back to their best.
“We haven’t got a solution when its not going that well, as far as controlling where that ball goes in the ruck,” he said.
“Our rucks had their fair share of hit-outs but now it’s just making sure we’re reading that better and our methodology is better because times have changed.”
With back-up ruckman Tom Campbell still working his way back from an ankle injury, Beveridge said Boyd would have to get used to being exhausted by the end of the game.
“You’ve just got to view him as a ruckman,” Beveridge said.
“All ruckman are out on their feet by the end of the game. He worked extremely hard … but we need him to play in the ruck. He’s a pinch-hit key forward at the moment and that’s just the way it is.”
Ever the innovator, Beveridge claimed he wouldn’t be afraid to send his side into a game without a genuine ruckman.
But the Bulldogs are also mixing things up in other areas, with returning skipper Bob Murphy and speedster Jason Johannisen each rotating between half-back and a half-forward flank against Collingwood.
“We’ll look for new and innovative ways to get an advantage,” Beveridge said.
“We’ve given it a lot of thought and we’ve got a few ideas that we’ll need to use throughout the course of the year depending on how healthy we stay.”