Dogs look to make Etihad a fortress

The Western Bulldogs want to use a streak of Etihad Stadium matches to set up their AFL season, beginning with Fremantle on Sunday afternoon.

The Dockers’ visit is the first of seven straight games at Melbourne’s second venue to start the Dogs’ campaign.

No match is a fait accompli though, with the Dogs hosting four finalists including premiers Hawthorn in their opening spell.

But off the back of a nine-game winning streak at the Docklands stadium, Mitch Wallis said the Bulldogs would fear no team when they come to the doghouse.

“We love playing there, that’s no secret, just like Freo love playing in Perth,” Wallis told AAP.

“The style of play we like to play – the pressure footy, the fast football – is really suited to Etihad.

“If we can make it more of a fortress it’s a great advantage. We can build a good win-loss record heading into round eight.”

Wallis cites a developing list already with finals experience, a growing membership and improved depth as a basis to go into the season full of spirit.

If the week before round one is full of dreaming days, the Bulldogs are dreaming big.

“We’re not going to put expectations on where we’re going this year but to go one step better than last year would be a par mark for a lot of us,” he added.

On Sunday, Wallis said the Dogs would also be playing for returning midfielder Tom Liberatore.

The 2014 best and fairest winner resumes after a year lost to a major knee injury and the Dogs expect him to add another dimension to their ball-winning efforts.

“He was number one for clearances and number one for tackles (in 2014 and) he’ll compliment the guys who have taken up the midfield roles in his absence,” Wallis said.

Luke Beveridge’s side features high-profile recruit Matt Suckling and two AFL debutants – Josh Dunkley and Marcus Adams.

Wallis said Adams had particularly impressed, earned the nickname of ‘the specimen’ for his efforts in the weights room.

In contrast, Fremantle have no new faces and will be without ex-Gold Coast forward Harley Bennell (calf) and influential ruckman Aaron Sandilands (suspended).

Wallis said the absence of Sandilands was yet another reason for positivity.

“He’s very important to their side. It evens out the ruck battle with (Jordan) Roughead playing against (Jonathon) Griffin

“It’s going to be a good challenge anyway but it does help having the big fella out.”

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