North up for AFL fight against Bulldogs

Forget about North Melbourne’s tall timber exposing an understrength Western Bulldogs defence, Friday night’s AFL blockbuster will be all about winning the footy.

The first-placed and unbeaten Kangaroos meet the second-placed Bulldogs with the winner guaranteed to sit on top of the ladder at the end of the night.

It’s a genuine doozy between two sides who are strangers to the ladder’s rarefied air in recent years.

The Kangaroos are this season’s benchmark for scoring, boasting a three-pronged attack of Drew Petrie, Jarrad Waite and Ben Brown that would stretch any side.

With running defenders Bob Murphy, Matthew Suckling and Jason Johannisen all absentees, it’s tempting to believe North will overpower the Dogs irrespective of what happens on the rest of the field.

North Melbourne coach Brad Scott isn’t buying it.

“If you dig a little bit deeper into the Bulldogs, they’re an exceptional defensive unit,” he said.

“Even though there’s going to be a lot of talk about their injuries, they tend to replace like-for-like very well.”

Instead, Scott believes the match will be won in the centre, with the hunt for the contested ball paramount to winning the match.

Scott clearly remembers their round-22 contest last season, when North Melbourne won the aerial contest and the Bulldogs disabled them on the ground.

“We took an enormous amount of contested marks … but we didn’t win it,” he said.

“(In 2016) while the Bulldogs are a clear number one in contested possession, we’re a clear number two.

“The contest is where it’s key and that was obvious last time.”

Mason Wood is a likely inclusion for the Kangaroos, pulled from the 22 for Kayne Turner at the 11th hour last week with Scott seeking a better forward-line balance against Gold Coast.

Scott bristled at the idea he would be stepping onto enemy territory considering the Bulldogs’ formidable record at Etihad Stadium.

Luke Beveridge’s side have lost once in 14 matches there – a three-point heartstopper against Hawthorn – while the Kangaroos have five losses in that same streak.

On Friday night, Scott has called on Kangaroos fans to snap up the seats that might otherwise be filled with Bulldogs to ensure full home-ground advantage.

“We’ve got to prove we belong on the Friday night stage. North supporters have craved that for a long period of time,” he said.

“We’ve got five Friday night games this year. If we’re going to be fixtured on Friday night, we’ve got to draw the crowd.”

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