Bulldogs up for bitter Ballarat AFL battle

Western Bulldogs are prepared for whatever Port Adelaide and a bitterly cold Ballarat will throw at them on Saturday in the latest test of their AFL finals credentials.

Should results not go their way, the Bulldogs could be eliminated from the finals race by losing to the Power.

If West Coast also defeat Greater Western Sydney and Melbourne beat St Kilda, the Bulldogs would need to beat Hawthorn in round 23 by around 100 points to be in contention for a top-eight spot.

As with all finals calculations, it’s all a bit complicated but not to Bulldogs assistant boss Joel Corey.

“It’s pretty simple. If we want to go on and play some finals we need to win,” he said.

And that’s where Ballarat might help.

Initial reports of snow seem far-fetched but the mercury is expected to be in single figures for the first AFL match in the goldrush town.

The Bulldogs say they’re ready to compete with their sixth-placed visitors in windy and cold conditions.

“Let’s just say we know we’re not going to play on the Gold Coast,” Corey said.

“We played a JLT game there so the boys are familiar with the ground and we’ve got an expectation of what the weather can be like. We’re prepared.”

The Bulldogs have returned all-rounder Jason Johannisen and Dale Morris to the side, with Jack Redpath (suspended) and Mitch Wallis (omitted) going out.

Speculation that out-of-sorts midfielder Tom Liberatore might be dropped hasn’t come to pass, with Corey defending the young gun’s form after a 10-touch game last Friday against GWS.

“He’s had a bit of a down season but he’s had a good month even if he was quieter last week,” he said.

“In terms of helping the midfield generate positive movement, he’s performing an extremely good role.”

Port have made changes for the match despite beating in-form Collingwood last Sunday, dropping pair Brendon Ah Chee and Jarman Impey with Jasper Pittard (calf) injured.

Todd Marshall will play his first AFL game, Riley Bonner will line up for his second and Rising Star contender Sam Powell-Pepper resumes.

They’ll all run out to a carnival atmosphere at the recently rebadged 11,000-capacity Mars Stadium.

“Living in a smaller town, when something big happens in the town it generates real energy,” Corey said.

“Hopefully they’ll get to witness a good game of football as well.”

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