The Western Bulldogs will adopt a pack mentality when they attempt to curb the influence of imposing West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui in Sunday’s tantalising encounter at Etihad Stadium.
Led by their dynamic No.1 ruckman, the Eagles average 53 hitouts per game this season – easily the most in the AFL – with Naitanui’s ability to tap the ball to the advantage of his onballers crucial to getting the contest on their own terms.
Mobile Dogs ruckman Jordan Roughead and inexperienced back-up Tom Campbell face a daunting task in opposition to Naitanui but they’ll have plenty of support at ground level.
“It’s not only the ruckmen it’s the whole midfield that’s got to go to work on trying to negate (him),” Bulldogs assistant coach Daniel Giansiracusa told AAP.
“We understand that he’s going to get his hands on the ball but if we can make that under as much pressure as possible by having our ruckmen jumping at the highest point and jumping into him a bit then our midfielders will go to work on owning space around that stoppage.
“His athletic attributes are second to none … so that’s why it’s important that the guys around the contest have a good idea where their opponent is because he’s the best in the comp for hits to advantage.”
Coach Luke Beveridge admitted his side dodged a bullet last week when they snuck past an injury-ravaged Collingwood, but he stuck with the same line-up at the selection table.
The Eagles regained Elliot Yeo and Andrew Gaff, while high-profile recruit Lewis Jetta was dropped along with Thomas Cole.
Both sides have 7-3 win-loss records with the Bulldogs sitting in sixth spot behind fifth-placed West Coast on percentage.
Eagles spearhead Josh Kennedy kicked seven goals when the teams last met in round 21 last season.
Stopping Kennedy, currently second in the Coleman Medal race with 37 goals, won’t be left to one defender alone but impressive mature-age recruit Marcus Adams is a likely opponent.
“He’s faced a few big challenges early in his career but it won’t be just a ‘one man against the other’ approach that we take,” Giansiracusa said of a possible Kennedy-Adams match-up.
“The whole back group really needs to support each other because Kennedy is such a focal point.
“We know that the ball is going to be directed at him a fair bit but we won’t be taking our eyes off the other guys up there either because they can all do some damage.”