Despite having the rare luxury of taking an unchanged side into Saturday’s AFL preliminary final against Greater Western Sydney, the Western Bulldogs could yet be boosted by the surprise return of speedster Lin Jong.
Coach Luke Beveridge says Jong could be recalled if he makes it through training, having recovered well from a cracked collarbone.
Jong was initially thought to be out for the season with a broken collarbone after he landed awkwardly in a tackle in the Dogs’ elimination final victory over West Coast, but it has since emerged the injury is not so severe.
The club will decide whether Jong comes straight back into the senior side or returns through the VFL, which would pave the way for him to play in the grand final if the Bulldogs beat GWS.
“We’ll train today and we’ll see how he goes,” Beveridge said on Thursday.
“It’ll be up to him in the end. If he comes through and says ‘yeah, look I’m right to go’ then he’ll definitely be picked at one level. We’ve just got to decide which.
“We’ve put a little plate in there, so it’s probably stronger than the bone now. It’s just how he feels.”
Jong, who is out of contract and has been linked to a move to either Gold Coast or Collingwood, was distraught on the bench after the injury.
The Bulldogs have been among the teams worst hit by injuries this season and have not gone into a game with an unchanged lineup since their clash against St Kilda in round two.
Beveridge believes the side is gelling at just the right time after struggling to find continuity earlier in the year.
The second-year coach says the Dogs are playing their best football of his tenure and have found a new gear offensively, helped partly by a “handball club” designed to help them take advantage of turnovers with rapid ball movement.
“We’ve felt like we’ve created a lot of opportunities throughout the year and just haven’t been able to capitalise,” he said.
“Sometimes you put that down to the sophistication of the opposition’s defence but we were seeing a lot of circumstances where it was just us and we should have done a little bit better.
“We’ve started to capitalise on more of those opportunities.”
The Bulldogs will hold a light training session at Spotless Stadium on Friday, having only played at the ground once before.
Beveridge says GWS have been impressive across the ground but it will take a concerted effort to contain the run and spread of their star-studded midfield.
“They’ve been able to take control of games,” he said.
“I think our midfield over the last two weeks have dominated the games with a really even spread. If we can get that again it’s going to really help us.”