North Melbourne coach Brad Scott admits Marcus Bontempelli in the club’s crosshairs on Saturday night but denies bad blood between the AFL rivals.
The 20-year-old star was roughed up and set upon even before the first bounce in the Western Bulldogs’ 14-point win over the Kangaroos on Saturday night.
Michael Firrito and Bontempelli’s cousin Nick Dal Santo were in the thick of the action, with plenty of Kangaroos making themselves known to the midfielder.
With plenty of feeling in the air, the obvious link was to Bontempelli’s comments from their previous encounter, when he accused Lindsay Thomas of a “malicious” hit on Lachie Hunter.
Bontempelli tactfully ignored a question about what drove the Kangaroos’ interest in him, but said it was certainly noticeable.
“Everyone in the stadium knew … I got a great deal support from my teammates and it makes a physical night a great deal easier,” he told 3AW.
“It’s footy and that’s what we’ve come to expect in this game. Physicality and aggression.
“They had my number tonight. You’ve got to wear it sometimes.”
Melees at quarter-time and half-time look likely to earn the AFL a tidy sum in player fines, and there seemed to be too much gusto to be
Both Scott and Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said it was purely about the contest.
“We certainly targeted him,” Scott said.
“Not in a manner that is untoward. He’s a key player.
“Without disrespecting the rest of their midfield he’s their best midfielder in my view … we really felt if we could get on top of him we could get on top of their midfield.”
Beveridge accepted that argument, saying he was an obvious candidate for a hard tag.
“You didn’t have to be Nostradamus to know it was going to happen,” he said.
“There was a bit of angst in the game and it happened last time we played them as well.
“For our group to be ready for that and stand up for it was enormous.
Beveridge said he “loved” the game by his boy wonder.
There is no doubt the Kangaroos, like everyone, think if we stop Marcus Bontempelli we are a chance to stop their midfield,” he said.
“But he is made of pretty special substances, Marcus, and his teammates will always support him.
“He has just got enormous courage and has enormous character.”