The Western Bulldogs insist captain Marcus Bontempelli is ready to handle any physical punishment Greater Western Sydney intends in to inflict when the two fierce rivals clash on Friday night.
That the two teams do no like each other has been obvious since the Bulldogs unexpectedly toppled the Giants in the 2016 preliminary final on their way to a breakthrough flag, and there has been much spite in their matches since.
The Giants went after Bontempelli in the 2019 elimination final and tension overflowed in round three last year at Marvel Stadium when almost all 44 players were involved in a brawl either side of Tom Liberatore’s goal after the three-quarter-time siren, in a match the Dogs made a statement by winning by four goals.
Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said on Wednesday his team, enjoying a 5-0 start to the season for the first time in 75 years, had grown considerably as a result of these battles, and would be ready for any fireworks in the latest bout in Canberra.
“They have really challenged us from a physical point of view historically and [we] came back reasonably hard and stood our ground at the start of the last year, which was an important game for us when you consider how our year started and what was going on around us with the pandemic. It got us back on track,” he said.
“I think our players have realised that to be one of the better teams in the competition you have to be as combative and as competitive as the next. We, probably a few years ago, became a bit vulnerable when our most contested players and our experienced players went out of the team through injury.
“I don’t think it necessarily took its toll but you do feel uneasy about it for a period of time. There is no doubt our team is as equipped as ever from an experience point of view to sustain a run which we are doing at the moment.”
One man now better equipped is the masterful Bontempelli, who had been targeted by the Giants after an incident with Nick Haynes in round 22, 2019, which left the Giants defender nursing a fractured larynx. Bontempelli was roughed up in the ’19 elimination final while being restricted to only 13 disposals.