The heat will be on youngster Jack Macrae to back up last week’s heroics when the Western Bulldogs host Essendon on Sunday.
Macrae, whose defensive game has been under heavy scrutiny, gave a tremendous all-round performance as he gathered 43 disposals last week in the Bulldogs’ upset win over Gold Coast in Cairns.
Essendon (9-7 win-loss) have finals football in their sights after upsetting Port Adelaide and Collingwood in the past two rounds.
The Bulldogs (6-10) meanwhile are working on developing their outside game, having already established themselves as genuine hard nuts in the contested-possessions area.
Macrae, 19, represents the new face of the Bulldogs.
“On the weekend his defensive running was fantastic,” Bulldogs’ assistant coach Steven King told AAP this week.
“We treat all our young mids the same way. We don’t want to be a team that just rewards players purely on possessions or fantasy points.
“We review their running patterns, and most of the time without the footy.
“When he got to the club he’d never really thought about that part of his game before.”
King says the Bulldogs are developing a new-look side.
“Marcus Bontempelli, Lachie Hunter, Nathan Hrovat, Jason Johannisen with 25 possessions last week, it’s just a different mix,” King said.
“We feel like at the right time some young players have put their hands up, they’ve earnt a spot.
“They’ve just added that extra run and exuberance.
“It’s about finding that balance. We don’t want to be a team that’s just all contested.
“We think we’ve added players to complement some hard nuts we’ve got around the ball.
“Adam Cooney and Ryan Griffen are back this week. They add a lot of leg speed as well.”
Tom Liberatore, with 13.8 contested possessions per game, leads the Bulldogs in the midfield-grunt department.
Essendon’s Michael Hibberd, Brent Stanton and David Zaharakis are three of the top-11 players in the league for uncontested possessions, while Macrae outranks them all in fifth spot with 18.7 per game.
The Bombers regain in-form duo Michael Hibberd and Brendon Goddard.
In their round-seven meeting earlier this year, Essendon triumphed by eight points.
Essendon assistant coach Simon Goodwin says the Bombers are preparing for a tight contest. The Bulldogs have won three of their past five games.
“They’ve got some young kids playing some really exciting footy,” Goodwin said.