Marcus Bontempelli warms up ahead of the R14 match between Western Bulldogs and Fremantle at Marvel Stadium on June 15, 2024. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

WESTERN Bulldogs captain Marcus Bontempelli is yet to be cleared to face North Melbourne on Saturday after suffering back spasms at training this week. 

The five-time All-Australian completed a light captain's run at the Whitten Oval on Friday morning and will undergo further testing indoors later in the day. 

Bontempelli overcame the flu before the bye to produce a best-on-ground performance in a 63-point win over Fremantle in round 14, surging to third in the coaches' award to solidify his standing as one of the Brownlow Medal favourites. 

"He is going to have a little test indoors so you might not see him and you may not know if he's playing. He is feeling OK but we just want to make sure," coach Luke Beveridge said. 

"From the probability point of view, he is more above 50 per cent, but I can't tell you if he is going to play or not, in total honesty. 

"As you can imagine with someone like Marcus, if he thinks he will be better tomorrow we will probably back that in.


"As has been documented, he has been quite ill a couple of times and I suppose during the week when he has had the flu and you wonder if he is going to be able to do anything strenuous, some of us might just step off or flip the bails but he is obviously able to push through."

With Aaron Naughton returning from an MCL injury after a month on the sidelines and Sam Darcy back from suspension, the Bulldogs will play all four key forwards against the Kangaroos for the first time in 2024, with Rory Lobb retaining his spot alongside Jamarra Ugle-Hagan. 

Aaron Naughton is helped off the field after hurting his knee during the Western Bulldogs' loss to Sydney in round 11, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

Beveridge said the Bulldogs opted for selection integrity after Lobb's performance against Fremantle – 19 disposals, three goals – with the development of Darcy this year providing the ability to trial all four in the same 23. 

"Philosophically, from a management and a coaching point of view, you just can't omit a player like Lobby who was probably in our six most influential players against Fremantle. It is just not right, it is almost like Darwinism in the team and natural selection, so he has to play," he said.

"I couldn't walk up to Rory and say we can't fit you in on team balance. Let's face it, at his best, he is a very, very good player. Fitting them all into the front end will be a challenge at times, so you'll have to hang on and look at the variations and where they will all play.

"It is the land of the giants. we haven't had the three 205cm+ in the same team much at all. during the pre-season last year we did – and that was against North Melbourne, coincidentally – and it looked OK. During that period, Sam was still in the infancy of what AFL football was all about and maybe not quite ready at that point in time. A year and a bit on, with his maturity and he is the keystone with whether or not you can do it, I think he allows us to do it."

Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Rory Lobb celebrate a goal during the Western Bulldogs' clash against Fremantle in round 14, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

The Bulldogs dropped Buku Khamis on Thursday and didn't replace him with a defender alongside Liam Jones and James O'Donnell. Lobb is being considered as an option down back, with former first-round pick Jedd Busslinger still waiting for his first chance at AFL level.

All-Australian Caleb Daniel has been squeezed out of the 23 again with his future at the club up in the air, despite the 2020 Charles Sutton medallist being contracted until the end of 2026.

Beveridge wouldn't rule out the South Australian replacing Bontempelli if the skipper doesn't prove his fitness, but said Daniel needed a full game in the VFL to find form after a patchy start to 2024. 

"We covered this ground earlier in the year, haven't we?" he said. "We're picking the team on performance and roles. 'CD' was the sub last game. He came on and played an important role. We feel it's best he has a full game at Footscray this week. 

"It is a bit of a form line thing and Oskar Baker has been chipping away, his attitude has been tremendous. It is pressure for spots more than anything."

After starting the season 3-5, the Dogs remain in the finals race after reaching the bye 7-7 to sit one game outside the eight in 11th spot on the ladder.