"IT'S all about the future now."
That was Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge's most revealing line in the aftermath of his side's eventual hard-fought 17-point victory over Sydney at Marvel Stadium on Saturday night.
The man who led the club to the drought-ending 2016 premiership could have been excused for more short-term thinking, especially after a rampaging first half where his Bulldogs kicked six goals to one.
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Instead, Beveridge, ever the realist, stayed on plan just one week into the new season, after scraping together only eight wins a year ago.
"It is a very new team and, obviously, Bailey Smith played his first game tonight and 'Lloydy' (Sam Lloyd) and Taylor (Duryea) played their first games for the club and the mix is a bit different," the coach told reporters.
"Tim English hasn't played a lot of ruck and so we're trying to bed down something that provides a really good platform every week – and tonight there were some really encouraging signs.
"It's all about the future now. Things have changed and it's all new and we've got great faith and hope that it's all going to be positive from here on in.
"But the main thing is that the boys continue to fight – win, lose or draw – and hopefully our season is consistent, but we play Hawthorn next week … so a new challenge awaits."
The Dogs led by as many as 40 points early in the third term, but by just four a quarter later after conceding eight of the next 10 goals, so their ability to steady themselves again was a bright point.
Beveridge's forward thinking was part of why he switched outstanding teenage prospect Aaron Naughton from defence into attack late in the pre-season.
Naughton was arguably best afield against Sydney, kicking three goals and impressing with his aerial work, and even went down back late when the Swans threatened to spoil the Dogs' night.
Beveridge pointed to developing key backman Lewis Young and 2016 premiership player Fletcher Roberts – who both played in the VFL earlier in the day – as reasons for why Naughton is most needed up forward.
"It was reasonably late (in our preparation) … but 'Naughts' has listened to all the messaging about what we're doing in our forward half," he said.
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"So he's been schooled in it, even though he hasn't played there, and he's taken to it like a duck to water, so that's encouraging.
"I thought he was very, very good again tonight and he really helped us when we swung him back late."
In other talking points from the press conference:
- Beveridge had no issue with the way Matthew Suckling suffered his ankle injury in the opening term, when his right foot appeared to get stuck in the Marvel Stadium surface.
- He said he planned to continue with a small backline, headlined by 193cm Zaine Cordy, believing they could hold up well if the pressure further afield was sufficient
- Beveridge continued his campaign about the AFL's restriction on runner use, arguing "the art of coaching" was being limited too much
- Dual ACL victim Tom Liberatore's performance pleased the coach, who said replacing his "grunt and physicality at the contest" was difficult in his absence