NORTH Melbourne coach Rhyce Shaw admits he may have made the wrong call in playing star onballer Ben Cunnington on Saturday night as he continues to battle a back complaint.
Cunnington was a late withdrawal the past two games and was in doubt throughout this week but Shaw rubber-stamped his selection after watching him go through his game warm-up.
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The dual club champion started in the centre square but his movement – admittedly never a strength – appeared laboured and a subsequent knock to his sore back rendered him almost useless.
Cunnington left the field briefly in the opening quarter and received treatment to his groin before returning as a forward, where he was barely able to get off the ground.
He spent most of the third term on the bench, and Shaw pulled the pin on his night at three-quarter time, with the Roos on their way to a convincing 49-point defeat to the Western Bulldogs.
They have now lost three straight games after a 2-0 start.
"(Cunnington) copped a knock early and then it just didn't get any better. He wasn't giving us anything from then on in, so it's really disappointing," Shaw said.
"He was in doubt all week, as we stated early in the week, and he got up and we were confident and I made a decision to play him, so that's where it sits.
"It possibly was the wrong call but we were really confident, to be honest, on all the evidence we were given … I was really confident with the way he was going and he warmed up really well, so it's just what it is."
Cunnington's woes exacerbated captain Jack Ziebell's absence, and Shaw's ploy to tag Marcus Bontempelli with Luke McDonald meant Shaun Higgins was moved to half-forward.
McDonald kept Marcus Bontempelli to 12 disposals and won 15 of his own in what proved an inspired move but the Roos still lost the clearances and hurt themselves with their ball movement.
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have won three matches in a row after copping two hidings to start the season, with coach Luke Beveridge describing the bounce back as "encouraging".
They kicked comfortably their highest score of the year – headlined by recruit Josh Bruce's six goals – and haven't conceded more than 39 points during their win streak.
"We feel like (Bruce)'s been working really hard and competing his tail off, and tonight he really got the rewards," Beveridge said.
"When he had a look at it and a jump at it, he was so strong and he obviously converted, so he got the spoils for the foundations he's laid.
"I get the public concern and even intrigue around maybe the fact an acquisition or a boy who's moved over to a club isn't getting the spoils but we've been happy with what he's been doing (and) the way he's worked.
"He's been really positive and I'm rapt for him tonight to be able to get the roses to bloom."
Beveridge was also rapt with Tim English's latest strong ruck showing against in-form big man Todd Goldstein, even suggesting he might have tossed into the bin "an old skeleton in the closet".
English has had a steep learning curve against the likes of Goldstein, Brodie Grundy and Max Gawn but the coach said his strengths – especially his marking – were shining through.
Lachie Hunter is set to earn an instant call-up next week from his four-game suspension, with Bailey Smith and Laitham Vandermeer (concussion) and Lin Jong (ankle) hurting themselves.