MARCUS Bontempelli to be deployed inside 50 more often? Zaine Cordy to reprise his starring role as a makeshift forward? Josh Schache to end his short stint as a defender and return to being a goalkicker? 

The body blow of Josh Bruce's season-ending ACL knee injury was a far bigger hit to the Western Bulldogs than Sunday's mere defeat to Essendon

And now, with just two games remaining before its assault on a second premiership in five years, the Bulldogs are forced to reshuffle what has been the best-performed forward line in the competition.

Bruce has been the Dogs' spearhead this season, with his three majors against the Bombers before his last-second knee twist pushing him to second in the Coleman Medal with 48 goals. It had been a remarkable turnaround based on a huge summer and tough fitness regime after his debut Dogs season in 2020 didn't go as planned.

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Star Dog goes down clutching knee

Western Bulldog Josh Bruce suffers a knee injury in this late incident

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But the former Saint's absence now leaves the premiership favourites without their key goalkicker three weeks before a qualifying final. 

They still have Aaron Naughton, who would be the leading man in most forward lines, while Jamarra Ugle-Hagan is a month into his time as an AFL player. But coach Luke Beveridge admitted some on-the-run changes would have to be made.

"When you consider that 'Marra' has played five games now, is he ready to rip apart the last two games and a finals series? I don't think any young key forward, maybe other than Dermott [Brereton] in his first game when he kicked five (in a semi-final) has done that," Beveridge said post-game on Sunday. 

"We have 'Naughts' down there and what you're alluding to is who are the next ones? We'll have to dig deep and we might have to do it a bit of a different way as we have in the past and that affects your decisions and probably your ball use going inside 50 a little bit more.

"The challenge of this caper from a coaching point of view is finding a way when the template changes."

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So what do the Dogs and Beveridge do?

For a start, they will likely bring back Cody Weightman, whose energy as a small forward who can go above his head was missed against the Bombers while he was managed. 

Cody Weightman launches high over Max Gawn for a spectacular mark in round 19, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Medium goalkicker Mitch Hannan, who also missed the Essendon defeat due to a shoulder injury, will also be in the mix and is a reliable goalkicker. 

The Bulldogs could change their midfield mix and send Bontempelli deeper into attack more often as a marking target. 

Their skipper has booted 25 goals this season – placing him third at the club behind Bruce and Naughton – and with Adam Treloar and Josh Dunkley now back in their midfield, Beveridge has a full complement of choices around the ball.

While there are no key forwards waiting at the lower level to be Bruce's immediate replacement, the Dogs could also toy with sending a defender into attack with defensive pair Alex Keath (hamstring) and Ryan Gardner (shoulder) both nearing returns from their injuries. 

It could be Schache, who has had three weeks as a key defender, or Cordy, who could rehash his forward line role from the 2016 premiership win when he provided a contest and brought the ball to ground in an unlikely positional switch.

The other alternative for Beveridge is to hold fire and hope that ruckman Stefan Martin can return from his groin injury to free up Tim English to spend more time as a leading target near goal, or even bring back young ruck Jordon Sweet

English has kicked a career-high 17 goals this year, of which 10 came in the seven games he and Martin played together before injuries struck.

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English executes his best as top Dog

Tim English was best afield in his side's impressive win over the Lions, clunking a series of tough marks and slotting three goals

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