WESTERN Bulldogs superstar Marcus Bontempelli could be set for more time as a permanent forward after kicking three goals in the 68-point win over North Melbourne on Good Friday.
Luke Beveridge sat down with the four-time All-Australian midfielder inside the Whitten Oval during the week to discuss a role change in a bid ease the burden on key forward Aaron Naughton, who has lacked support since Josh Bruce tore his ACL late last season.
While Bailey Smith (43 disposals), Jack Macrae (29) and Adam Treloar (28) went to work on the Kangaroos' midfield at Marvel Stadium, Bontempelli spent most of the game partnering Naughton in attack, with the young West Australian finishing with 5.3 to move to 13 goals for the season.
KANGAROOS v BULLDOGS Full match coverage and stats
With Bruce ahead of schedule but not expected to be available for senior selection until July, and 2020 No. 1 pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan still finding his feet, Beveridge is spinning the magnets to keep the Bulldogs' premiership dream alive in 2022.
"It's probably the first time we've gone in with a plan to play Marcus for longer periods just as a forward and it changed throughout the course of the game. He's kicked three in the end; it's not all about the goals but he's definitely helped others in there and that helps 'Marra' (Ugle-Hagan) a little bit," Beveridge said in his post-match press conference.
"The complexion of our forward line has changed quite dramatically from how we started the year, so it was great to see 10 goalkickers and the multiples are important. He (Bontempelli) had a really telling effect on the game as a forward.
"I had a conversation with him during the week around what the balance of his game in a perfect world, what would he want and what we think the team needs now. Between the two of us we discussed the early part of the game playing predominantly forward. He wanted to do that for the team and he didn’t need an arm up behind his back. He is such a great character.
"The balance of his time between midfield and forward will continue to change week to week. His presence – he is obviously a very big, powerful midfielder – he's got key forward, key back dimensions. I thought his craft was quite good in the air for someone who doesn’t play forward a lot."
Beveridge said the club is concerned Riley Garcia has suffered a serious knee injury for the second time, after the young midfielder-forward tore his ACL in a state game for Western Australia in 2019.
The 21-year-old was replaced by Mitch Wallis during the half-time break and will undergo scans to determine the severity of the injury, after experiencing discomfort late in the second quarter.
"We are a bit worried about him. We have to be a bit non-committal (right now, because) our guys want to scan him," he said.
"He's had some trauma there before with reconstructions. He was incapacitated so he had to come off. The exact nature of the injury we will have to wait and see what the scan shows up. It's not ideal. I thought the early part of his game was really influential so it's a real shame for him and for the team."
Bulldogs vice-captain Macrae spent 20 minutes off the ground in the second half following a head knock, before the ball magnet was cleared of concussion and permitted to return for the closing stages of the game.
Beveridge was thrilled with the way the Western Bulldogs started the game, racing to a 45-point lead at the first break, but the 2016 premiership-winning coach was disappointed with the way his side let the Kangaroos back into the game in the second quarter.
"I was pleased, but it was a little bit disconcerting after quarter-time. No doubt the Kangaroos found an edge in their game to challenge us that little bit more, but we went away from some of the fundamental things that worked well for us early," he said.
"We're always searching for the perfect game and there was a lot right about this afternoon. The way we've started the year we can't choose as beggars. Some really good things, but some things we need to work on."
North Melbourne has now lost the past three Good Friday games by an average margin of 84.7 points, on the back of last year's 128-point massacre, which looked like being repeated at quarter-time.
But despite a dismal record in the marquee slot, Kangaroos coach David Noble thinks the fixture is about much more than the premiership points and the club shouldn’t be at risk of losing rights to the game.
"We're fighting tooth and nail on this game. We love this game. We are very privileged to play this game. We would not expect to lose this game. I want to make it clear from our club's perspective: we expect to play in this game every year," Noble told reporters on Friday night.
"Between us and the Bulldogs in the last six or seven years, we've worked really hard to make this a marquee game. It's not just about the game. If you go back and have a look at the history of marquee games, there are a lot of other clubs that haven’t hit the mark with those marquee games. Over a period of time you are able to wrestle things together, improve performance and therefore those marquee games hold."
While the Western Bulldogs remained in touch with the top-eight by moving to 2-3, North Melbourne is now 1-4 with the worst percentage in the AFL after five rounds.