Bruce injury to force Bulldogs forward line restructure
By Lance Jenkinson
The Western Bulldogs’ worst fears might have been realised with key forward Josh Bruce ending Sunday’s 13-point loss to Essendon at Marvel Stadium clutching at his knee.
Playing in his 150th AFL game, Bruce was left grimacing at the final siren, knowing in all likelihood that his season was over with a serious knee injury.
In his post game press conference, Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said that scans will be needed to determine the extent of the injury.
Bruce will be hoping for a miracle.
What does Bruce’s absence mean for the Bulldogs forward line approaching finals?
You never want to head into the penultimate round of the season trying to find a solution for the loss of your leading goalkicker.
If there is a coach who thrives on throwing around the magnets, it is Beveridge.
Time to get creative
Could a more unpredictable, smaller forward line, like the one the Bulldogs rolled out in 2016, work again?
The like-for-like replacements for Bruce are thin, so Bevo will need to get creative.
Thanks to the depth on the list, he has no shortage of options.
The emergence of rookie Jamarra Ugle-Hagan will partly solve the problem, given that he could slide into the role Bruce played before his own elevation from the VFL.
Ugle-Hagan is raw, but he is a competitor, and might thrive with the extra responsibility as the second key forward next to Aaron Naughton.Embed from Getty Images
Can young gun Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, right, be part of the solution to fill the Josh Bruce void?
Mitch Hannan is starting to find his feet with the Bulldogs and will be called on more now as an aerial threat.
A fleet of hungry smalls will be putting their hands up, including Cody Weightman, Lachie McNeil, Laitham Vandermeer, Rhylee West and Mitch Wallis.
Weightman, who was managed for the Essendon game, seems a lock, but McNeil, Vandermeer, West and Wallis should be putting their hands up for selection.
A wildcard marking target could be Hayden Crozier.
Crozier has been out of form in defence and found himself on the outer, but he has played some football as a forward in his younger days and is a real jack in the box.
Lewis Young must be considered because of the versatility he can provide the line up.
The bold move at Beveridge’s disposal could be deploying Jordon Sweet, who has spent most of the season in the VFL, into the starting ruck role and sending dangerous tall Tim English forward to stretch opposition defences.
Bruce’s void is an issue that undoubtedly needs to be addressed, but it should not be a death knell for the Bulldogs premiership hopes.
For Bruce, the injury is a terrible blow.
The 29-year-old has enjoyed a stellar season with the Bulldogs, sitting equal second in the race for the Coleman Medal with 48 goals.
It will take time for his pain to subside and the mental anguish to ease knowing he will be missing a finals campaign, but Bruce can still play a big role in September, if he is willing.Embed from Getty Images
Josh Bruce is helped to his feet after going down with a knee injury.
When former captain Bob Murphy went down with a knee injury in 2016, he never overcame the individual pain of missing out on a premiership, but he still got a premiership medallion from Beveridge for his impact on the sidelines that year.
Bruce’s knowledge and experience can be a huge asset for the Bulldogs young key forwards Naughton and Ugle-Hagan.
There was a moment early in the loss to Essendon when Bruce was instructing Ugle-Hagan and perhaps that can be his role going forward.
If the Bulldogs can go on to win the premiership, it would be every bit as much Bruce’s as it is the players who don the red, white and blue on grand final day, as long as he can continue to make a positive impact between now and that last Saturday in September.