Eagles better be at their best, because these Dogs are hunting

Tom Liberatore was a thorn in the Eagles side last time they played.
Tom Liberatore was a thorn in the Eagles side last time they played.

There’s been much discussion about the AFL’s bye week before the finals, and the one side that’s cashed in the most is the Western Bulldogs.

Without it, the Doggies would have been forced into two trips to Perth in a week, and would have been been struggling in their rush to nurse key personnel back to fitness for Thursday night’s elimination final.

Three of the Dogs’ prime movers, Easton Wood, Tom Liberatore and Jack Macrae, have been declared right to go by coach Luke Beveridge.

They knew their Round 23 clash with Fremantle was worthless, so they played in a spirit of self preservation.

On Thursday night, there will be no such reticence – and the Eagles can expect the sort of manic, ferocious attack on the ball that spurred the Dogs to an eight-point win at Docklands in Round 11.

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(That margin was flattered by a late Eagles surge, and the Dogs missing four easy set-shots early in the last term.)

Liberatore, nearly 20 years after his old man gave Ben Cousins hell at the WACA, looms as a particular threat – he’s a contested ball beast, and kicked three the last time the teams met.

When the Dogs are up and going, no side moves the ball better by hand in close, and with the Eagles ruck stocks at a particularly low ebb, they face an uphill battle in the middle of the ground.

In fact, probably the only benefit the Eagles will take out of the bye is the fact big Scott Lycett will get an extra week to rest his sore left knee, a PCL strain he has been nursing since mid-season.

Other than that, the week off has done the club no favours at all – enforcing a rest when their confidence was as high as it’s been all season.

The past three weeks have seen Matt Priddis, Luke Shuey and Andrew Gaff reach the standards they set last year.

And riding shotgun is youngster Dom Sheed, a bona fide weapon when fully fit.

That group managed to maintain their dominance against the Crows, in spite of the absence of Nic Naitanui, and they’ll need to do likewise against the Dogs.

Players who had been criticised for their performances this year – Jamie Cripps, Chris Masten and Mark LeCras – are looking better.

If any Eagle’s position looks a tad shaky it’s livewire Elliott Yeo, a man whose athletic prowess astounds, while his decision making confounds.

Most observers are picking the Eagles in a canter, and it looks a reasonable assessment given they’ve only lost once at Subiaco all year.

But Beveridge’s Dogs have a spirit and verve few sides can match, and it would not surprise if they’re barking at the business end of Thursday night’s clash.