AFL finals: Western Bulldogs captain Marcus Bontempelli will be close to full fitness for preliminary final
Constant urgings from the Western Bulldogs midfielders and ruckman Stefan Martin’s own desire to play allowed coach Luke Beveridge to make the selection he believes gives his team a “point of difference” for Saturday’s preliminary final showdown with Port Adelaide.
Beveridge also declared that his superstar captain Marcus Bontempelli would play “like nothing happened” having recovered from a knock to his knee in last week’s win over the Brisbane Lions that put him in some doubt.
“He might have a little bit of an ache or a dull pain going into the game, but he’ll be fine,” Beveridge said on Friday.
“There’s no issues at all, there’s no real risk. He’s playing and he’ll move around like nothing happened.”
After a week of “traipsing through the grey areas” when it came to public talk about picking injury-plagued Martin for his first game in 100 days, Beveridge said the influence he could have on the game moved him to make the huge selection call.
Martin played six of the first seven games this season after crossing from the Brisbane Lions and formed a dynamic duo with fellow big man Tom English.
Beveridge said despite fill-in ruckman Lewis Young “having a go” in recent weeks, he acknowledged stoppages was an area that needed to be addressed.
He conceded Martin won’t be at full fitness but hoped he could have enough of an influence for a midfield group that was desperate to get him back in.
“His teammates, because of the influence (Martin) had in the early part of the year, his teammates had this real drive and want for him to play when he’s right,” Beveridge said.
“I’ve been asked questions from his teammates, definitely from the midfielders, ‘Will Stef be right this week?’.
“When you consider what our midfielders have been able to do with the uncertainty around the stoppages, they have done an enormous job.
“But we became a little bit unstable a few weeks ago, we’ve been able to address that.”
Beveridge said Martin’s minutes would have to be managed, but his sheer presence against Port, which the Bulldogs didn’t have in their round 23 encounter, could prove crucial in their quest to progress to the grand final.
“There’s no doubt he’s not totally match fit. He’ll do his bit for the team defence. Whether he gets caught up in any possession chains will just be circumstantial,” he said.
“Our expectations are to really stabilise that stoppage area and help our group play it on our terms which we haven’t been able to against Port Adelaide in particular.
“He gave us enormous stability at the start of the year. He and big Tim worked extremely well together, so if we can get any sort of combination going which looks a little bit familiar to the first half a dozen rounds it’s going to help us. Port haven’ seen that yet.
“It’s probably a point of difference for our team going into tomorrow night. “
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