The Western Bulldogs’ unsettled forward line – forced to rejig after losing Josh Bruce – remains an unknown quantity in their premiership pursuit after Hawthorn grabbed the four points in a low-scoring affair in Tasmania on Saturday.
While most clubs in the hunt for finals are in the process of settling their best 22, the Dogs are continuing to experiment with their front half ahead of a final-round clash with Port Adelaide.
They went into the contest against the Hawks with Aaron Naughton as their sole tall forward, managing young star Jamarra Ugle-Hagan out of the side, but after 120 minutes they were left with more questions than answers following a 27-point loss.
Bruce had been crucial to his side’s record this season, booting 48 goals from 20 matches until his season-ending knee injury in last week’s loss to Essendon. But the Dogs are still waiting on ruckman Stef Martin (groin) to return to the side to allow coach Luke Beveridge to potentially send Tim English into attack.
Tall defender Ryan Gardner, returning from a shoulder injury, was also unavailable on Saturday after attending a tier-2 exposure site in Victoria, which left him locked out of Tasmania.
The Dogs forwards were denied supply on Saturday, limited to just 35 inside-50s against the Hawks, who added another win to the Alastair Clarkson farewell tour.
Among the key contributors for the Hawks – who were without Jaeger O’Meara and James Worpel – Daniel Howe recorded a career-high 34 disposals and a goal, while Chad Wingard was superb with 26 and a major.
“We’ve got one to go, and I can recall in 2006 – and I hope it mirrors that next week – but in 2006 we finished with four wins in the last part of the season and really launched into 2007 and a finals campaign,” Clarkson said. ″I’m not suggesting that will necessarily happen, but I’d like to think our team is well-placed to bounce next year.”
The Dogs had just two goals to their name at half-time, through small forwards Cody Weightman and Mitch Hannan, going at just 31.8 per cent efficiency inside-50, and ended up booting just five goals for the afternoon.