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Round 2 – Western Bulldogs v Sydney: Preview



The Weekend Preview: Round 2

Western Bulldogs v Sydney Swans

Friday Night, 31st March 2017 at Etihad Stadium

by Adrian Eassom


… 13 seconds, oh it’s on, chase, chase for your life as hard as you can, the flashpoint 5 seconds out, they’ll hang on the Dogs, they are going to hang on, mark this day down Western Bulldogs fans, Saturday May the 2nd 2015.


Anthony Hudson in commentary for Fox Sports

Western Bulldogs vs. Sydney Swans, May 2nd 2015


May 2nd 2015 was the day the Western Bulldogs announced to the football world that they were no longer pushovers. Although as impressive a performance as it was at the time, I don’t think anyone envisaged that 16 months down the line they were going to experience the drama, excitement and ultimate glory that was their 2016 finals series. The Bulldogs securing only their second premiership cup, 62 years after Charlie Sutton led the Bulldogs (including a young Ted Whitten) to the premiership in 1954. And fittingly, the team they beat in the 2016 Grand Final was the same team they beat back in that Round 5 2015 encounter.


However, this 2015 fixture has perhaps been overshadowed by the two classic 2016 encounters between the two teams – the Grand Final and the dramatic SCG clash in Round 15 with Jason Johannisen kicking the match-winner with only seconds remaining. So in case you don’t remember it, here is the closing 2 minutes again:


Delving into the stats of this game, one statistic stands out above all – the contested possession count[1]: Sydney Swans 178, Western Bulldogs 178. In terms of contested possessions nothing could separate the two teams. The Bulldogs had matched Sydney (the renowned contested ball team), contested possession for contested possession. But it is actually the total contested possession count (356) that tells you all you need to know about what type of game this was. To put into context, in that same round the next highest contested possession match total was 299 and the average of the other 8 games was 258. If you like watching fiercely contested footy this was a match for you.


This reputation for contested football for both teams over the last few years is well founded. Table-1 presents the contested possession rankings for 2016, both in terms of average number of contested possessions per game and average contested possession differential per game[2]. In both instances the Swans and the Bulldogs sit in the top 3. What is also interesting is the team that sits in last place for both metrics, but I’ll save that discussion for another day.


Now that we have established that their reputation as dominant contested possession teams is justified, how has that translated to wins and losses for both teams? Figure-1 presents the relationship between contested possession differential and match margin for both the Swans and the Bulldogs in 20162. As is evident by the trend line in the plot, there is a positive correlation between contested possession differential and match margin.


As a league as a whole in 2016, the team that won the contested possession count won the match on 70% of occasions. Hence, although it is still possible to win matches if you don’t win the contested possession count, you are certainly putting yourself at a disadvantage. And the proof was in the pudding in that it was the Swans and the Bulldogs that made it through to the big dance, and both losing preliminary finalists (Geelong and GWS) also ranking well in the contested possession metrics. The two matches between the Bulldogs and the Swans in 2016 were also illustrative. In the Round 15 contest, the Bulldogs won a tight contested possession count 155-154, which translated to the narrow 4 point win. Whilst in the Grand Final the Bulldogs had the edge in the contested footy stakes, winning the contested possession count by 23, translating this to a 22 point win. As summarised in Table-2, despite the small sample size, the trend suggests a relationship between the contested possession differential and match margin between these two teams2.





So what happened in Round 1 on the weekend? Surprisingly both teams were comfortably beaten in the contested possession count (see Table-3 and Table-4)2. For Sydney this was particularly concerning, as their contested possession count (139) matched their lowest total from 2016 (when they were smashed by 42 points by GWS in Round 12). The Round 1 humbling was also against a Port Adelaide side that relied little on their best player Robbie Gray who in 2016 averaged 14 contested possessions per game. Port Adelaide instead spread the load across a fleet of strong-bodied midfielders led by Ollie Wines (16 contested possessions), with even ruckman Patrick Ryder getting his hands dirty (13). As for the Bulldogs, they were fortunate the Magpies didn’t make the most of their dominance, with the Magpies entering inside forward 50 eighteen more times that the Bulldogs (62-44) but with only one more scoring shot. The midfield is Collingwood’s strength, so this is no disgrace for the Bulldogs, but they will want to improve on that showing.











  1. bob.speechley says

    Many thanks for your insightful analysis of the contested possession count between the Swans and The Bulldogs

    Looking forward to the unveiling of the flag and the resumption of hostilities between the two sides.

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