Ruck duel crucial in Tigers-Dogs clash

KARL Dwyer is just four games into his Merrivale coaching career but already knows one thing about matches against Dennington — they tend to be close.

Dwyer is expecting no different when the Tigers welcome the Dogs to Merrivale Recreation Reserve for the third-versus-first blockbuster today.

“It will take a four-quarter performance (to win), I wouldn’t think it’d be a blowout,” the former Koroit premiership player said.

The ledger stands at 6-2 the Tigers’ way since 2011, but only two of those eight matches have had margins bigger than 30 points.

Another close contest is on the cards today, with both sides recruiting well and starting their campaigns with promise.

Dennington is unbeaten and on top while Merrivale has won its past three, methodically dismantling Old Collegians last time out.

The spines and onball brigades of both sides make for just as good reading as the form lines.

Jet Dowie, Brad Kelly and Joe Woonton to lead the line up forward for Merrivale, Chris Keilar, Luke Duncan and Alex Pye do likewise for Dennington.

The Tigers will turn to Dwyer, Josh Sobey, Sam Gleeson and James Kelly in the midfield, arguably the best in the competition.

But the Dogs’ own ball winners are similarly impressive — Brandon Edwards, Jono Nevill, Jordan Greene and Dustin McCorkell.

If there was a noticeable difference between the rivals, it’s in the ruck. Tigers Manny Sandow and Rhys Raymond take on Dogs teen Josh Lock.

It’s a distinct size advantage Dwyer believes his side must capitalise on — “our ruck brigade is pretty strong at the moment”.

“I know they’ve got a handy player in Lock. But we’re going to have it over most clubs, we’re blessed with having Rhys and Manny,” he said. 

“We’d like to think if we can use our big men better, we could have an advantage there.”

Merrivale will be without leading forward James Fary (unavailable) for the match. Defender Nathan McInerney will also miss with a hamstring injury.

Defender Mark Stewart and forward Matthew Auld, a prolific goalkicker at reserves level the past two seasons, are the additions.

Dennington has included creative defenders Chris Vickery and Nick Short, along with Geoff Keane, at the expense of Chris Paton and Matt O’Rourke.

Dogs coach Ben Parkinson said his players knew the size of the challenge that awaited them. The Dogs’ 4-0 record has come with a comparatively easier draw.

“We made the boys aware this is going up to a different level to who we have played so far, no disrespect to them,” he said.

“Merrivale are touted as one of the top-four sides. We’ve been spoken about amongst them as well.”

Parkinson believed the match would be determined by whichever side could get “the most supply without pressure into their forward line”.

“Either forward line is capable of kicking a winning score. It’ll come down to midfield pressure,” he said.

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