NO stranger to the big stage, Jason Johannisen is set to make a prime time AFL return when the Western Bulldogs face Collingwood under lights on Friday at the MCG.
Johannisen, who won the Norm Smith Medal in 2016 after helping the Bulldogs to premiership glory, will play his first game of the season after overcoming an ankle injury.
Coach Luke Beveridge on Thursday confirmed Tom Boyd (back), Lin Jong (hamstring) and Jackson Trengove (ankle/illness) would return through the VFL, while backing Johannisen to make a seamless return against last year’s grand-finalists.
“He’s come back in and played really well historically,” Beveridge said.
“We”ll back that in with JJ. The other lads haven’t got that form line and haven’t got that history.”
The Bulldogs’ fall from the AFL summit over the past two seasons is reflected by the clash against the Magpies being their sole Friday night fixture in 2019.
But the Dogs looked sharp in first-up wins over Hawthorn and Sydney before losing to an inspired Gold Coast by five points last week.
With premiership midfielder Tom Liberatore firing on all cylinders after an injury-ruined 2018, the Bulldogs have shown glimpses of their ferocious 2016 best in winning the contested ball and clearance counts in each of their games.
Last week’s disappointing loss to the Suns reinforced that the rejuvenated Bulldogs remain a work in progress, while Beveridge noted that Collingwood – coming off another loss to West Coast – were also yet to reach peak form.
“I don’t think we really have a handle on the form line of the competition yet; even where Collingwood are at in the scheme of things, no one really knows,” Beveridge said.
“We’ve got a good formula and I think the players believe in it. The system- based aspects of what we do are working.
“It’s just the icing on the cake or just rounding off those edges, that’s what we need to do on both the attacking and the defensive side of the game.”
Star Magpies duo Jeremy Howe and Darcy Moore look set to take on the Bulldogs despite their respective illness and injury concerns.
Howe missed Wednesday’s training session after reporting flu symptoms, while Moore rolled an ankle during the loss to the Eagles.
Coach Nathan Buckley has put the onus on his much-hyped midfielders to improve after being comfortably outpointed by their West Coast counterparts.
“We’ve been a bit hot and cold this year,” Buckley said.
“We need to just (be) getting to work and improving.”
© AAP 2019