Marcus Bontempelli’s knee scare has left the Western Bulldogs facing a potential captaincy conundrum ahead of their preliminary final against Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval next Saturday night.
Having escaped with a one-point victory over the Brisbane Lions in a heartstopping semi-final at the Gabba on Saturday night, the Bulldogs flew to Perth – where they will be based during the week – on Sunday with the superstar’s availability for rest of the season up in the air.
Marcus Bontempelli is helped off the Gabba on Saturday night.Credit:Getty
Bontempelli was on the bench for the dying moments of the win over Brisbane after hurting his knee late in the game.
The club said it was unsure whether the skipper had been seriously hurt, with Bontempelli set to have scans in Western Australia. The Dogs said on Sunday that an update was unlikely until Monday.
While Bontempelli told Channel Seven straight after the game that he “should be all right,” coach Luke Beveridge said it was difficult to know the extent of the damage to the champion’s knee.
Not only would Bontempelli – last week voted by his peers as the league’s most valuable player – be a huge loss from a pure playing perspective, it would also leave the Dogs with a leadership void.
The Dogs entered 2021 with a streamlined leadership structure of just a captain and a vice-captain. But Bontempelli’s deputy is Mitch Wallis, who has played just six AFL matches for the season and was an emergency on Saturday night.
However, Wallis is in the frame for a recall, given small forward Cody Weightman is set to miss the match against the Power after a head knock in the first half against the Lions.
That means Wallis could conceivably captain his side in a preliminary final – and maybe even a grand final – despite not playing an AFL game since round 17.
Mitch Wallis trains late last month.Credit:Getty
Of the club’s leadership group from last year, Jason Johannisen is also only a fringe player these days, named medical substitute in both finals to date, while Lachie Hunter relinquished his leadership role following his drink-driving incident last year. That leaves Josh Dunkley and Easton Wood, the latter of whom famously deputised as captain for much of the 2016 season, including holding the premiership cup aloft alongside Beveridge.
Wood then took over as full-time captain following Bob Murphy’s retirement at the end of 2017, before handing over the captaincy to Bontempelli at the end of 2019.
The absence of Bontempelli would be an unfamiliar problem for the Dogs. Since making his AFL debut in round five, 2014, the big-bodied midfielder has played 169 of a possible 176 matches, including 70 in a row up to Saturday night.
With the introduction of the AFL’s 12-day concussion protocols this year, Beveridge all but ruled Weightman out of the date with Port.
“I haven’t got the detail and I’d rather not make any statements around it,” Beveridge said.
“I’m not sure. I’ll have to catch up with [the club’s chief medical officer] Greg Clugston and see what’s happening. I’d say it’s likely that he won’t be available.”
Having come from an elimination final to win the premiership five years ago, Beveridge acknowledged there were similarities between that tilt and what was playing out this year.
“The struggle of the whole thing sort of reminded me a little bit of the 2016 prelim against GWS with how tense it was,” Beveridge said.
“The game was in the balance, we were down then fought back, as did Brisbane.
“To beat such a formidable opponent in a big game, it ranks right up there.”
The Dogs will travel from Perth to Adelaide later in the week for the game, and will return to Perth should they qualify for the grand final, scheduled for September 25 at Optus Stadium.
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