Beveridge answers midfield star mystery

AFL Rd 1 - Melbourne v Western Bulldogs
Luke Beveridge has explained Jack Macrae’s absence. Picture: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images

Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge insists three-time All-Australian Jack Macrae will “play a lot of senior footy” this season despite missing selection again for the club’s round 2 clash with Gold Coast.

Beveridge confirmed prized father-son pick Sam Darcy would play his eighth senior game against the Suns in Ballarat on Sunday after an impressive pre-season as he again said Macrae’s interrupted summer was responsible for his absence from the side.

The midfield gun suffered a hamstring strain during the Bulldogs’ pre-season camp on the Sunshine Coast at the end of January and missed a month of training, but now has two VFL practice matches under his belt.

Beveridge suggested the 29-year-old, who was vice-captain last year but dropped from the Bulldogs’ leadership group, was not up to the challenge of taking on a star-studded Suns midfield, including Matt Rowell, Touk Miller and Noah Anderson.

“We’re setting (Macrae) up to succeed against some of the better midfields. We feel like Gold Coast’s group is one of the best groups in the competition at the moment,” Beveridge said.

“Jack’s almost there, some encouraging signs again last week … he can’t be sub, he’s got to play a full game. He’ll most likely play against GWS on Sunday in the twos.

Western Bulldogs Training Session
Jack Macrae can’t bust into the Western Bulldogs line-up. Picture: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

“Jack understands and so does our whole group, that now we’re in a period of significant evolution again, when you consider coming off 2022 out of an elimination final, last year finishing ninth … the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expect that thinking you’re going to get a different result.”

Beveridge said part of Macrae’s prolonged VFL stint and fellow premiership star Caleb Daniel’s round 1 sub appearance were due to the need to get senior exposure into young midfield talent.

“Some of the young guys we’ve got coming through with Ryley Sanders and Harvey Gallagher, that affects selection to a degree … they’re going to be really important players for the club,” he said.

“So some of the lads who are a little bit behind or who maybe haven’t been as prolific as some of the younger guys during pre-season have found themselves out of the team, like Jack and obviously CD (Daniel) as the sub last week.

“And now that challenges all of our group to emerge and come up to the standards that they’re setting for each other, and we’ve got no doubt Jack will play a lot of AFL footy this year, and it could be next week, but we’ll wait and see.”

Western Bulldogs Training Session
Sam Darcy is in for the Bulldogs. Picture: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

Beveridge said Darcy would be picked to play in a forward-ruck role, likely at the expense of Rory Lobb, as the Dogs prepared to again be undersized in defence in Ballarat.

“Sam will play this week. I think he’s much better equipped and ready to play at the level than he ever has been, he’s had a pretty strong thorough pre-season,” he said.

“He spent a lot of time in the ruck over the pre-season, so he’s competed against Tim (English) and Lobby … we’ve tried to prepare him for the rigours of the game at this level, and he’ll spend some minutes in the ruck and he’ll obviously play forward for a fair chunk of the game.”

Beveridge ruled out a shift to defence for Aaron Naughton, who picked up a knock early in the loss to Melbourne that left him below “the peak of his athletic power”. But he was confident the 24-year-old was fit to face the Suns.