Western Bullogs have the legs for long haul
HANDS up if you know which club fielded the least-experienced line-up over the weekend.
No, it wasn't either of the two Queensland teams battling to avoid the wooden spoon, or fellow expansion club GWS.
Nor was it those Melbourne-based teams deep in rebuild mode, Melbourne, Carlton, St Kilda and Collingwood.
It was the side that now sits fourth on the ladder, and is arguably the competition's most exciting combination, yet still a work-in-progress.
Back in May, after the Western Bulldogs had won four of their first five games, this column raved about the virtues of new coach Luke Beveridge and his ability to get the best out of his players.
Many had predicted they would bottom out after losing skipper Ryan Griffen, Adam Cooney and Shaun Higgins to other teams, Daniel Giansiracusa to retirement and Tom Liberatore to injury.
But here we are, three months later and the Bulldogs, while resembling greyhounds in the early rounds, could be more akin now to blue heelers, renowned for their work ethic and rounding up ability, or labrador retrievers, with the energy for either short sprints or long runs.
Both are also obedient, always following instructions.
Either way, right now they are still just pups, but ones with a ferocious attitude and healthy appetite for success that must be starting to put the 'fear of dog' into more fancied rivals..
On Saturday, they gave a resurgent Port Adelaide a three-goal headstart before crushing it by more than 10, ending the Power's finals hopes.
With skipper Bob Murphy and vice-captain Jordan Roughead both sidelined, the side featured just three players with more than 100 games to their name, and 12 with less than 50.
While 30-somethings Dale Morris and Matthew Boyd brought the average up to 24 years, one month - the same as the Lions and marginally older than the Magpies and Suns - you couldn't get any lower when it comes to average games than their 61.7.
There had been grave fears for clubs such as the Bulldogs after GWS and Gold Coast had entered the competition and snapped up the majority of the high draft picks.
The Doggies though have been creative with their selections.
They do have top-10 picks Marcus Bontempelli (No.4), Jarrad Grant (5), Jake Stringer (5) and Jackson Macrae (6) - and in the 'Bont' and Stringer they almost have Anthony Koutoufides and Gary Ablett Snr reincarnated ... and classy 'father-sons' Mitch Wallis and Lachie Hunter.
But almost half of Saturday's line-up were either rookies, from Boyd, Morris and Liam Picken down to Lin Jong, Jack Redpath, Tom Campbell and Shane Biggs, or rejects Tory Dickson, Sam Darley and Joel Hamling.
Against the Power, they had 425 disposals to 296, with 11 players topping 20 individually, including former GWS halfback Darley, in for his first game this season.
From 2014, the Bulldogs' scoring is up 10 points 'for' and down 20 points 'against'.
Beveridge doesn't want to talk finals, let alone premierships ... but others will.