Western Bulldogs star Aaron Naughton has declared his team will enter Saturday night’s elimination final against Fremantle bursting with the confidence of knowing they have repeatedly proven they can handle the pressure and intensity of September action.
The eighth placed Dogs will attempt to replicate their performances in both 2016 and 2021 when they advanced to a grand final despite missing the top four.
While fifth-placed Fremantle haven’t played finals since 2015, and the majority of the list will be experiencing the big stage for the first time, Naughton said his team was already drawing on their performances in previous campaigns.
“We look at it as a new season starting on the weekend. Every game matters and you’ve got to bring your best each week or you get knocked out,” Naughton told The West Australian.
“We’re a team that likes it the hard way. We have done it in the past and that’s the way we play our best footy – when we’re on the back foot and we’re hunting.
“We believe we are capable and we know our best footy stands up in finals.”
Naughton will play his 100th AFL game on Saturday, allowing him to reach the milestone in front of family and friends.
The 22-year-old played his 50th game in Queensland during the pandemic, making this milestone one he can celebrate with loved ones.
Having kicked a career-high 51 goals during the home and away season, Naughton will shoulder plenty of responsibility for helping the Dogs to kick a winning score.
But he believes his ability to compete against Fremantle’s stingy defence will be just as important as scoring goals himself.
Fremantle had the second best defence in the league during the home and away season, while the Dogs were ranked fifth for scoring.
With question marks hanging over Fremantle’s forward line and the Bulldogs’ backline, Naughton said the tug of war between the two teams’ biggest strengths will decide which team advances to the second week of the finals.
“It’ll be an interesting game because our strength is our attacking and ability to score, and their strength is their defence,” Naughton said.
“It’ll be a tale of two tapes. If we can tidy up the defensive side of our game a little bit, we think we’ll have a good chance of winning the game.
“They’re probably no different. They probably think if they can attack a little bit more efficiently, because their defence is so good, they’ll win.”