Western Bulldogs, make this Ballarat hit-out a big warning | From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan

REAL STRENGTH: Bulldogs captain Easton Wood and his team have a chance to re-take Ballarat as winning turf on Saturday to really make the 'Doggies Mars kennel a fortress. Picture: Lachlan Bence
REAL STRENGTH: Bulldogs captain Easton Wood and his team have a chance to re-take Ballarat as winning turf on Saturday to really make the 'Doggies Mars kennel a fortress. Picture: Lachlan Bence

WELCOME back Western Bulldogs – there is plenty of unfinished business to polish off in Ballarat.

Make Ballarat a top priority.

Stake a stronger claim on Mars as Bulldogs territory on Saturday.

The last time the AFL team hit our turf was for the city’s historic first in-season AFL game. A red, white and blue ‘Doggies fever and support across our streets, in our cafes and pubs, and in our schools. Even Selkirk lit up their chimney in club colours on game-day eve.

But the Bulldogs lost. To make it worse, this was a loss that well and truly ensured the Bulldogs’ premiership defence was over before it had really begun. The 'Dogs did not make finals.

We know players were hurting, we felt for them. 

We want the Bulldogs to feel – and to be – unbeatable in the Ballarat kennel.

Now is that big chance for the Bulldogs to issue a warning to the league in a practice hit-out.

Pre-season matches are hard to get super excited about in any sporting code. It is largely a testing phase, trialling emerging talent, tactics and boosting match fitness. Key players can be rested, others enjoy the extra time to shine.

Some teams play to win, most aim to fine-tune match play. There is a general lack of urgency that comes when premiership points and real pride are on the line.

Pre-season matches can also be the perfect chance to signal what is to come.

Ballarat can offer the Bulldogs a winning edge. Our city’s turnout and support in the historic first match last year acted like an extra man on the field.

We are creating the Bulldogs a fortress.

Look down the Midland Highway to Geelong’s formidable base. Sure, the Cats have cultivated this nightmarish vibe for other teams over a century, and they spend most waking hours training there. But it sets a high standard.

Hawthorn knows it. The Hawks have created a nice alternate nest down in Launceston.

This is why the weekend’s hit-out is an important challenge. The Hawks are effectively a few steps ahead of what the Bulldogs are working to achieve in Ballarat.

Pre-season game or not, this is why winning Ballarat back should be a Bulldogs’ priority.

PREPARATION: Western Bulldogs players, including Ballarat export Jordan Roughead in white, test the Mars surface on Friday morning. Picture: Lachlan Bence

PREPARATION: Western Bulldogs players, including Ballarat export Jordan Roughead in white, test the Mars surface on Friday morning. Picture: Lachlan Bence

Billed as the first of three Ballarat AFL games for the year, the Bulldogs’ next two outings will be in the premiership season. Gold Coast will arrive in May and Port Adelaide returns in July.

Power coach Ken Hinkley declared his love for Ballarat after last season’s win here. Hinkley quipped at the time Mars Stadium could become his club’s second alternate base, after Shanghai.

While it is great Port Adelaide appreciate what our city served up in our boutique offering, we want Power to be wary on their next approach. We want them to be ware of the ‘Dogs.

Western Bulldogs continue to work hard in incredible community partnerships across the city in health, literacy, youth engagement and school visits.

We have no doubts they want to be here. We have shown the feelings are mutual. Now we need to find that winning edge.