AFL in London: Bulldogs’ dreadlocked dynamo Luke Dahlhaus
The mighty Western Bulldogs and their dreadlocked dynamo Luke Dahlhaus take on Port Adelaide this Saturday in the AFL European Challenge at London’s Kia Oval. Currently experiencing a meteoric rise up from the rookie list, Dahlhaus discloses the secret to his success may lie in his hair.
LUKE Dahlhaus, 20, has enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom since his debut in 2011. He combines his trademark lightning pace with silky footwork and has fast become one of the Bulldogs’ favourite sons. Expect to see him pull a few tricks from this bag in Saturday’s AFL match against Port Adelaide in London.
Dahlhaus modestly attributes his popularity to “probably my hair more than anything else and maybe that people didn’t have high expectations because I came from the rookie list”, he said.
So highly is he rated that he has been given the coveted number 6 guernsey previously worn by club legend and Premiership captain-coach, Charlie Sutton. Most recently, Bulldog games record-holder Brad Johnson wore the famous number, which has just now been brought out of retirement for Dahlhaus.
“It’s an absolute honour to wear a number that means so much to the club. I’ll wear it with pride,” he said.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to accept it, but the coaches, my teammates and fans supported it, so that made it easier.”
One man who has seen every game that Dahlhaus has played is one-eyed Bulldogs’ supporter Phil Stange, from Bacchus Marsh in Melbourne’s wild west. A member for over thirty years and parochial fan, Phil has watched his beloved club from the windy terraces of Whitten Oval for as long as he can remember.
He still has the retro duffle coat that he would wear during the 1980s – long before Dahlhaus was even born. In that time, Phil has marvelled over the majesty of former stars such as Dougie Hawkins and Chris Grant, and predicts that Dahlhaus has the same qualities to be held in the same esteem as those illustrious figures.
“Luke Dahlhaus to me represents the future of the Western Bulldogs. He is, without question, a great player and ambassador for the club”, said Phil with knowing surety.
“He is becoming a leader both on and off the field and is helping to write a new chapter for our club,” he added.
Phil was further optimistic about his team’s prospects on Saturday. “The crowd will all be cheering for my ‘British Bulldogs’. I’m confident we will win – we’ve never lost a match in London before,” he joked, wryly alluding to the fact that this is the Bulldogs’ first voyage to the UK.
When talking about the Bulldogs’ preparation for this week’s match, Dahlhaus says that players have been working on individual programmes provided by the conditioning staff over the off-season.
“We want to make sure we’re in reasonable condition to compete,” he said.
Although technically ‘on leave’, there seems to be no rest for this hungry breed of Bulldogs who are leaving no stone unturned to rediscover success. Despite many experts predicting a long and slow rebuilding process for the Bulldogs, history has shown that clubs can bounce back quickly.
Take the West Coast Eagles. After finishing stone cold last in 2010, they were written off by all and sundry the following season, only to shock the competition by finishing a kick away from defeating Collingwood to make the 2011 Grand Final. Such a turnaround in fortunes has become strikingly commonplace, as the stats sheets show. Aside from two exceptions, every season since 1994 has seen a team rise from outside the final eight, to make the top four the following season.
So, could the Bulldogs be that team who surprises the football world in 2013? If you ask Phil, or any die-hard fan for that matter, to rate their team’s future prospects at this time of the year, chances are you’ll get a convincingly swift and affirmative response.
Dahlhaus believes the club is on the right path, with coach Brendan McCartney determined to develop a winning culture. And that begins against Port Adelaide, with the Bulldogs desperate to continue on their learning journey under the tight reigns of their mentor.
“Macca won’t let us run our own race, even if it’s an exhibition game,” said Dahlhaus. “We’ll put in place the same things we’ve learned over the year – winning the contested ball.”
More bite: the other Bulldogs to watch
Other Bulldog players sure to get the Aussie crowd roaring are sons of guns Mitch Wallis and Tom Liberatore. Both are classy youngsters with the tenacity of their dads and the composure of men well beyond their years.
If they are the future backbone, then Liam Picken and Clay Smith are the heart and soul. Both possess a scarily fearless style and will have the British public on their feet with their desire to win at any cost.
It is Zephiniah Skinner, however, who Dahlhaus singles out as the player to watch on Saturday. Skinner is a freakish talent, capable of leaping Big Ben in a single bound. Whenever the indigenous forward goes near the ball, the crowd and volume rise as one. Look out if he hangs on to one of his flying marks; your mum will almost be able to hear the crowd from Oz.
Those lucky enough to have a ticket to witness this encounter will get their value for money, with both sides playing to win.
“Our game is so unpredictable,” Dahlhaus said. “Both teams will be having a crack.”