- from afl.com.au
WESTERN Bulldogs stalwart Matthew Boyd was dropped because he "hasn't been anywhere near his best," but coach Luke Beveridge is backing the veteran to win a spot back in the senior side.
Boyd, 34, missed three games with a shoulder injury and returned for the 46-point loss against Sydney last week.
He was dropped for Sunday's clash with Melbourne at Etihad Stadium and Beveridge said defending and disposal efficiency were the areas the premiership player needed to focus on.
"It's a really challenging one. Of all the players historically to have walked the corridors of the Whitten Oval, he's one of the most dignified and respected characters at our football club," Beveridge said on Saturday morning.
"It's one of the hardest parts of the job, messaging that disappointment, and he's taken it as you'd expect. He's such a stand-up character and leader at our club. He understands why.
"He just probably hasn't been anywhere near his best in recent times and it's the same approach for everyone, as far as our assessment of our performances.
"He'll play tonight against Casey and once he gets on top of those one or two things … it's probably just the core phases of the game. Using it and defending, he's just been a fraction off his absolute best.
"It seems a bit strange that an All Australian from 2016 be omitted at this time of year, but it happens and we believe he'll play well at VFL level and get back into the team at some point."
Boyd will run out for Footscray in the VFL against the Casey Demons at Casey Fields on Saturday night.
Boyd's axing puts his bid to reach the 300-game milestone in some doubt. The former rookie sits on 290 games and if he returns to the senior side next week, he would need to play every match to reach the milestone in the final round of the season.
Meanwhile, young gun Tom Liberatore will play in Beveridge's team for the first time since the eight-point loss to West Coast in round eight.
The coach said Liberatore had earned his spot back after a 21-disposal effort in the VFL against Essendon.
"He had an influential game. His second-half was quite outstanding. He played the whole last quarter on the ball and had a number of breakaway type of clearances (and) he defended extremely well," Beveridge said.
"He's been a really important player for us historically so we're not expecting him to get the three Brownlow votes – which he might, it'd be great – but we know that we'll get him back to somewhere near his best tomorrow."
The Dogs sit at 6-5 and have lost three of their past four games.
Beveridge acknowledged the stuttering response to a historic premiership brought mental challenges.
"We have to live in the real world. A club that wins a flag after 62 years, and a pretty young group, they're going to have their own challenges mentally," he said.
"It's got nothing to do with application, it's just working it all out.
"I said that the other week, that we're working ourselves out, and I think we still are.
"(The form has) definitely got nothing to do with application and any rumour around partying, it's just untrue."