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Tale of the tape for your AFL team in 2018: Western Bulldogs

Dejected Dogs: Marcus Bontempelli, Dale Morris, Lewis Young and Matt Suckling trudge off after defeat against Port Adelaide. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Tale of the tape for your AFL team in 2018: Western Bulldogs

Ronny Lerner    

2017 record: 11 wins, 11 losses (10th)

Jackson Trengove (Port Adelaide), Hayden Crozier (Fremantle), Josh Schache (Brisbane Lions), Aaron Naughton (Peel Thunder), Ed Richards (Oakleigh Chargers), Callum Porter (Gippsland Power), Billy Gowers (Footscray)

Robert Murphy (retired), Matthew Boyd (retired), Jake Stringer (Essendon), Stewart Crameri (delisted/Geelong), Travis Cloke (retired), Josh Prudden (delisted), Declan Hamilton (delisted), Tristan Tweedie (delisted)

They might have missed the finals in 2017, but there’s still plenty of talent on the Bulldog list. Let’s not forget they won a premiership 15 months ago! When firing on all cylinders, the midfield has the potential to be one of the most effective in the competition, and they also have one of the country’s hottest young talents in Marcus Bontempelli. The 22-year-old already plays like a 200-game veteran and has future Brownlow medallist written all over him. Jason Johannisen, Jack Macrae, Lachie Hunter and Luke Dahlhaus are stars as well. Easton Wood and the evergreen Dale Morris are defensive rocks, Matt Suckling rebounded well from a disappointing 2016 and they have a new wave of exciting youngsters coming through like Bailey Dale, Lewis Young and Bailey Williams. If Tom Liberatore can shake off the funk that dogged his 2017 campaign, the Dogs will get another virtual star recruit in the midfield given how poor was his impact. Toby McLean looks a player, Liam Picken always gives his all and a full season for Josh Dunkley will be welcome after a shoulder injury marred his 2017. Last season, on differentials, the Bulldogs were ranked first for playing on after taking a mark, showing that despite their failure to make the finals, their willingness to take the game on was alive and well.

Was 2017 the exception or the rule? That will be one of season 2018’s most intriguing talking points after the Dogs became just the fourth team in a quarter of a century to miss the finals a year after tasting the ultimate success. The premiership hangover hit the Dogs hard. They exhibited only a fraction of the ferocious hunger which propelled them to premiership glory in 2016 and Liberatore perhaps personified the club’s dramatic drop-off more than most. The son of a gun averaged just 17 disposals a game and amassed his lowest disposal tally since his debut season six years ago. But he wasn’t the only one – Jake Stringer, Tory Dickson, Clay Smith, Matthew Boyd, Wood, Fletcher Roberts and Tom Boyd were all well down on their 2016 output for various reasons. Their key forward stocks look very shaky and not one Bulldog kicked 25 goals in 2017. The ruck department is also a worry and their undersized backline got exposed numerous times, too, so the addition of Trengove is huge and hopefully Marcus Adams has overcome his injury concerns as well. On 2017 differentials, the Bulldogs were ranked last for kicking efficiency percentage, last for marks, 12th for clearances and, perhaps most galling of all, 15th for tackles, which highlights how dramatic was the dip in intensity from their manic 2016 selves. They were ranked third for inside 50s but 17th for goals per inside 50 and 10th for marks per inside 50, which also illustrates how poor were their forward entries.

Bailey Dale officially stamped himself as a star of the future after a breakout 2017 season. Drifting between midfield and attack, the 21-year-old displayed exquisite skills, game awareness and goalkicking ability. With only 30 career games under his belt, all signs point to the former pick No.45’s fourth season in the AFL being his best yet.

If a week is a long time in footy, then a year is an eternity. Twelve months ago, Tory Dickson and Clay Smith were feted as premiership heroes after playing critical roles up forward in the Doggies’ historic 2016 grand final triumph. Fast forward a year and, incredibly, there isn’t even room for them in the best 25. While the pair had a few minor injury concerns in 2017, the dreaded premiership hangover looked as though it hit them harder than most. They could only manage nine and eight games respectively as coach Luke Beveridge lost patience with them very quickly at the selection table. Dickson and Smith enter the final year of their contracts and, as we saw with Stringer, if they don’t deliver the goods, Beveridge won’t hesitate to end their careers at Whitten Oval despite their September heroics last season.

B: Dale Morris, Zaine Cordy, Easton Wood
HB: Jason Johannisen, Jackson Trengove, Matt Suckling
C: Lachie Hunter, Tom Liberatore, Luke Dahlhaus
HF: Bailey Dale, Tom Boyd, Toby McLean
F: Liam Picken, Jack Redpath, Josh Dunkley
Foll: Jordan Roughead, Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae
Inter: Mitch Wallis, Caleb Daniel, Shane Biggs, Lewis Young
Emerg: Marcus Adams, Bailey Williams, Lin Jong

No room for Adams, Williams, Jong, Crozier, Schache, Smith, Dickson, Campbell or Roberts, which is as good an indication as any that the Dogs bat deep. Adams and Williams are probably the unluckiest members of that group, but they’ll definitely get their chances in 2018. Trengove and Cordy are probably just slightly ahead of Adams in the key defensive pecking order for now. Liberatore had a stinker of a season but is a super midfielder when at his best so deserves a second chance. The Dogs will be hoping Boyd can recapture his 2016 finals form as well.

  1. Being a Dog’s supporter think that is a pretty fair assessment. I must say I was disappointed with Clay Smith . Considering what he had endured for his career, it appeared he wasted a year . I’d have been angry if I were one of the many missed the flag , because their mates were smug and nowhere near as invested as they were. Cheers Roco , ROBDOG out

  2. My apologies to Ronnie

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