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Footyology countdown: Time for the Bulldogs to bite back?

Hayden Crozier (left) and Jackson Trengove (right); two recruits the Bulldogs hope can make a difference to their fortunes in 2018. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Footyology countdown: Time for the Bulldogs to bite back?

Rohan Connolly    

2017 record: 11 wins, 11 losses (10th)
List age ranking (oldest to youngest): 14th
List experience ranking (most to fewest games): 15th
Footyology draw ranking (easiest to hardest): 5th

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)

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, Josh Schache, Josh Dunkley
Foll: Jordan Roughead, Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae
Inter: Mitch Wallis, Caleb Daniel, Hayden Crozier, Lewis Young
Emerg: Marcus Adams, Jack Redpath, Shane Biggs

Premiership hangover is a term which is used far too frequently in AFL football, but in the modern era, what happened to the Western Bulldogs in 2017 is as good an example as we’ve seen for a long time.

Not that it was immediately obvious. After seven games, the Bulldogs, having just beaten eventual premier Richmond, were 5-2, exactly the same scoreline they’d been at the same stage of 2016, but without having shown nearly the same sort of pizzazz.

And from there, they’d lose 9 of their last 15, the first reigning premier to miss the following year’s finals since Hawthorn in 2009.

The tell-tale signs of the erosion of that flag-winning ferocity at the contest were everywhere, particularly on an individual level, where it could be argued that of their top 30 players, perhaps only Bailey Dale, Toby McLean and Caleb Daniel managed to improve on their previous seasons.

And the disappearance of that intensity across the board led to drop-offs all over the place. The Dogs won less of the ball and kept it locked in their forward line a lot less, exposing their vulnerable defence, their points against ranking consequently slipping from third to eighth.

When the ball got near goals, the worst conversion rate in the competition proved a fatal flaw. Joint leading goalkickers Jake Stringer and Liam Picken kicked just 24 each, just on half what the top two had shared the year before. And the roll of the dice on veteran key forward Travis Cloke proved a bust.

What does that mean for 2018? That while you can talk about issues of structure and personnel, a more fundamental focus has to be simply recapturing that manic pressure on the opposition, which not only served the Dogs so well, but Richmond subsequently. By doing so, those other areas may well take care of themselves.

Having said that, there’s a bit to like about the Bulldogs’ “ins” this season. Defensively, Jackson Trengove could be a real value pick-up in an area the Dogs haven’t necessarily had a lot of strength.

Hayden Crozier has been used all over the place by Fremantle, but his best value to the Dogs could come off half-back, where his delivery by foot had proved useful.

And Josh Schache, for all the flak he’s copped about attitude, was a No.2 draft pick only two years ago whose first season in Brisbane was pretty handy. If Tom Boyd is to spend more time as a key forward, along with Jack Redpath, the Dogs won’t be short of marking targets. Good news, considering Stringer, Cloke and Stewart Crameri are no longer part of the mix.

Their departures, along with the retirements of Bob Murphy and Matthew Boyd, have certainly made a different to the list demographics, the Dogs now the fifth-youngest and fourth least-experienced list in the AFL.

It’s easy, however, to forget just how good so many of those young Dogs were in 2016. While much focus has been on Tom Liberatore, big years also from Jason Johannisen, Lachie Hunter and even still relatively unheralded types such as Josh Dunkley and Shane Biggs, could see the Dogs back in contention as quickly as they slipped from it.

9th. The extent to which the fall-off from a flag has really stung Whitten Oval will determine the Dogs’ fortunes. Good enough to get there, might just miss.

THE LADDER SO FAR (click on team to read)

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