Story of the Summer
The Western Bulldogs had a chaotic off-season that completely changed the direction of the club going forward. In a turbulent few days, Ryan Griffen requested a trade to the Giants, Brendan McCartney quit as senior coach, Tom Boyd joined the kennel from GWS and that was just the beginning of it all.
Luke Beveridge was installed as the new senior coach and Robert Murphy’s years of service were rewarded with the captaincy. There were a host of changes over the off-season, including Shaun Higgins, Adam Cooney, Jason Tutt and Liam Jones leaving via trade or free agency. Joel Hamling and Shane Biggs also joined the club after not being able to get opportunities at the Cats and Swans respectively. Biggs and Hamling will be used down back and will add depth to the inexperienced Bulldogs backline.
These changes meant the Bulldogs’ went into the 2014 draft with six selections to utilise. After securing Tom Boyd, the Bulldogs used this draft to build depth elsewhere on their list. Young ball-winner Caleb Daniel is already hovering around senior selection and Toby McLean will be an asset to the Bulldogs up forward or in the middle sooner or later. Their last pick in the draft went towards father-son selection Zaine Cordy, and they also selected Lukas Webb, Bailey Dale and Declan Hamilton.
Where They Excel
Despite all the off-season problems, the Bulldogs have managed to put together a list that could be threatening at full strength. Their forward line, in particular, will be hard to stop. Tom Boyd will take the number one defender and while he’s not expected to be the Dogs’ next Barry Hall immediately, he should be enough of a presence in that forward line to allow the likes of Stewart Crameri and Jake Stringer to get off the hook a little and find some more space than they did last year.
The other strength of their forward line is its versatility. Luke Dahlhaus has become serviceable up the ground and this gives the Dogs an extra midfield rotation. On top of that, Stringer is expected to go through the middle at times as well. We know that Marcus Bontempelli, Nathan Hrovat, Lachie Hunter and Jack Macrae can all play forward and this ability to change up their structures without really losing any quality will make it hard for teams to match up against them. These players, along with Boyd and Crameri, will cause a lot of headaches for opposition coaches and they’ll be hard to stop if the Dogs’ ball use is good.
Where They Struggle
The one thing the Bulldogs need to do in is find somebody to replace Dale Morris. While reliable, the 32-year-old can’t have long left and even though Jordan Roughead has locked down the full back position, there were times last season where taller forward lines dominated the Bulldogs and they’ll need to figure out who their best six are down back this season.
Michael Talia seems like the natural replacement for Morris but he’ll need to be given games to develop into the centre half back role. In the meantime, the Dogs will have to find ways to limit opposition scoring.
The Bulldogs were ranked fourth for points against in 2014 and will need to get better defensively if they want to climb the ladder this year. Adding Hamling and Biggs is a sign that they wanted to add AFL-ready players to their backline depth and not have to rely on rookies stepping up.
The Year Ahead
The Bulldogs’ 2015 aspirations were dealt a severe blow during the NAB Challenge when star midfielder Tom Liberatore went down with an ACL injury.
It’ll be a massive challenge to replace Liberatore on top of Griffen and Cooney, and the Dogs will need a few of their younger players to step up. This gives the likes of Lin Jong and Nathan Hrovat chances to cement themselves in their best 22.
Marcus Bontempelli has shown in the NAB Challenge that he will not be suffering from any second year blues and if there is one positive to come out of this, it is that players like Bontempelli and Macrae will have to fill the roles of more experienced players, and hopefully this fast-tracks their development.
All in all, the Bulldogs will probably miss the eight this year. A lot has gone wrong for them over the summer months and it will take them time to adjust to the Luke Beveridge game plan. Realistically, there are a lot of other teams out there that are in far better shape heading into the season and the Dogs will find it hard to compete.
The Bulldogs find themselves in the middle of rebuilding their list and 2015 will be a year of finding out who is going to lead this club and who is not up to it. The likes of Murphy, Boyd, Morris and Minson won’t be around for much longer and they will leave big holes to fill.
A pass mark for the Dogs this year would include players like Michael Talia and Lin Jong locking down best 22 positions, Tom Boyd finding his feet and kicking goals and the club overall being on the right track to play finals in the next few years. 2015, however, feels like a transitional year for the club and Luke Beveridge will probably need time to get the list the way he wants it.
Ladder range: 13-18
B: Liam Picken, Jordan Roughead, Easton Wood
HB: Rob Murphy, Dale Morris, Jason Johannisen
C: Marcus Bontempelli, Matthew Boyd, Mitch Wallis
HF: Jake Stringer, Stewart Crameri, Luke Dahlhaus
F: Nathan Hrovat, Tom Boyd, Lachie Hunter
Foll: Will Minson, Tom Liberatore, Jack Macrae
Int: Lin Jong, Shane Biggs, Michael Talia
Sub: Koby Stevens