Story of 2015
After an off season that included the removal of their coach, their captain being traded to another club and one of their best players out for the season, it was easy to write the Bulldogs off as a club rebuilding, but they quickly became the story of 2015.
The Bulldogs jumped from 14th at the end of 2014 all the way to sixth by playing one of the most attacking brands of footy imaginable.
The Bulldogs became one of the best counter-attacking teams in the competition, with the likes of Easton Wood, Robert Murphy and Matthew Boyd ruling the half back line and providing their forwards with plenty of quality disposal while protecting their undermanned key defenders.
They created a team full of x-factors like Marcus Bontempelli who showed it’s a matter of when he becomes one of the best midfielders in the competition and Luke Dahlhaus who was their the most consistent player across the year.
The Dogs signed 19-year-old number one draft pick Tom Boyd on a lucrative, long term contract, but it was their medium and small forwards that did all the damage.
Jake Stringer kicked 56 goals and was one of the hardest players to stop in the competition while small forward Tory Dickson helped himself to 50 goals of his own – something nobody would have predicted.
The Bulldogs got knocked out in the first round of the finals by the Adelaide Crows in one of the most entertaining and exciting games of footy in the sport’s history.
The Bulldogs have the fifth youngest list in the competition, but have set the bar incredibly high after 2015.
The problem will be either maintaining their high level of success or surpassing it with such an even competition.
You can expect a lot of the Bulldogs’ younger players like Jason Johannisen, Jake Stringer and Marcus Bontempelli to take the next step in their development, but in order to stay up the ladder they’re going to need improvements in their weaker areas.
The Dogs experimented with the role of ruckmen in 2015, spending periods without a ruckman whatsoever, despite having access to Will Minson.
They finished 2015 ranked 18th in the competition in scoring from centre bounces and 6th for conceding goals from centre bounce stoppages.
A lot of their offense came from repeat entries inside 50 and taking the ball from one end to the other, but as we saw with Port Adelaide, teams will figure out how to counteract their speedy play and so they’ll need to improve their scoring from the middle in order to give themselves more variety.
Another issue is their key defensive stocks with Champion Data ranking them 17th in the competition for the quality of their key defenders.
They got around this last year through intercept marking as they were one of the strongest intercept teams in the competition, Easton Wood actually breaking the record for most intercept marks in a season with 75.
Given they’ve added Matthew Suckling and Jed Adcock to their squad this year, they’re clearly keen on continuing that rebounding strategy, but a lot of pressure will still be on Jordan Roughead and evergreen Dale Morris to hold up the backline and play for most of the season with draftee Kieran Collins the next in line to become one of their key defenders.
The other issue is the loss of Stewart Crameri for the year which shakes up their forward line structure, though they played without him for large patches last season with reasonable success.
Tom Liberatore will return after missing 2015 with an ACL injury and he slots straight back into the Bulldogs’ starting midfield, which not only bolsters that but allows Matthew Boyd to remain across half back where he played so well last year.
As far as the fixture is concerned, Champion Data have ranked the Bulldogs’ draw as relatively easier than teams around them which is a positive for their finals aspirations.
The Bulldogs are one of those teams that could finish top four or they could miss the eight, there’s just no way of knowing with at least 13 teams capable of making finals this year.
If luck goes their way and they sure up their key defensive posts, they could go a long way this season.
B: Matt Suckling, Jordan Roughead, Robert Murphy
HB: Easton Wood, Dale Morris, Matthew Boyd
C: Jack Macrae, Marcus Bontempelli, Jason Johannisen
HF: Liam Picken, Tom Boyd, Luke Dahlhaus
F: Tory Dickson, Tom Campbell, Jake Stringer
Foll: Will Minson, Tom Liberatore, Mitch Wallis
Int: Lachie Hunter, Koby Stevens, Caleb Daniel, Lin Jong
It’s fair to say the Bulldogs have a plethora of small defenders at their disposal in 2016 and they will be the rocks of that back line for all of 2016.
Former Brisbane captain Jed Adcock has been added to their list this season, but there really isn’t a place for him in the side barring injury.
Jack Redpath did a lot right in 2015 and Tom Boyd’s place in their best 22 is very much tentative and he could find himself out of the side if his form is poor.
Similarly, Tom Campbell became a real leader at the Dogs last year and become a focal point of their forward line while carrying a lot of the ruck duties.
Many mightn’t rate Campbell as part of their best 22, but considering the Bulldogs named him captain for their second NAB Challenge match.
The four names on the bench are crucial to the success of the Bulldogs in 2016 and all four will need to lock down their position in their best 22 by the end of the season.
The Bulldogs will be a team that nobody wants to face in 2016 if 2015 is anything to go by and if they can keep their best team on the park for most of the year, they should make finals this year.