The year to date
The Western Bulldogs sit seventh on the AFL ladder after 14 rounds, far and away exceeding many people’s expectations.
After a tumultuous off-season, things didn’t get much better in the NAB Challenge, losing Tom Liberatore for the season with an ACL injury. However, despite all that was against them, their attacking game style under new coach Luke Beveridge has turned things around for the Dogs.
The Bulldogs are ranked first for tackles and fifth for contested disposals this season: in the absence of their best player in both those areas last season, it is a mark of how good the Bulldogs have been this year. The Dogs have defeated Richmond, West Coast, Adelaide, Sydney and GWS so far this season, with all of those sides bar the Eagles being in the eight when they beat them.
While the Western Bulldogs were granted one of the easier draws of 2015, the teams they have beaten so far this season show that they are deserving of sitting seventh.
The decision to make Robert Murphy the captain of the football club was an outstanding move by Luke Beveridge. Not only has Murphy been in stellar form, but he also leads by example off-field and surely is partly responsible for the sudden turnaround in his side’s form.
On-field, the Dogs have been bolstered by a few middle of the road players who have stepped up in big ways. Easton Wood and Liam Picken in particular have become instrumental to the side, with the former being in All-Australian form.
Luke Dahlhaus has played through the midfield a lot more this season and has been close to the Bulldogs’ best player, averaging 24 disposals per game and six tackles.
At the start of the season, the biggest question mark was on their backline in terms of how it would hold up against the top sides and whether they could find a replacement for Dale Morris. The Bulldogs have shown faith in the likes of Fletcher Roberts and Michael Talia who have stepped up. However, the team pressure up the field and the positioning of rebounding defenders Wood and Murphy have made their jobs easier week to week.
With high performance comes high expectations, and the Bulldogs have dropped a couple of games that they should have won.
Young teams are allowed to make mistakes but they would not have been happy with their losses to Melbourne and St Kilda, with their capitulation against the Saints particularly poor.
Some may perceive Tom Boyd’s start to the year as a negative, with the key forward averaging just over a goal per game so far. However, despite his hefty salary, Boyd was never going to become a 50 goal a year forward straight away, and he needs to be given time to develop.
Clearly, there haven’t been too many negatives for the Bulldogs this season: the major blemishes so far are the serious knee injuries to young stars Tom Liberatore and Clay Smith, who unfortunately succumbed to the injury for a third time.
Where to from here
The plan now for the Bulldogs must be to make the finals. If they can squeeze into seventh or eighth and give their young side a taste of the big stage, it will do them the world of good.
This season has shown that anything can happen and nothing is certain, but if the Bulldogs win the vast majority of their games against Port Adelaide, Geelong, Melbourne, Essendon and Gold Coast, they could sit on 13 wins which should be enough to get them into the top eight.
They will start favourites in most of – if not all – of those games, and considering the position they’ve put themselves in at the half way point of the season, they should be pushing themselves towards finals as much as possible.
Even if the Bulldogs fall just short, which is very possible in such an even season, they can be proud of their improvements in 2015 despite all the apparent off-season drama preceding it.
You can follow Nic on Twitter: @FeathertopDT