Although it’s been seven months since they last played at Docklands, there will no doubt be a sense of familiarity as Western Bulldogs supporters watch their boys run out onto the turf they’ve now called home for 20 years.
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We preview the Western Bulldogs as the AFL 2011 season starts this week!
Team: Western Bulldogs
Homeground: Etihad Stadium (53,000)
Coach: Rodney Eade
Season 2010: Fourth (P-22 W-14 L-8 56pts 121.37%)
2011 squad: Dylan Addison, Matthew Boyd, Adam Cooney, Ayce Cordy, Daniel Cross, Nathan Djerkurra, Daniel Giansiracusa, Lindsay Gilbee, Jarrad Grant, Ryan Griffen, Barry Hall, Ryan Hargrave, Shaun Higgins, Josh Hill, Tom Hill, Andrew Hooper, Christian Howard, Ben Hudson, Liam Jones, Brian Lake, Tom Liberatore, Lukas Markovic, Will Minson, Brodie Moles, Dale Morris, James Mulligan, Robert Murphy, Liam Picken, Sam Reid, Jordan Roughead, Jayden Schofield, Justin Sherman, Zeph Skinner, Brennan Stack, Jason Tutt, Patrick Veszpremi, Mitch Wallis, Callan Ward, Tom Williams, Easton Wood. Rookie list: Ed Barlow, Luke Dahlaus, Mitch Hahn, Jason Johannissen, Matthew Panos, Eddie Prato.
Ins: Nathan Djerkurra (traded from Geelong), Tom Hill (2010 AFL Draft), Andrew Hooper (rookie elevation), Tom Liberatore (father-son selection), Brodie Moles (rookie elevation), Jayden Schofield (2010 AFL Draft), Justin Sherman (traded from Brisbane Lions), Zeph Skinner (2010 AFL Draft), Patrick Veszpremi (traded from Sydney), Mitch Wallis (father-son selection).
Out: Jason Akermanis (retired), Jarrad Boumann (delisted), Tim Callan (retired), Nathan Eagleton (retired), Andrejs Everitt (traded to Sydney), Jarrod Harbrow (to Gold Coast), Brad Johnson (retired), Shane Thorne (delisted), Stephen Tiller (delisted).
Season preview: With a lot of the big teams set to slide, it looks like the Bulldogs could be the Magpies main contenders in 2011.
They have lost some of their leaders including former captain Brad Johnson to retirement but have recruited well and look to be a top four team again this year.
The Dogs will miss the run of Jarrod Harbrow, who is entering the prime of his career but the club won’t be greatly affected if new recruits Justin Sherman and Patrick Veszpremi can make an impact.
A lot of old Dogs in Johnson, Akermanis, Callan and Eagleton have retired freeing up spots for young players like Djerkurra, Tutt and Skinner to break into the senior side.
Doggie fans will also be thrilled to have two familiar names at the club with father-son selections Mitch Wallis and Tom Libertore joining the pack.
The Bulldogs forward line looks good on paper but what would happen if All-Australian Barry Hall, who totalled 80 goals last year, goes down? If he can reproduce his 2010 season and avoid injury the Dogs will be laughing but Hall is 34 now and the question remains how will the Dogs forwards go if Hall gets injured?
Daniel Giansiracusa finished the year with the club’s second most goals (35) while Jarrad Grant is developing well and finished with 29. A lot of reliance would be placed on the talented Shaun Higgins, who missed eight games last year and is as skilful as they come. If Veszpremi makes the most of his new opportunity he can make an impact in the Dogs forward line but supporters will be hoping for another 50 plus year from Big Bazza.
Their midfield looks solid with new captain Boyd ready to lead. Ryan Griffen has taken the next step in his career, capped by a best and fairest 2010. Adam Cooney and Daniel Cross had solid seasons. Cross finished with the second most handballs in the AFL and the eighth most hard-ball gets. Liam Picken was solid last year, the tough tagger adds a bit of bite in the middle.
All-Australian, Brian Lake is the league’s premier full-back and finished with the most marks in the AFL. He also made top ten in the league for contested marks, short kicks and rebounds from 50. Even though he is capable of pushing forward and kicking goals, Lake is the glue that holds the Dogs backline together and they will need him doing what he does best. The Dogs will also need Williams and Morris to do more in defence.
The Bulldogs still only have that one 1954 premiership and Rodney Eade has been getting close but not close enough. In Eade’s six seasons at the Dogs, they have been an impressive team but have failed to make a grand final, crashing out in the last three preliminary finals. They need to match it with the big boys and they need to do it now. 2011 could be the year of the Dog.
Main man: New skipper, Matthew Boyd is the main man at the Dogs right now. The ball-magnet averaged 30 disposals a game and finished with the second most hard-ball gets in the AFL last year. Boyd also had the most Brownlow votes (20) of any Dog and had the most clearances in the league. The key midfielder has a strong work ethic and all the right skills to lead the Dogs to a premiership this year.
X-factor: It’s hard not to get excited about the young man Zephaniah Skinner, who has never played a senior game in the AFL but is already being compared with Liam Jurrah. He kicked four goals in the Dogs pre-season match against the Cats and had everyone watching on the edge of their seat, whenever he went near the ball. Skinner’s got a huge leap, good hands and can give the ball a roost. Should be handy next to Shaun Higgins and Barry Hall.
Predicted 2011 finish: Third