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2012 AFL season preview: Western Bulldogs

Expert
28th February, 2012
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After a horror 2011, the Western Bulldogs will be looking to bounce back under new coach Brendan McCartney. Let’s see how they’ll look.

The Recap

Last year: 9-13, 10th
Best and fairest: Matthew Boyd
Leading goal kicker: Barry Hall (55)
Key additions: Mark Austin (Carlton)
Key losses: Barry Hall, Callan Ward, Ben Hudson, Josh Hill, Sam Reid

Analysis

Last year was a year to forget for the Western Bulldogs. Many stars were either injured or inconsistent. Rodney Eade didn’t see out the season. Barry Hall announced his retirement and Callan Ward left for GWS.

Ultimately, the club’s run of three-straight preliminary finals ended with a disastrous 10th place finish.

So you can be forgiven for assuming this is a side on the way down. No one would blame you for holding that view.

But then again, all might not be lost. New coach Brendan McCartney has come in and suddenly “the whole place feels brand new.” according to Bob Murphy. The club has been injected with new ideas and a new direction and on top of that, it’s worth noting there are still some very handy pieces lying around.

Will it be enough to return to September action? Probably not.

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Just don’t pencil in a bottom four finish for the boys from Whitten Oval. More likely than not, things won’t get that bad.

In the back line, the obvious concern lies with the fact Brian Lake, Dale Morris, Ryan Hargrave, Lindsay Gilbee and Murphy will all be 30 by the end of the calendar year.

Hargrave has had a good pre-season, and Murphy was an All Australian last season, but it would be wrong to expect too much out of the older crop of defenders. Lake and Gilbee were two players who father time seemingly caught up with last year and Morris is on the sidelines until at least Round 6.

In the case of Lake, it must be said sometimes we are too quick to write off a champion. The star full back had three different parts of his body operated on before last season and he played like it. His output dropped and he could only manage five games, so expect him to come out with a point to prove.

Overall, though, age is a legitimate concern. Among the younger players, credit must go to talls Lukas Markovic and Tom Williams for stepping up last year. The smaller Easton Wood also had a good year. Improvement may come from former Sydney player Patrick Veszpremi, who’s been moved down back, and 2009 first round pick Christian Howard.

There are quite a few quality midfielders at the ‘Dogs. Last year’s big positive was Ryan Griffen finally finding consistency. He averaged career-high numbers in touches, contested possessions, clearances, tackles and inside 50s.

Matthew Boyd was again a star and earned All Australian selection. Adam Cooney was injury-affected – this time he only fronted up for a career-low 13 games – but when fit he’s a top player, and he’s set to get game time in the NAB Cup so we’ll see.

The loss of Ward will hurt, but we can’t forget that the Dogs picked up two pretty handy father-son picks at the end of 2010 in Tom Liberatore and Mitch Wallis. Both should be ready to put in full seasons this year.

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In the ruck, the Dogs will feel the impact of Ben Hudson’s exit. His numbers lifted last year and now a lot rests on the shoulders of Will Minson, who played most of 2011 in the VFL. Ayce Cordy and Jordan Roughead will compete for the back-up spot.

Minson did, for what it’s worth, finish fourth in the J.J. Liston Trophy. Not bad considering he was called up to the AFL nine times.

With no more Hall up forward, the Dogs will have to return to their old ways of spreading the load in the forward line. Hall’s 55 goals will have to be replaced by more than one player.

Daniel Giansiracusa has had a good preseason and is ready to do some damage, but what of the talls? Liam Jones (19 goals in 20 games) and Jarrad Grant (16 goals in 16) do not fill one with much confidence.

Overnight sensation Luke Dahlhaus gave Dog fans a reason to smile last year, and Justin Sherman went alright at his new club, but – even though we say this every year – it would be nice to see Shaun Higgins live up to his potential.

A bottoming out would appear to be around the corner for the Dogs, given the age of a number of their better players. The question though is whether 2012 is the year they truly bottom out.

With a new coach and all the optimism and renewed energy that comes with it, you feel that they’ll still be capable of racking up a decent amount of wins this season.

Prediction: 12th-15th

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m0nty’s Fantasy Picks

FanFooty.com.aus Paul Montgomery gives us his AFL fantasy picks for each team for 2012, including a keeper (the one you must have), cash cow (good prospects for healthy trading), and fools gold (avoid at all costs).

Keeper: You won’t go wrong with Matthew Boyd. Two games missed in the last six years. Three consecutive years of top six midfielder averages. The keepingest of keepers.

Cash cow: Key back and Doggies favourite son Michael Talia got the headlines from the draft, but it’s Tory Dickson as a mature-aged defensive forward who will probably score more heavily. Mitch Wallis is worth looking at as that elusive but invaluable rarity, the mid-priced improver.

Fool’s gold: Plenty of fantasy coaches have already pencilled in Brian Lake. Get that eraser ready! He’s already had one setback in preseason, and is the definition of fool’s gold at the moment.

Western Bulldogs photo gallery

First five fixtures

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Round 1 vs. West Coast, Etihad
Round 2 vs. Adelaide, AAMI
Round 3 vs. St Kilda, Etihad
Round 4 vs. Melbourne, MCG
Round 5 vs. GWS Giants, Manuka

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