Poor Dermott Brereton seemed to handle it well!
The Western Bulldogs have done a lot right this season – they’re 11-4 for a reason – but they have one major weakness.
The Dogs have plenty of bite around the footy. They are still clearly the number one team in the competition for winning contested footy (+19.9 per game) and clearances (+7.8 per game) thanks to a long list of midfielders capable of winning their own ball – Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Liberatore, Luke Dahlhaus, Mitch Wallis, Jack Macrae and Liam Picken to name a handful.
Defensively, they are second to only Sydney for points against, conceding barely 12 goals a game, despite key defenders Easton Wood and Marcus Adams missing five and four games, respectively.
But the Dogs continue to fall down in the forward 50.
The fourth-placed Dogs are scoring just 88 points a game (tenth in the competition) and haven’t scored more than 100 points in a contest since Round 8 – twice this season they’ve been restricted to fewer than seven goals under the Etihad Stadium roof.
On the season, their 190 goals is the same number the Saints have managed, and only two more than the five-win Suns have kicked.
Dig a little deeper and the numbers get even uglier. The Bulldogs are pumping it inside 50 about 55 times per game (ranked seventh), but are turning only 23 per cent of those entries into goals. Only Carlton and Essendon are converting at a worse rate. That means this year’s Brisbane Lions are more likely to turn an inside-50 into six points than the Bulldogs.
The eye test doesn’t look any better. Luke Beveridge chose to take on Richmond last week with only one recognised ruckman. That might not seem a big deal against Shaun Hampson and Ben Griffiths, but it meant the Dogs’ only true key forward, Jack Redpath, had to handle a decent share of the ruck duties.
When Redpath was on the ball and Jordan Roughead resting on the bench (he sat for about 22 minutes total), the Bulldogs were without a marking target in their forward line – Macrae was on several occasions the biggest Dog inside 50.
As a midfielder, the 191-centimetre Macrae is a big guy, as a forward, he has 12 marks inside 50 in 70 games, which is two more than the ten total contested marks he’s plucked.
The solution seems so obvious. There’s a big bloke running around in the VFL who the club gave a reported six-year, $6 million contract to help solve this very problem (or $7 million, depending on who’s reporting on it and what their agenda is).
Tom Boyd is not a star, but his presence not only makes life easier for his team but more difficult for their opponents. The Bulldogs have managed only 21 total marks inside 50 in their past three games – that’s not going to get it done in the long run.
Often when talk turns to the Dogs’ weaknesses in 2016 it’s followed by some version of, “It’s okay, they’ll be better next year.”
That’s a dangerous game to play. For all their young talent, the Western Bulldogs still rely heavily on veterans Dale Morris and Matthew Boyd, who will both be 34 next season. Injured skipper Bob Murphy is already 34.
There’s no telling how the 2017 season will unfold, but the 2016 premiership race is wide open.
The Bulldogs won their only flag 62 years ago; it’s time for them to stop stuffing around and play the guys who give them the best chance to end that drought – and that means playing Tom Boyd.