2017 AFL preview series: Western Bulldogs – 3rd

Cameron Rose Columnist

By Cameron Rose, Cameron Rose is a Roar Expert

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    2016 was the year of the (under) Dog.

    The Western Bulldogs weren’t the best team of the year, but boy were they the best team of September. It’s hard to argue against it being the greatest finals campaign ever put together.

    Their first scalp was the previous year’s runner-up, and the hottest team heading into finals, West Coast. In Perth, no less.

    Next up was the little matter of Hawthorn, the three-peat champions, who themselves had only missed a preliminary final berth by a metre or two the week before.

    Then followed another interstate trip, to take on the barnstorming Giants, and claim victory in a match that is well in the conversation for the best final of this century.

    Finally, grand final day, and claiming the premiership trophy in front of a crowd that was 19 shy of 100,000, against Sydney, the ladder leaders and most consistently successful team of the last 15 years.

    If you haven’t read Jay Croucher’s magnificent ode to the Dogs, written in the aftermath of last year’s grand final, then you don’t need to read any further here. Go. Do it.

    Western Bulldogs’ best 22

    B Bob Murphy Fletcher Roberts Dale Morris
    HB Matthew Boyd Easton Wood Jason Johannisen
    C Jack Macrae Marcus Bontempelli Lachie Hunter
    HF Jake Stringer Stewart Crameri Liam Picken
    F Travis Cloke Tom Boyd Clay Smith
    Foll Jordan Roughead Luke Dahlhaus Tom Liberatore
    Int Tory Dickson Caleb Daniel Mitch Wallis Shane Biggs

    Emergencies: Matthew Suckling, Josh Dunkley, Toby McLean

    There are four players not in the 22 named above that played in the premiership.


    Joel Hamling has gone to Fremantle, Zaine Cordy has effectively been replaced by Travis Cloke, while Mitch Wallis and captain Bob Murphy have squeezed out Josh Dunkley and Toby McLean. There is also another premiership player, ex-Hawk Matthew Suckling, on the outside.

    Wallis broke his leg last year, and will be missing for most of this season, while Jordan Roughead is a few weeks away, so there are a couple of spots available to start the year.

    The Dogs lack quality height across the ground. We’re not seeing any Wayne Careys, Glen Jakovichs or Dean Coxs running out in the red, white and blue.

    But they more than make up for this at ground level, where they are ferocious at the ball and man. Luke Beveridge understands that you need to play to your strengths as a football team, not just focus on mitigating or shoring up your weaknesses.

    Fletcher Roberts looks likely to get first crack as the lump of wood in the backline, to be supported by the ever-reliable Dale Morris and flag skipper Easton Wood playing taller and broader than their frames.

    Run will be the order of the day from the backline, with Norm Smith medallist Jason Johannisen the hardest to deny. He is a legitimate line-breaker amidst the contested possession bulls, something which helped him stand-out on grand final day, even if his kicking was often astray.

    Bob Murphy will be welcomed back to cut the angles, while Matthew Boyd is coming off an All-Australian year, and will continue to accumulate and distribute.

    The midfield is led by Marcus the Magnificent or, as he is more commonly known, The Bont. He landed at number four in our Roar Top 50, and you can read Jay’s thoughts on him there.

    Lachie Hunter and Jack Macrae run the wings, while Tom Liberatore and Luke Dahlhaus are the first class support for Bontempelli on the inside. Dahlhaus is the most balanced player of this group, and arguably has a case as the most under-appreciated player in the AFL.

    The ruck division is the most obvious weakness on paper, but this was also the case last year when the Dogs were ranked first in the league for centre-bounce clearances and second for all clearances, time in forward half and inside 50 differential. Stoppages for them were as easy as shelling peas.

    Jordan Roughead was the premiership ruckman, but will miss the start of the season, so Tom Boyd will take up the cudgels in the early rounds. All eyes will be on Boyd to see if he can use the confidence gained from last year’s grand final, when he could easily have won the Norm Smith, to elevate his game.

    Travis Cloke will be another Bulldog to receive major attention, especially as he seems assured of a spot in the 22 in the initial stages of the season. He fell out of favour with Nathan Buckley in his last two years at Collingwood but is at his best when on the move, knowing his fall-back is being hard to beat in any one-on-one wrestle deep in the forward line. Cloke’s last outstanding season was 2013, and he’ll need to prove his worth in order to hold his position.

    Travis Cloke of the Magpies kicks a goal

    Jake Stringer in 2016 was down significantly on goals, consistency and overall match impact from the previous year, and he seemed to struggle with the weight of expectation as one of the competition’s rising stars. Some VFL time late in the season might be the spark he needed to return to his best.

    Stewart Crameri returns from his WADA-imposed suspension and will offer a marking target between the arcs. Liam Picken has been one of the Dogs’ best players in the past two seasons, with a superb finals campaign the cherry on top. Clay Smith averaged 18.5 touches and two goals a game through the finals and will be looking to post similar numbers across 22 rounds.

    The beauty of the Dogs is the versatility they have in their second-tier players, and the sheer amount of them they possess.

    Tory Dickson was a match-winner through the finals with his calm and canny finishing. Caleb Daniel is already one of the best decision-makers in the league. We know how damaging Matthew Suckling’s left foot can be.

    The Bulldogs under Luke Beveridge like to win the ball at the coalface, then control it first by hand and then by foot, and they are exceptional at all these facets. They keep their turnovers down, which helps scores against them low, and they ensure the game gets played in their half of the ground.

    The Dogs went into 2016 ranked 14th for age and 15th for experience, which makes them a premiership winner with a list profile similar to the 1993 Bombers and 2008 Hawks. Both of those clubs missed the finals the year after their flag success.

    Are the Dogs psychologically mature enough to handle the expectation that comes with winning the ultimate prize, or will they flounder under the weight? This year they’ll be the hunted week after week, which is a completely different scenario to starting the underdog four finals in a row.

    In their favour is a friendly opening five weeks, which should help them build momentum into the season. And, of course, they have the magic man Luke Beveridge. He’s had the answers to every challenge thrown at him in his senior coaching career so far, and it would be a brave person to bet against him.

    Some young horses win a Group 1 race, and it is the peak of their career. Others come back the next preparation and reach new heights. It will be fascinating to see which category the Bulldogs fall into.

    Predicted ladder spread: 2nd-6th

    Predicted finish: 3rd

    Best and fairest: Marcus Bontempelli

    Leading goalkicker: Jake Stringer

    All-Australian potential: Marcus Bontempelli, Luke Dahlhaus, Jason Johannisen, Jake Stringer

    Rising Star candidates: Timothy English, Bailey Williams

    Cam Rose’s AFL preview series ladder

    3rd – Western Bulldogs
    4th – Geelong
    5th – West Coast
    6th – Melbourne
    7th – Adelaide
    8th – St Kilda
    9th – Hawthorn
    10th – Richmond
    11th – Collingwood
    12th – Gold Coast
    13th – Port Adelaide
    14th – Fremantle
    15th – Essendon
    16th – North Melbourne
    17th – Carlton
    18th – Brisbane

    Cameron Rose
    Cameron Rose

    Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.

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    The Crowd Says (18)

    • Roar Guru

      March 20th 2017 @ 8:42am
      Pumping Dougie said | March 20th 2017 @ 8:42am | ! Report

      Great article Cam, once again. Hard to fault any of your analysis. I’d like to see your three emergencies plus Marcus Adams and Bailey Williams in the side, but I can’t see how to fit them in. Dunkley and McLean were both superb last year and yet have both only played less than 20 games – they will only get better. However, I think your Best 22 is pretty much right, although I’d swap Adams for Roberts. I’m not convinced on Cloke either (I prefer the more versatile, above-and-below-the-knees-player, Cordy), but Bevo is clearly backing him in. It’s all in the head for Trav, and Bevo is the master of making his players feel confident and valued – but if we see the same Cloke of the past few years then there’s about a dozen players missing from your 22 who should get a game ahead of him.

      Also, I notice you don’t have Jong in your team. I wouldn’t either and I’ve been a critic of his in the past. But he swayed my opinion last year. He took some important strides forward in not lapsing in and out of games. When he arose like Lazarus from a broken collarbone to play prematurely in the VFL grand final and claim BOG, that was incredibly brave and impressive. He showed an increasing penchant last year as the season progressed for making his presence felt in key moments of matches. I think he might be in contention along with McLean for most improved player this year.

      • March 20th 2017 @ 8:47am
        I hate pies said | March 20th 2017 @ 8:47am | ! Report

        Jong has looked very comfortable in the JLT games this year; I think he’s finally believing that he belongs in the big league. His disposal efficiency by hand and by foot (handballing and kicking) has improved significantly as well.

        • Columnist

          March 20th 2017 @ 10:28am
          Cameron Rose said | March 20th 2017 @ 10:28am | ! Report

          I certainly had the same problems you are identifying, PD, in terms of settling on a best 22. Cloke wasn’t in mine originally, but given Beveridge is clearly going to give him a chance, I had to put him in. It took me ages to choose who to pull out, and in the end it was Dunkley.

          I also had Adams at full-back originally, but it seems Roberts might have the inside running now? Potentially they play both depending on opposition, although they’d prefer not too.

          Jong could easily claim a spot, so could McLean, and Cordy’s time will come, but he’s not there yet for mine, despite having some important moments in the finals.

          Great problems to have, Beveridge has been a master at rotating through his depth, ensuring everyone is ready to play their role when they get the call up.

          • Roar Guru

            March 20th 2017 @ 10:53am
            Pumping Dougie said | March 20th 2017 @ 10:53am | ! Report

            Cheers Cam. Adams has had an injury interrupted pre-season, which is why Roberts has secured the front running. I think Adams is right to go now, but will start the year in the VFL. Based on what I saw of him last year, I think if his body holds together he will be a certainty in our Best 22. Roberts may not necessarily be the one to go out for him though, as Bevo prefers two key defenders against some opposition teams.

            • Roar Rookie

              March 20th 2017 @ 2:27pm
              Tom said | March 20th 2017 @ 2:27pm | ! Report

              Jeez Adams looked a fair bit behind in the JLT series. I have massive concerns for him, hopefully it’s just injury issues as he was fantastic early last year.

            • Roar Guru

              March 20th 2017 @ 2:33pm
              Dalgety Carrington said | March 20th 2017 @ 2:33pm | ! Report

              I wonder if they might be preparing for not having Adams beyond this year too, given the compelling reasons he has to return to WA?

              • Roar Rookie

                March 20th 2017 @ 3:11pm
                Tom said | March 20th 2017 @ 3:11pm | ! Report

                Bit of a funny situation to find themselves in, obviously while he’s there you want to play him if he’s in your best 22. This gives you a better chance to win and also drives up the price for a trade.
                On the other side if it is obvious he is leaving at the end of the year do you play someone else in preparation for next year? My thoughts are the former is the most sensible option.

    • March 20th 2017 @ 11:09am
      Kevin said | March 20th 2017 @ 11:09am | ! Report

      Great peice..cam.

      I agree that the squeeze Into the first 22 will be tough for many..i saw Toby McLean play in person at the gold coast 2 weeks ago ..and he was red hot..i wonder if it may be a coming of age for him this year…

      With the fast speed of play ..i do think they may go through some personel as they did last year . .so there may be a good rotation of players as the year progresses

      • Columnist

        March 20th 2017 @ 11:45am
        Cameron Rose said | March 20th 2017 @ 11:45am | ! Report

        Thanks Kevin.

        Beveridge does love to rotate his players through, and we saw in the finals how ready they all were.

      • March 20th 2017 @ 12:14pm
        Birdman said | March 20th 2017 @ 12:14pm | ! Report

        Kevin, if ‘coming of age’ means McLean no longer milks head high contact for free kicks, then yes, that’s a positive IMHO.

      • Roar Guru

        March 20th 2017 @ 12:24pm
        Pumping Dougie said | March 20th 2017 @ 12:24pm | ! Report

        Kevin, we’re pretty fortunate to have a nippy, creative, smart, skilful player like McLean playing on the flanks and pockets and not required to help much onball. I think his skinny build and stop-start playing career from injuries, has resulted in opposition supporters knowing little about him and under-estimating him. As he gets more continuity in his body and career (19 games so far in two injury-interrupted seasons), I think we’ll see him impact games across four quarters more often.

        • March 20th 2017 @ 12:34pm
          Kevin said | March 20th 2017 @ 12:34pm | ! Report

          Dougie 19 games is that all…wow..only 2 years as well.!

          he was in everything in that last 5 minutes v’s the giants ..from what I’ve heard in the tac cup ( i hope i got that right) he was notorious for taking screamer after screamer

          • Roar Rookie

            March 20th 2017 @ 2:30pm
            Tom said | March 20th 2017 @ 2:30pm | ! Report

            He did take a nice pack mark in the third quarter against GWS. Massive goal in the shadows of half time in the Grand Final too. Hopefully with a full preseason he launches into 2017, floating between the wing and forward pocket.

    • March 20th 2017 @ 12:30pm
      Kevin said | March 20th 2017 @ 12:30pm | ! Report

      Haha…Birdman that I can’t guarantee… but I believe the umps have stopped paying it…similar to selwood after a while..
      He played a blunder v’s GC.. his contested marking for his size is brilliant , I think his only issue now are his set shots ..

      • March 20th 2017 @ 12:32pm
        Birdman said | March 20th 2017 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

        yep, the kid can def. play.

    • March 20th 2017 @ 1:52pm
      Rich_daddy said | March 20th 2017 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

      It will be interesting what impact the inclusion of Crameri and Cloke have on the Dogs forward line. On paper, you would say their forward line looks stronger but it may make their attack more predictable. In the modern game, not having a designated ‘power forward’ can be a advantage as it makes your attack unpredictable as the defence doesn’t know where the ball the going and players are more likely to kick to the player in the best position as opposed to ‘kicking to faces’.This worked to the Dogs advantage last year.

      • Roar Rookie

        March 20th 2017 @ 2:33pm
        Tom said | March 20th 2017 @ 2:33pm | ! Report

        I can see Stringer and Crameri rotating between forward and midfield, rarely will you see both in the forward 50. Seemed to work pretty well against GC, especially with Stringer getting into the game and in turn gaining confidence around the goals. The mid sized fleet of Stringer, Crameri, Dickson and Clay Smith will be a bloody nightmare to defend.

    • March 20th 2017 @ 8:42pm
      mattyb said | March 20th 2017 @ 8:42pm | ! Report

      Third!!! We just won the flag,look at the stats Cam,the stats!
      Just kidding. Pretty fair appraisal. Will be an interesting year. Your tips were very good last year and if I remember you had the dogs top 4 and Port well down,these were brave tips that proved correct.

      I’ll be interested how we start the season. I’m already slightly concerned with a couple of injuries but surely our luck should improve in that area. Your team looks about right for now,good depth so if players drop off they will be out I’d suspect.

      Can the dogs go back to back? Perhaps,but we will need to be on our game.
      Will the dogs win 3 of the next 5 premierships? At a minimum I think.
      This is the best dogs list we have ever had and we showed that last year. Hopfully this list lives up to its potential and Bontempelli and Stringer become all time greats.

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