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Western Bulldogs 2019 season preview: Best 22 and predicted finish

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Roar Rookie
3rd January, 2019
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Having become just the second team under the current finals system to miss out on September action the year after winning the premiership, there was a considerable amount of pressure on the shoulders of Luke Beveridge as he embarked on his fourth year as head coach of the Western Bulldogs.

Things got off to a horrible start, with hefty defeats against GWS (82 points) and West Coast (51 points). A brief resurgence saw the Dogs string three wins in a row together, but it was followed by a horror stretch in which they managed just one win from the next ten games. Another three wins on the trot helped close out a bitterly disappointing campaign that delivered just eight matches, the lowest total under Beveridge.

Hardworking midfielder Lachie Hunter claimed his first best and fairest award, winning by a vote from Jack Macrae, with superstar Marcus Bontempelli rounding out the top three.

The Dogs bid farewell to two premiership players, with Clay Smith and Shane Biggs both retiring, Smith due to persistent injuries and Biggs to explore opportunities away from professional football. Jack Redpath also made the tough decision to hang up the boots due to a troublesome knee injury, while Tom Campbell, Mitch Honeychurch, Kieran Collins and Nathan Mullenger-McHugh were all delisted.

Another two premiership Bulldogs left the club via the player swap period, with Luke Dahlhaus signing with Geelong as a free agent and Jordan Roughead traded to Collingwood in exchange for pick 75.

Fringe Tiger Sam Lloyd joined the club via selection 64, while out-of-favour Hawk Taylor Duryea joined him, with the Bulldogs giving away a future fourth-round pick. Injury-prone defender Marcus Adams was sent north to the Brisbane Lions, with the Dogs receiving pick 32 and a future third round selection in exchange.

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Armed with pick 7 in the national draft, the Bulldogs picked up the diligent Bailey Smith from the Sandringham Dragons in the TAC Cup. Rhylee West, son of seven-time best and fairest winner Scott, officially became a Bulldog as a father-son at selection 26, before the club picked up Laitham Vandermeer at pick 37.

In one of the feel-good stories of the draft, 22-year-old Ben Cavarra from Williamstown was selected up by the Dogs at pick 45, and reigning Footscray best and fairest winner Will Hayes was given the opportunity of joining the senior side through the last pick of the draft at selection 78. After promising debut years as rookies, Billy Gowers and Brad Lynch were both upgraded to the senior list.

With their two picks in the rookie draft the Bulldogs opted for Lachie Young and Jordon Sweet. Sudan-born Buku Khamis joined the club as a category B rookie via the Next Generation Academy.

Playing list

New players in bold

1. Matthew Suckling 16. Toby McLean 31. Bailey Dale
2. Lewis Young 17. Tom Boyd 32. Will Hayes
3. Mitch Wallis 18. Fletcher Roberts 33. Aaron Naughton
4. Marcus Bontempelli 19. Lukas Webb 34. Bailey Williams
5. Josh Dunkley 20. Ed Richards 35. Caleb Daniel
6. Bailey Smith 21. Tom Liberatore 36. Brad Lynch
7. Lachie Hunter 22. Sam Lloyd 37. Roarke Smith (R)
8. Jackson Trengove 23. Laitham Vandermeer 38. Dale Morris
9. Hayden Crozier 24. Buku Khamis (R) 39. Jason Johannisen
10. Easton Wood (C) 25. Ben Cavarra 40. Lachie Young (R)
11. Jackson Macrae 26. Billy Gowers 41. Jordon Sweet
12. Zaine Cordy 27. Pat Lipinski 42. Liam Picken
13. Josh Schache 28. Callum Porter 44. Tim English
14. Rhylee West 29. Tory Dickson 46. Lin Jong
15. Taylor Duryea 30. Fergus Greene

Best 22

FB: Dale Morris, Zaine Cordy, Hayden Crozier
HB: Easton Wood, Aaron Naughton, Jason Johannisen
C: Bailey Williams, Josh Dunkley, Lachie Hunter
HF: Ed Richards, Josh Schache, Toby McLean
FF: Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Boyd, Billy Gowers
R: Jackson Trengove, Tom Liberatore, Jackson Macrae
IC: Caleb Daniel, Mitch Wallis, Pat Lipinski, Matthew Suckling
EMG: Tim English, Bailey Smith, Liam Picken, Sam Lloyd

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The star

Coming off two consecutive Charles Sutton Medal awards as the Bulldogs best and fairest, Marcus Bontempelli is not only the marquee player of the club, he is a genuine star of the competition.

Elevated to the role of vice-captain, Bontempelli endured a modest start to the year as he started spending more time up forward. The 23-year-old still managed to have a big impact when floating through the midfield, but it was near the big sticks where he was able to influence matches, highlighted by his four-goal haul in the third quarter of the Bulldogs’ Round 20 win over St Kilda.

Despite missing three matches, two of them due to appendix surgery, the 2016 All Australian finished third in the best and fairest, making it four years in a row he has managed at least a podium finish. With a glut of midfielders able to have an impact, watch for Bontempelli to spent a lot of time in attack with powerful bursts in the middle.

Marcus Bontempelli Western Bulldogs AFL 2017

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Needs a big year

There aren’t many things more synonymous with the Western Bulldogs than the Liberatore name, so it was devastating for all associated with the club when Tom Liberatore went down clutching his knee in the opening round of the 2018 season, especially considering it was the second ACL rupture suffered by the 26-year-old in just over three years.

The injury came after a fairly substandard 2017 campaign from the premiership midfielder that had many question his commitment to life as a professional footballer. Those doubts haven’t gone away, and with a one-year contract on his head, Liberatore has a chance to prove the naysayers wrong and return to the level of footy that saw him once rated as one of the elite inside midfielders in the league.

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Ready to break out

One positive to come out of a bleak year for the Bulldogs was the emergence of even more talented youngsters, namely Ed Richards and Aaron Naughton. With a famous bloodline and a flame of red hair, attention was always going to follow Richards from the moment he debuted in Round 2 last season.

He didn’t miss a game from that point, impressing with his football nous, speed and disposal. When sent forward he was also able to have a profound impact, highlighted by his seven goals across a three-week stretch mid-season. Expect Richards to be a mainstay in the Western Bulldogs side in 2019.

Alongside him will be Aaron Naughton, who is also coming off a very impressive debut year. An excellent reader of the play and a terrific mark, Naughton quickly found a spot in the Bulldogs back six, manning some of the AFL’s most dangerous forwards, including Lance Franklin. The 19-year-old’s profound impact in the side was rewarded with a surprising but deserved top-four finish in the club best and fairest, highlighting how highly the coaches rate him. He’s definitely one to watch in the coming years.

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Last chance

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The development of Naughton had a direct impact on the fortunes of premiership defender Fletcher Roberts, who mustered just two games in season 2018, meaning he’s played only 12 matches since the Dogs won the flag. With one year remaining on his contract, it appears a tough task for Roberts to break back into the senior line-up.

Soon to be out-of-contract midfielder Lukas Webb will also be hoping he experiences a bigger output in season 2019 after just 14 games in the last three seasons.

New colours

Having fallen out of favour at their respective clubs, Sam Lloyd and Taylor Duryea both jumped at the chance for a new opportunity at Whitten Oval. The 28-year-old Lloyd arrives after 57 games and 69 goals with Richmond, but he has managed only 15 games since the start of 2017. A talented goalsneak, a strong preseason will give him every chance of starting the year in consideration for the best 22.

A two-time premiership player, Duryea was a mainstay in the Hawthorn backline after he broke through for his debut in the first year of the Hawks’ much-vaunted threepeat. With Hawthorn opting for youth at times during the 2018 season, Duryea found himself on the outer, and eventually a trade to the Bulldogs was struck.

While he may start behind the likes of Hayden Crozier, Jason Johannisen and Bailey Williams in the pecking order, he will provide plenty of experience and toughness at the contest, and as a winner of Hawthorn’s best clubman award, he will no doubt have an impact on his teammates off the field.

Sam Lloyd of the Tigers celebrates a goal during the 2018 AFL round 20 match between the Richmond Tigers and the Geelong Cats at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on August 03, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia.

(Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

The kid

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Growing up with a self-confessed obsession with being drafted and playing AFL, there perhaps hasn’t been a youngster more dedicated to being a professional athlete in the AFL world than young Bailey Smith. A product of the Sandringham Dragons, Smith is an elite endurance player born from an intense workout schedule he would complete diligently as a teenager. He’s also meticulous in his eating habits, making sure the right foods go into his body to provide him with the fuel to compete. There are players who are simply born to play sport at the highest level, and the No.7 draft pick is one of them.

Supercoach star

The most valuable players in the fantasy football world are the ‘set and forget’ types – that is, players you can pick when forming your squad and trust them to deliver for you for the entire 22 weeks of the season. Jackson Macrae is one of those players. The smooth-moving midfielder averaged an incredible 32.8 possessions in 2018, ranked second across the league, while his Supercoach average of 127.1 points per game was only bettered by Brodie Grundy and Tom Mitchell. While he will cost you in excess of $600,000, Macrae is worth the investment if you’re chasing the grand prize.

Fixture

Round Team Venue
Round 1 Sydney Marvel Stadium
Round 2 Hawthorn MCG
Round 3 Gold Coast Marvel Stadium
Round 4 Collingwood MCG
Round 5 Carlton Marvel Stadium
Round 6 Fremantle Optus Oval
Round 7 Richmond Marvel Stadium
Round 8 Brisbane Lions Mars Stadium
Round 9 Geelong GMHBA Stadium
Round 10 North Melbourne Marvel Stadium
Round 11 West Coast Optus Oval
Round 12 Bye
Round 13 Carlton Marvel Stadium
Round 14 Collingwood Marvel Stadium
Round 15 Port Adelaide Adelaide Oval
Round 16 Geelong Marvel Stadium
Round 17 Melbourne Marvel Stadium
Round 18 St Kilda Marvel Stadium
Round 19 Fremantle Marvel Stadium
Round 20 Brisbane Lions The Gabba
Round 21 Essendon Marvel Stadium
Round 22 GWS Giants Sydney Showground Stadium
Round 23 Adelaide Mars Stadium

View the full 2019 AFL fixture here.

Finishing in 13th position, the Dogs were entitled to an easier fixture as per the weighted rule. As such, Luke Beveridge’s men will take on competition cellar dwellers Carlton twice in 2019 as well as fellow bottom-six outfits Fremantle and the Brisbane Lions. The Dogs will also face Geelong on two occasions, while they get two chances to take on grand finalists Collingwood.

Commercially the Bulldogs have taken a hit with this year’s fixture, with only one marquee match, an away game, slated for Round 4 on a Friday night against the Magpies at the MCG. However, the Bulldogs will play five Saturday night matches at Marvel Stadium. All up, the Dogs will play 12 matches under the roof at Docklands, with two games at the MCG, both coming in the opening month of the season.

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In a six-week period before the club’s Round 12 bye the Bulldogs will head to Perth twice to face the Dockers and Eagles, while they will also travel down the highway to Geelong.

In the back half of the season the Dogs travel to Adelaide to face the Power, Brisbane to take on the Lions and Sydney Showground Stadium to play the GWS Giants in Round 22.

As they did last year, the Western Bulldogs will also play two home matches at Mars Stadium in Ballarat. In Round 8 on a Saturday afternoon they host the Brisbane Lions, before closing their 2019 season with a clash against the Adelaide Crows, with the time of that game yet to be determined.

The quirks

The Western Bulldogs’ Round 2 clash with Hawthorn will be their first home-and-away meeting at the MCG since 2011. A week later the Dogs will host the Gold Coast Suns at Marvel Stadium, a venue the two sides have not played at since Round 3, 2011, which was the Suns’ second-ever match in their history.

Aaron Naughton

(Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Don’t miss it

A surprising rivalry between the Western Bulldogs and North Melbourne has developed over the past few seasons, mostly on the back of a string of tight, enthralling contests. The past four clashes between the two sides have been decided by a total margin of 13 points, with each result ending in a heart-stopping finish. In Round 10 the Bulldogs and Kangaroos will go head to head on a Saturday afternoon at Marvel Stadium. Going on past results, you’d want a ticket to this one.

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Make other plans

Despite breaking an 11-game losing streak dating back to late in the 2009 season against Geelong last year, not many Western Bulldogs supporters will be feeling confident heading into their Round 9 clash with the Cats down at GMHBA Stadium. Not only is Geelong a bogey side for the Bulldogs, but Kardinia Park is a venue the club has not had any success at in recent time, losing their last eight encounters there.

Final word

The Bulldogs have been one of the competition’s biggest disappointments in the past couple of seasons, failing to backup their shock 2016 premiership and instead missing the finals in both years. As ridiculous as it sounds, Luke Beveridge will come under some pressure if he can’t steer this ship back in the direction he had it going in his first couple of years at the helm.

The Dogs have an extremely talented squad and their list profile is the envy of most teams across the league – they just need to reclaim some of that magic and unpredictability that they built their game on in their flag year.

Predicted finish: Tenth to 14th.