The Western Bulldogs achieved the ultimate in 2016, breaking a 62-year premiership drought after finishing the home-and-away season in seventh place.
It’s been a rocky road for Luke Beveridge’s men since, missing the finals in 2017 after suffering a horrendous premiership hangover, finishing 13th in 2018, getting blasted out of the finals by future grand finalists Greater Western Sydney in 2019.
The Bulldogs won the 2016 premiership before their time and have a list that should be peaking over the next few seasons, therefore there is an expectation that they will go deep into the finals in 2020.
FB: Matthew Suckling, Alex Keath, Hayden Crozier
HB: Jason Johannisen, Zaine Cordy, Easton Wood
C: Lachie Hunter, Marcus Bontempelli, Ed Richards
HF: Bailey Smith, Josh Bruce, Sam Lloyd
FF: Bailey Dale, Aaron Naughton, Toby McLean
FOLL: Tim English, Josh Dunkley, Jack Macrae
I/C: Taylor Duryea, Patrick Lipinski, Caleb Daniel, Josh Schache
The Dogs recruited for needs in last year’s trade period and new recruit Alex Keath will be an important part of their back six.
Keath has played on some of the best names in the competition and done so well that at the halfway point of 2019, he was being talked up as a potential All Australian.
His acquisition allows Beveridge to release Easton Wood back to being the third key defender. Wood was fantastic in the premiership year in that role and a repeat of that performance would see the Dogs go deep into September.
The Bulldogs ranked 14th for rebound 50s per game last season, which points to not enough run out of the backline, but with some minor readjustments they should fix that.
They certainly have the weapons to move the ball quickly out of their defensive 50 with the likes of Jason Johannisen, Matthew Suckling, Hayden Crozier and Caleb Daniel being blessed with a mixture of speed and skill.
This is one of the best midfields in the competition, if not the best, led by three legitimate stars of the competition in Marcus Bontempelli, Josh Dunkley and Jack Macrae.
Macrae averaged 33 disposals a game last season, while Bontempelli averaged 26 and Dunkley only had less than 30 disposals in a game three times in the second half of 2019.
The midfield depth is very good, as Lachie Hunter, Bailey Smith, Ed Richards and Toby McLean all have 30 disposal match-winning games.
The mix of inside and outside is fantastic, mainly due to Macrae and Bontempelli being brilliant both on the inside and outside, as well as having proper inside midfielders in Dunkley and Liberatore, and proper outside midfielders in Hunter and Richards.
Similar to their backline, the need for another key position forward was sorted by Josh Bruce.
Bruce kicked 36 goals in 2019 as the number one key forward at the Saints and he comes to the Bulldogs as the second key target which could allow him to get back to 50-goals-a-season form.
Aaron Naughton will be the main focal point after he kicked 32 goals last season in just his second year in the AFL system – including a huge performance against premiers Richmond, where he kicked five goals and took fourteen marks, as well as kicking four against preliminary finalists Geelong. He will be the key to improving the forward line.
The small forwards aren’t great, but they aren’t bad either. Bailey Dale should have a big year, considering he kicked 21 goals from just ten games in 2019, while Sam Lloyd had one of his best seasons to date kicking 38 goals.
With the inclusion of Bruce and a predicted 40 goals more a season, the forward line should be a big area of improvement.
The Bulldogs finished off 2019 as the comp’s in-form team, before getting bullied by the Giants in the elimination final, but they should go deeper into September this year with some new recruits and natural progression.
The Dogs can improve every area on the ground and, personally, I think they will.
It should be a good year for the Dogs faithful as they see their team back in the top four.
Predicted finish: fourth