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Opinion

Four burning questions for the Western Bulldogs ahead of the AFL restart

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Editor
9th June, 2020
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The Bulldogs will have fire in their bellies after a calamitous effort in Round 1 against Collingwood.

After a surge in the second half of 2019 had many picking the Doggies as a top-four smokey, they looked like red, white and blue witches hats against the Magpies in a 52-point demolition.

If anyone has a point to prove in Round 2, it’s them.

Here are four burning questions for the Western Bulldogs as their quest for redemption begins.

1. What the heck happened in Round 1?

I tipped the Doggies ‘last’ Friday night and, while I knew I was backing the slight outsiders, I never thought they’d get towelled up to the extent they did.

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Nothing worked. They got monstered in disposals and contested possessions, got smashed in clearances, lost the inside 50s by 20 – and were powerless to stop the Pies in defence too – while also losing the tackle count in a comprehensively miserable performance.

A whopping seven players failed to reach ten disposals, with three failing to reach five, while several superstars were well below their best.

Alex Keath’s club debut was arguably the lone highlight.

Collingwood might be a premiership contender, but no side with finals aspirations should be losing in that manner and Luke Beveridge must get to the bottom of it immediately.

The Dogs came home with a wet sail last year to play finals, but it was a poor start in 2019 too. If last year had been a 17-game season too, they would have finished 12th.

They won’t have as much time to get a wriggle on in 2020 and must get it together now.

The Bulldogs look dejected after losing the round 1 AFL match

Round 1 was a disaster. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

2. Is there room for everybody in the forward line?

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The Bulldogs didn’t lack for scoring in 2019, finishing third in the AFL with 1941 points.

But that didn’t stop them from picking up Josh Bruce from St Kilda in the trade period. The Dogs aren’t going to lose this trade – they gave the Saints picks 32 and 51 for someone who’d kicked 168 goals in 99 games – but bringing in a 28-year-old key forward when you’ve got Aaron Naughton and Josh Schache coming through is strange timing.

Schache – after finishing third at the club with 24 goals last season – was relegated to the emergency list in Round 1 and you’d hope, at 22 and fresh off a breakout year, he’s not getting shoved aside for 28-year-old unless this year’s sole goal is a premiership.

Playing all three talls at the same time makes the side too one-dimensional, especially if it means Sam Lloyd or Tory Dickson – first and equal-third in last year’s tally – has to sit out.

Billy Gowers – 2018’s leading goalkicker – is on the outer too, so there’s clearly depth up forward. Finding the right balance will be key.

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3. Are we a genuine contender?

It was a tale of two seasons for the Bulldogs in 2019. Following two non-finals finishes after the 2016 premiership, they looked certain to extend that streak to three seasons following a 4-7 start that featured losses to Gold Coast and Carlton.

But the wheel turned. The young midfield – let by the emergence of Josh Dunkley – really came into its own and they went 8-3 to surge into September, only for the wheels to fall off in a horror loss to Greater Western Sydney.

With only 11 players from the 2016 triumph still with the club, this isn’t a team that won a flag ahead of time coming into their prime. This is a whole new side and Beveridge deserves credit for having them reloaded and ready to have a crack already.

The fact they traded for two 28-year-olds in the offseason suggests they think the time is now, but whether they’re capable of having a serious crack this year isn’t so clear cut.

I’ve covered the forward line in depth already but, to be fair, there don’t appear to be too many holes elsewhere. Any midfield that boasts Marcus Bontempelli, Lachie Hunter, Jackson Macrae, Tom Liberatore and Josh Dunkley is clearly up there with the best.

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Their defence was by far the leakiest of any finalist last season, but former Crow Keath gives the Doggies the key defender they’ve sorely lacked and should make a huge difference. Their weakness in the ruck isn’t really an issue in today’s game anyway.

On the other hand, their Round 1 side was the sixth youngest in the competition and two of the club’s three 150-plus gamers – Jackon Trengove and Matt Suckling – appear to be on the fringe. They only have four players over 30 on the list, but three of them (Dickson, Wood and Lloyd) will be hard to replace when they retire.

They’re definitely headed in the right direction, but they might not have a flag in them just yet.

Luke Beveridge

Has Luke Beveridge got the Doggies primed for another flag tilt? (Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

4. If we bomb this year, where does that leave Luke Beveridge?

This isn’t a prediction that they will bomb this year and, even if they do, Beveridge is contracted until the end of 2023 so it won’t matter.

But would three missed finals appearances in four years post-2016 be enough to have more than just Damian Barrett questioning his job security?