Pre-Season Prediction: 10th
Current Position: 6th
Top 4 Odds: $2.40 (via TopSport)
Forecast: A top four finish or fifth
What a whirlwind 18 months have the Western Bulldogs have, going from potential wooden spooners to premiership contenders and its been a fantastic watch. I was one who predicted they would finish out of the eight this season given that most teams would have a target on them and they would rebound in 2017. This year though, the Dogs, to me, have flown under the radar and are currently travelling very nicely at 10-4, coming off a fantastic win over Sydney in Sydney for the second year running.
The Bulldogs have shown they can win big and also win ugly. They had a three week period, where they picked up gritty wins against Collingwood, West Coast and Port Adelaide. The aforementioned Sydney win was their best of the season, while Adelaide in Round 7 was also a great victory.
However, just when they’re looking good, they’ve taken a step back. Following those gritty wins, they got pumped by Geelong just before the bye. Losses to Hawthorn, North Melbourne and GWS all came off a couple of weeks of good form, so they need to show some consistency in order to be a serious contender come September. Lets take a closer look at their season so far.
What’s Gone Right
Disposal Efficiency. Its a strong area for Luke Beveridge’s side. The Dogs are the third best in the league in this stat and the best ranked team in the top eight. Last year they were going at 73.5 per cent and this year they’re going close to 75 per cent efficiency. They’re ability to move the ball at a slick pace through players such as Dale Morris, Jason Johannisen – who has just returned from injury – and Easton Wood. The Dogs in fact, have six players averaging over 80 per cent disposal efficiency, so it shows its a big part of their game plan going forward.
We talked about Sydney being the number one contested side in the competition, well the Dogs aren’t far behind in second. In 2015 the Western Bulldogs averaged 139 contested possessions a game, but this year they’ve smashed that average, going at 152 per game. Most of their wins have been low scoring this year, but they make up for that, by being first to the contest and making it hard for sides to get into their groove.
Both of their above stats, contribute to the Dogs having one of the best defences in the league. The club is conceding just 74 points a game on average, putting them in the top three along with Geelong and Sydney. Don’t forget that most of this has been achieved without skipper Bob Murphy.
What’s Gone Wrong
Something has to account for the poor scoring we’ve witnessed from the Bulldogs this season, and it could be down to their effectiveness inside 50. The Bulldogs are ranked 14th in the competition for effectiveness inside 50, going at just 46 per cent, the worst out of the top eight sides. Against Geelong they kicked 5.13, 13.2 against Hawthorn and 10.13 against GWS. For a side that doesn’t register big scores, they need to make the most of their chances.
The Bulldogs rank 10th in the AFL for points scored. Whilst they have scored 100 points or more on five occasions this year, they’ve only averaged just 62 points in their four losses. Jake Stringer has been ok but not great and Tom Boyd has battled injuries. Possible reasons as to why their forward line isn’t functioning that well at the moment.
This one is surprising. Contested Possessions are their strength which I mentioned above, but their tackle numbers are quite undesirable. They’re ranked 15th in the competition, second worst in the top eight, for tackle numbers with just 65.1 a game. Tom Liberatore is their best tackler, with 5.8 per game, but he isn’t getting much help. Liam Picken averages just three a game, as does Mitch Wallis and Lachie Hunter. They need about four or five players averaging five tackles or above a game in order to be more competitive.
20-year old Marcus Bontempelli has been in ominous form this year, averaging a goal a game as well as 24.2 disposals – a career high. His height and flexibility has been crucial to the team’s success this season and is on track to debut in the All-Australian team come the end of the season.
It is remarkable he has only played 50 games and was stand-in captain against West Coast earlier in the season. The club has a massive belief in Bontempelli to become a future leader of the club and at his age, has tons of potential. Marcus has about four more years until he reaches his peak and his current form is what most players average at 24-25 years old, proving how special of player he is.
He is also a pretty good bet to win a Brownlow sometime in the future.
Marcus Adams has been a revelation in defence and looks like a veteran playing down there. His size and ability making him a good fit in the Bulldogs back six.
Former Hawthorn Premiership player Matt Suckling has looked dangerous at times, but injuries have limited his impact. Jed Adcock is another one the club took a gamble on. He’s played six valuable games however and has performed well give the club’s long injury list.
Draftee Josh Dunkley has shown plenty of promise since his debut, kicking four goals in six games.
Second Half Expectations
The Bulldogs currently six sixth with 40 points and join a host of teams sitting on that number, so percentage is important from here on in.
The have a relatively good draw. Richmond, Gold Coast and St Kilda take up the next three weeks, before two hard games against fellow top eight sides, Geelong and North Melbourne. To make a top four finish look likely, they need to win at least one of those games. Likely wins will come against Collingwood, Essendon and Fremantle to round out the home and away season.
I think they’ll grab six wins which will take them to 16-7 which should have them in the four, looking at the ladders from previous years. The top eight is a lot tighter this year, so it will be borderline.