In the lead up to the 2017 season, we have assessed each club’s list and named our best 22 for round one. We’ve worked our way through the entire ladder this will be the final analysis; following the write up on Sydney, the next cab off the rank is Western Bulldogs.
Zero Hanger 2017 ladder prediction: 4th
The Bulldogs were riddled with injuries, they finished seventh, travelled interstate twice and still won the whole bloody thing. There probably isn’t a better feeling than winning a club’s second premiership and simultaneously ending a 62-year drought. The Western Bulldogs players would be forgiven for basking in their achievements, but you get the feeling they won’t.
Luke Beveridge has experience backing up success. He did it at St Bede’s Mentone, winning consecutive C, B and A Grade premierships in the Victorian Amateur Football Association, an incredibly difficult achievement. With the players coming back they should still be hungry to go back-to-back. Captain Robert Murphy comes straight into the side, Mitch Wallis and Matt Suckling will do the same when they eventually return. I’ve chosen Stewart Crameri as the full forward over Travis Cloke. Crameri’s pace suits the Bulldogs forward set up much better than Cloke.
The Dogs’ main strength is their ability to win the contested ball. They have a huge collection of players that dominate in that field, led by Tom Liberatore and Marcus Bontempelli. The constant barrage of players flying in at the footy was an incredible sight to see in last year’s Grand Final. Most of them are undersized as well. Macrae, McLean, Daniel and Hunter are all quite small for AFL players, but hunt the ball like mad dogs and apply intense pressure to the opposition. It’s simply inspiring.
The Bulldogs defence has the perfect mix of strong key position defenders and playmakers. Jason Johannisen’s impact on the Grand Final last year cannot be understated and it goes to show the way the AFL is heading. Rebounding defenders are now one of the most important players in a team, as the pressure is applied up-field, forcing a poor entry inside 50 and the rebounding defenders launch the counter-attack. Having players capable of breaking the lines and using the ball efficiently is essential and the Dogs have them in spades. Murphy, Suckling, Boyd, Biggs and Johannisen are all elite off half-back, it’s a great strength for the Dogs.
Amplifying the strengths for the Dogs is the fact that they are such a young side. It’s incredible to think that the sixth youngest side in the competition won the premiership. All those players who are already elite in the competition will only get better, so the Dogs should be here to stay.
Not a lot of weaknesses in the side but their key forwards could be an issue. Tom Boyd starred in the finals series, but prior to then last season he hadn’t really performed very well. Most are expecting him to carry on that form into the season and become one of the top forwards in the competition, but there are no guarantees. Jake Stringer was off the boil last year, while Stewart Crameri has been out of the game for a year, so it will take him a while to bed back in. Travis Cloke has been on the decline since 2013, will the change of club help him rekindle that All-Australian form? I’m doubtful.
The Bulldogs were one of the main exponents of the third man up strategy in 2016, with Marcus Bontempelli earning 63 hitouts. Neither Jordan Roughead or Tom Campbell are dominant tap ruckman, they tend to nullify the contest and provide an extra body at ground level. Both are excellent at doing so, but with the change in the rule the Dogs will no longer have the third man up to fall back on. It is not a major weakness, but it will have an impact on whether the Dogs can win the midfield battle.
Projected Western Bulldogs 2017 round one best 22:
HB: Jason Johannisen, Easton Wood, Robert Murphy
FF: Jake Stringer, Stewart Crameri, Tory Dickson
FOL: Jordan Roughead, Tom Liberatore, Liam Picken
EMG: Fletcher Roberts, Travis Cloke, Lin Jong