Premiership Odds: $18

Prediction: 10th

The Western Bulldogs were the fairytale story of last season, a crop of youngsters and a mix of veterans coached by a first-year coach surprised us all and finished 6th.

They bowed out in the first week of the finals and its going to be tough to repeat what happened in 2015. A lot teams in the competition are now wary of the Dogs and how they play, and may spend more time scouting them out then they did last season.

A hit and miss fixture makes it a lot harder to make finals again and it remains to be seen whether the Dogs’ veterans can live up to the billing once again.

It’s difficult to have the Bulldogs missing finals just a year after storming back into the eight, but its perfectly reasonable. Like Adelaide, it will only be a short absence and they can expect to challenge once again in 2017.

Key Ins:

Matt Suckling, Josh Dunkley, Kieran Collins, Marcus Adams, Jed Adcock

Key Outs:

Michael Talia, Ayce Cordy, Sam Darley, Jarrad Grant, Brett Goodes

Key Player: Jake Stringer

He’s slimed down, worked on his frame and improved his fitness levels ahead of a huge 2016 for the 21-year old forward.

Stringer took the AFL by storm last year, kicking 56 goals before being hamstrung early in the elimination final loss to Adelaide. With the Dogs missing banned forward Stewart Crameri, the man from Bendigo will have much more responsibility in his side’s dangerous forward mix.

Stringer has taken his running power to a new level, allowing the 91kg forward the versatility to play deep or taken an opponent further up field.

The Bulldog has finally shaken off his leg injury, which has plagued him since he was 16 and with the club keeping faith in him and taking him at pick 5 during the 2012 draft, they’re reaping the rewards.

Expect Stringer to wow not just Bulldog fans, but every AFL fan as the Dogs look to surprise us once again.

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Rising Star: Kieran Collins

Collins was an absolute steal for the Bulldogs at last year’s national draft.

The 18-year old was picked at no. 26 by the Dogs and is already AFL ready at 194cm and 100kg. He’s an exciting prospect for the Bulldogs and as a key defender, was considered by many to be the best defender in the 2015 pool, behind the no.1 pick Jacob Weitering.

Collins’ ability to make the right decisions under pressure is particularly impressive, and was manifested at the draft combine where he was the highest ranked player in the clean hands test.

Collins could develop into a Cale Hooker-like defender who has a presence in the air but is also committed to stopping his man. Perhaps Collins’ best quality is his discipline, he does what his team needs and does it well.

It remains to be seen whether Collins will debut this year, but when he does, he should make some waves.

Under the Pump: Jed Adcock

The former Lions skipper found himself in exile at the end of this season and was given a life-line by the Dogs in the rookie draft during the off-season.

While it’s expected that Adcock will be upgraded to the senior playing list, he will be under pressure to find his way into the Dogs’s starting 22.

The 206-game veteran has truckloads of experience, but who would he edge out in the Dogs’ backline? Or will he be used as a forward?

2016 will be a year of second – and perhaps last – chances for Adcock.

Weakness: Goals

Finding goals could be difficult for the young pups given that Stewart Crameri will miss the entire 2016 season due to the Bomber’s supplement saga.

They’ll have young gun Jake Stringer to try and fill the void, but can he be their number one target up front if he’s spending more time in midfield.

Crameri was a key clog in the Bulldogs forward line last season, and was one of the reasons the Dogs were able to turn their fortunes, but the Bulldogs have Tom Boyd, the big money signing from GWS, who can fill the void.

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While Boyd didn’t have a huge impact last season, he showed glimpses of how dominant he can become as a key forward with a four-goal haul against the Brisbane Lions in round 12.

Strength: Half-back line

This is where the Dogs started their counter-attacks which contributed to their brilliant free running style last season.

Skipper Robert Murphy was absolutely outstanding and made the All-Australian team as captain. Easton Wood was an intercept-machine and with Matt Suckling joining the defensive ranks this season, expect the Bulldogs to be stronger in this area.

What the fixture looks like: Ok

The Bulldogs will have to face some tough teams twice after an excellent 2015 season, but there is plenty for Dogs fans to be happy about in this fixture.

For starters, the team will not have to leave the comfy surroundings of Etihad Stadium until round eight, and will not have to leave Melbourne until round nine.

The Bulldogs were imperious on that ground in 2015 as the slick surface and roof ensured their rapid game style was at its most devastating, and even the trickiest fixtures on that ground in the early run – against Fremantle and Hawthorn – will be winnable ones.

There is no telling how high up the Bulldogs could be after nine rounds, and that sort of platform could be enough to see them improve yet again in 2016.

Best 22

B: Easton Wood, Jordan Roughead, Jason Johannisen

C: Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Liberatore, Lachie Hunter

HF: Liam Picken, Jack Redpath, Jake Stringer

F: Tory Dickson, Tom Boyd, Luke Dahlhaus

R: Will Minson, Mitch Wallis, Jack Macrae

I: Matthew Boyd, Joel Hamling, Mitch Honeychurch, Caleb Daniel

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