PERTH, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 25: Cody Weightman and Adam Treloar of the Bulldogs leave the field after the 2021 Toyota AFL Grand Final match between the Melbourne Demons and the Western Bulldogs at Optus Stadium on September 25, 2021 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Gary Day/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The Doggies were in the driver's seat at half-time during 2021's big dance but were subsequently obliterated in the second half by the white-hot Demons to go down by a whopping 74 points in Perth.

Despite their gallant first-half effort, it seemed the Dogs' last month of home-and-away footy was the writing on the wall with the side losing three of their last four to fall out of the double chance spots and into sudden death territory.

However, the talent that Luke Beveridge has at his disposal means that there is no reason for Doggies fans to be pessimistic about the club's future considering the development that is yet to happen for many players on their list.

Throw in the intake of youngsters the club had over the off-season, and you'd be barking mad to say that the Dogs aren't close to being one of the favourites to take out this year's flag.

Without further ado, let's dive into Five burning questions for the Western Bulldogs.


How will Sam Darcy and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan be used?

The capture of father-son prodigy Sam Darcy at Pick 2 of 2021's national draft was a move that was in the pipeline for some time, with the club making it very clear that he was their main priority going into proceedings.

Darcy's ability to play as a key tall across the ground means that there are a number of positions he could possibly be utilised in once he returns from a stress fracture in his foot.

However, another name that is sure to be wanting to nail down a permanent role in the side is 2020 Pick 1 Jamarra Ugle-Hagan following a stunted start to life at AFL level.

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The 19-year-old generated a huge amount of hype in 2021, yet only appeared five times and booted seven majors in his brief time in the team with coach Beveridge choosing to only select him should a spot open up in the side.

With Josh Bruce off the selection table until late season 2022 due to his ACL injury, there is ample space in the Dogs forward line for one of these talls to slot into.

The versatility of Darcy means that he could be deployed in the middle however, with the forward 50 being Ugle-Hagan's native home, there is no better time than the present for the star draftee to make his mark on his side's attacking force and cement his spot in the team.


How many off-contract players can they retain?

As is the case with so many other clubs, 2022 poses a big challenge off the field with plenty of Dogs personnel set to come out of contract at the conclusion of the year.

Important players such as Jack Macrae, Bailey Smith, Josh Dunkley, Bailey Dale, Caleb Daniel, Zaine Cordy, Alex Keath, Jason Johannisen, Taylor Duryea and Tim English amongst a host of others are all out-of-contract come the end of 2022, meaning that the list management team will be working overtime to make sure they can tie down as many of these stars as possible throughout the season.

The likes of Macrae, Smith, Dunkley and Daniel will likely recommit given the core influence they have on the side, however, it's those outside the inner circle such as Tim English, Jason Johannisen and Josh Schache that might be looking elsewhere to ply their trade if they surrender their spots in the side due to performance issues.

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With the arrival of Tim O'Brien shoring up the rearguard and the likes of Ed Richards and now draftee Luke Cleary able to provide run out of the backline, Schache and Johannisen may be pushed to the outer in 2022 with the latter of the pair an unrestricted free agent upon his contract expiring.

It'll be intriguing to see how the Dogs go about tying down as many players as possible throughout 2022, with every cent of their salary cap set to be used to keep the squad together.


Will the ghosts of the Grand Final haunt them?

The 2021 Grand Final was going so smoothly until the mid-way point of the third quarter, with the Dogs being more than rolled by Simon Goodwin's Melbourne side.

It seemed like someone flicked a switch in the Demons camp, transforming them into supermen as they smashed Luke Beveridge's side around the contest.

The 12 unanswered goals that Melbourne piled on will live long in the nightmares of the Doggies players who took the field that night, however, will they have learned from their shortfalls in that fateful quarter and a half?

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Despite many touting the Dogs engine room as the best in the competition, they were comprehensively outclassed around the ball in the Grand Final, losing centre clearances 19 to 11 and hitouts 47 to 30, symbolising the gap in quality between the two side's midfield brigade.

In terms of individuals, a midfield containing Bontempelli, Macrae, Liberatore and Smith should be besting all-comers week in week out, and there is no question that the 2021 decider will weigh heavily on their shoulders.

If there was an improvement over the off-season in the side's ability not to be blown away by the opposition, then it'll be immediately put to the test against in Round 1 with the Grand Final replay against Simon Goodwin's side set to show whether or not the Dogs can match with the Dees in 2022.


Is 2022 do-or-die for Tim English?

2021 was a mixed bag for ruckman Tim English, with the 24-year-old at one stage moved out of the ruck due to his poor form in the middle despite being the only option for large chunks of the year.

Instead, it was defender Lewis Young who was rucked at points throughout Stefan Martin's absence with English moved down into the forward-line to recapture his form.

If 2021 was hard for the West Australian then 2022 is set to be even tougher, with the addition of prodigious tall Sam Darcy providing even more choice for Luke Beveridge as he looks to find a successor for veteran Stefan Martin.

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Should English fail to make ends meet once again, is his time at the Kennel all but over?

His contract expires at the end of this season and with the walls seemingly closing in on him, perhaps he will be looking to return home to Perth to ply his trade with one of the two sides over in the West.

Throw in the aforementioned contract dilemma that the Dogs face, and suddenly it seems as if it is more likely than not that English will walk come season's end if things don't improve for him at Whitten Oval.


Will their defence measure up when it matters?

Whilst the front two-thirds of the Dogs lineup are hailed as premiership-standard, the rearguard of the side's lineup is often the first department to be put under the blowtorch following a loss.

There were significant points throughout last year that the Dogs were put to the sword by opposition forwards, such as their Round 21 loss to the Bombers as Peter Wright piled on seven goals to snatch an important set of four points for his side.

Whilst Bailey Dale was in All-Australian form, it was his supporting cast of Alex Keath, Zaine Cordy and co. who were often unable to lockdown opposition attackers and spare their team's blushes when it mattered.

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It's the age-old adage in sport "attack wins you games, but defence wins you championships" that is especially relevant to the Dogs in this current day and age.

The Grand Final saw Melbourne forwards Bayley Fritsch, Ben Brown and Tom McDonald boot seven, three and two goals respectively with their contribution being the difference maker between the two sides on the day.

The addition of Tim O'Brien is a helpful one, however, the retirement of Easton Wood has very much balanced out the incomings with his leadership presence down in defence sure to be missed.

As mentioned earlier, Round 1 will be the immediate litmus test for the Dogs with the Grand Final replay showcasing if the side were able to correct their shortfalls from 2021. However, with the key defender position still lacking in the side, it may be the same old story for Luke Beveridge's side once again.