2017 Average: 79.1
2017 Games Played: 18
When Tom Liberatore overcame a serious ankle injury to play a pivotal role in the Western Bulldogs miracle 2016 Premiership, many were convinced that it was proof that absolutely nothing could stop the determined midfielder from having a long, successful career.
Liberatore suffered a serious syndesmosis injury in Round 19 that year. History shows that it is an injury that can keep players out of action for up to six months, and in some cases even longer. Liberatore returned after just 41 days and played in each of the Bulldogs four victorious finals.
Since that memorable Premiership triumph, however, Liberatore’s form has suffered greatly, and his drastic decline in form coincided with an equally sudden drop from the Bulldogs. Whilst the Dogs went from being Premiers to non-finalists within the year, Liberatore went from being one of the Bulldogs prime midfielders to an out-of-sorts figure who was dropped twice during the home-and-away season.
As a result, his SuperCoach scoring also suffered greatly, with his average dropping from 90.8 in 2016 to just 78.1 in 2017, including no less than eight scores below 80 and just three triple-figure scores. His average disposal count dropped from 21 per game in 2016 to just 17 last year, whilst his goal tally had dropped from 14 to seven. His average tackle count per game had gone from five to seven, which suggested that while the hunger to hunt the man hadn’t waned, something had changed in his desire to hunt the ball. The season was such a disaster that it even ended in mutterings that the Bulldogs were considering trading him.
It was a bitterly disappointing campaign for Liberatore but being such a proud player who wears his heart on his sleeve, it would come as a surprise to no one if he were to bounce back and have a sensational 2018, and if the early signs are to mean anything, then that’s exactly what we can expect to see.
Going back to late-2017, Liberatore returned from his off-season earlier than the rest of his teammates, to ensure that a repeat of the previous pre-season wouldn’t take place, and since then he has impressed coaches and players alike with his application and his determination to succeed at training. He shone at the Bulldogs intra-club match last February but then had to prove himself on the weekend against Hawthorn in the Bulldogs first JLT Community Series hitout.
Liberatore has had matches where he has won more of the footy, laid more tackles and kicked more goals, but this performance was a very strong step in the right direction, with 18 disposals, five tackles and a goal. Despite the numbers were similar to what he averaged last year, there was a noticeable increase in intensity from Liberatore. But perhaps most importantly from our point of view was his SuperCoach score of 99. He only scored above that three times last year.
Liberatore has appeared to have a change in role since the arrival of Luke Beveridge. Whilst he was a clearance and tackling machine under previous coach Brendan McCartney, he has since evolved into more of a role player in the Bulldogs engine room, allowing for the silk of the likes of Marcus Bontempelli and Jack Macrae to take over. But with a particular hunger to succeed in 2018, don’t put it beyond Beveridge to unleash Liberatore in the midfield, and see him return to his 2013-14 seasons where he averaged between 105-110 points per game. This is a man that is definitely capable of anything when he puts his mind to it.
With no wild off-season to speak of this year, it’s clear that Liberatore has his mind fully focused on doing everything he possibly can to get the Bulldogs back into the finals this year. His grunt perfectly compliments the aforementioned likes of Bontempelli and Macrae, and with all three of them firing, the Bulldogs are a scary proposition for any opponent. They have one final hitout against Collingwood on Saturday before Round 1, and you would expect that Liberatore starts that game as well. He’s one that you have to keep an eye on before deciding whether he’s worth taking the punt on because if he scores well again, you just cannot ignore him with such a cheap price tag.
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