AFL Trade/FA

List Analysis: Western Bulldogs

dogs

2016 Finish: 1st
2016 Draft Selections: 18, 37, 60, 72, 73, 91, 109
Total Draft Points: 1,642
List Manager:  Jason McCartney

2016 Season

What more can be said about the Bulldogs after an incredible finals series that has seen them break a premiership drought over five decades long?

Last season, the sons of the west began their AFL ascendency as they tallied 14 wins to finish 6th overall leading into their first finals series since 2010. However, after losing their qualifying final against the Crows by 7 points, their season didn’t last long into September.

However after losing their coach, first round draft pick and their captain prior to the 2015 season – they enamoured themselves in the public eye, proving their detractors wrong in the process. 2016 had many people thinking they would be thereabouts again but ultimately making up the numbers among a clear top-tier.

Despite improving their overall win/loss to 15-7 after Round 23, the Dogs finished 7th in one of the most hotly-contested seasons to date. With the newly implemented ‘pre-finals bye’ on the cards, they were fresh and ready for a dogfight. After being the best team in September, the Western Bulldogs played out a narrative better than anything anyone could have scripted – scrapping their way to the big dance and overcoming all odds to become the first team to win the flag from outside the top four since the current system’s introduction.

The team had a horrible run of injuries in the lead-up to finals, however, regained most of their firepower just in time – those players key to the side’s eventual achievement. The Bulldogs have proven that you don’t need to have a team full of star players to win the competition. Indeed, their method was simple – play for each other as a team and will yourself to outplay the opposition through contested ball and constant pressure.

This is where their coaching staff – primarily that of now two-time AFL Coaches’ Association coach of the year Luke Beveridge – deserve an enormous amount of credit. The way he has unified this club and turned them into a dangerous, young outfit that never gives up is a feat that has been deservedly honoured for the second season running.

This side is filled with amazing stories and breakout seasons, most notably that of the much-maligned, highly-paid Tom Boyd – who was the difference in a highly contested grand final. The likes of Clay Smith,  Dunkley and runner-up rising star Caleb Daniel were huge and provided important run for the side against more mature bodies. The list management, drafting and coaching of this team has created a new perspective on tried and true methods – giving hope for the teams currently languishing in the bottom six of the competition.

Bontempelli, Dahlhaus, Macrae, Stringer, Johannisen, Liberatore and Hunter are the names that will soon become legend as they provide the star power to take this group into a long premiership window, ably assisted by a bevy of names who each deserve recognition for their role in this momentous 2016 season that will live on in footy folklore.


THE BREAKDOWN

KEY POSITION DEFENDERS


2016 RANK: 12th
AGE: 18-22 (2) 23-26 (3) 27+ (1)

On paper, the names that lined up in key posts down back for the Dogs in 2016 are no-frills types not likely to be known outside of the kennel. Old head Dale Morris – supposedly on the scrapheap prior to Beveridge’s intervention – ranked 15th of key backs and has been outstanding this season, particularly when his captain and backline stalwart Bob Murphy went down.

Along with little-known Fletcher Roberts (44th) and ex-Cat Joel Hamling (56th), this is a group that effectively shut down the most dangerous key forward duo in the game in Franklin and Tippett – keeping them to 1 goal between them in the decider, an achievement that cannot be underrated. Mature-aged draftee Marcus Adams (64th) was excellent in the first half of the season before injury struck, and will no doubt become a key figure in the team going forward.


SMALL/MEDIUM DEFENDERS


2016 RANK: 1st
AGE: 18-22 (5) 23-26 (2) 27+ (5)

Norm-Smith medallist Jason Johannisen (ranked 21st in position) will likely shoot up the rankings following his stellar 2016 season that saw him rated the best player on the ground in the Dogs’ Grand Final win. Along with reliable captain Easton Wood (ranked 5th) and veteran Matthew Boyd (10th), this team is well served down back for the foreseeable future. Not to mention injured leader Bob Murphy (39th) – who was enjoying a career-best year before his heartbreaking ACL injury ended his season but has announced he will play on in 2017.

Free Agent Matthew Suckling (37) was brought across from Hawthorn and made an impact, however, injury and an ill-timed exclusion from the team saw him miss out on a premiership medal at his new club. This honour instead went to improved ex-Swan Shane Biggs (51), who has proved that he forms part of a nucleus of 2nd-tier players important the Bulldogs’ cause going forward.

MIDFIELDERS

2016 RANK: 5th
AGE: 18-22 (3) 23-26 (1) 27+ (1)

This is the area that should bring the most excitement to their fans, with superstar 20-year-old Marcus Bontempelli ranked fourth for midfielders and sixth overall in the AFL. Aided willfully by finals hero Liam Picken (40th), young star Jack Macrae (51) and son-of-a-gun Lachie Hunter (68) – they have an excellent engine room that plays with heart, passion and pride.

27th-ranked midfielder Mitch Wallis suffered an unfortunate and horrifying leg-break mid-season so has questions about his return in 2017, however, the solid return to footy in 2016 by fellow father/son Tom Liberatore (99th) should give him hope. Along with the following group of midfield/forwards – the Dogs have a talented young group ready to take them into what they hope will be a period that yields multiple premierships.


MIDFIELDER/FORWARDS


2016 RANK: 5th
AGE: 18-22 (2) 23-26 (4)

Another area of strength, the Bulldogs boast one of the best small midfielders in the league in Luke Dahlhaus – ranked fifth of midfield/forwards in the competition. Having slowly transitioned to the midfield, the young fan-favourite may no longer have his dreadlocks but has certainly retained his hard-at-it approach to the game.

Clay Smith (45th) has been another surprise packet in 2016 – overtaking both Lin Jong (18th) and Koby Stevens (23rd) in the pecking order at the kennel. His position was justified in the preliminary final – kicking four majors to be one of the best, helping to put them in their first Grand Final since 1961.

RUCK

2016 RANK: 14th
AGE: 23-26 (2) 27+ (1)

One of their areas of least significance, the Dogs ranked just 14th in this area for the year – a figure unlikely to rise too much at present.

Will Minson (32nd) has fallen out of favour at Whitten Oval and has since announced that his time with the Bulldogs has come to an end, whilst Tom Campbell’s name (ranked 31st) was bandied around until he ended the speculation by signing on for another two years.

Jordan Roughead (16th) has played forward, back and now is a premiership ruckman – proving that a club doesn’t need to have a star 200cm+ giant to be the best team. Despite being well-served by their Roughead/Campbell combo, the club has been linked to opposition rucks and could once again target Matthew Kreuzer (Carlton – ranked 14th) or Matthew Lobbe (Port – 23rd) in the upcoming trade period.


KEY POSITION FORWARDS


2016 RANK: 17th
AGE: 18-22 (1) 23-26 (1)


Likely to rise well above its current ranking after Tom Boyd’s heroic Grand Final efforts, the Dogs managed to kick the sixth most goals (330) in the competition – relying on their multitude of midfielders and forwards to hit the scoreboard, becoming one of the most unpredictable sides to defend against. At different times this year, both Boyd and Jack Redpath provided a tall target with the smaller players used to take advantage of opportunities at ground level.

With Redpath (39) set to be sidelined for much of 2017, the Dogs will move to acquire Travis Cloke from Collingwood early in trade period in order to add depth to an area otherwise bereft of numbers after the recent delisting of Luke Goetz.

The Bulldogs will be hoping Boyd (ranked 43rd but likely to bolt up the rankings) uses his 2016 finals series as a springboard into his fourth season as he aims to be a force for the red, white and blue into the future.

SMALL/MEDIUM FORWARDS

2016 RANK: 4th
AGE: 18-22 (6) 27+ (2)

Arguably their greatest area of depth, the Dogs were well-served in 2016 by Tory Dickson (ranked 17th, 40 goals in 2016) and rookie sensation Caleb Daniel (38th, 11 goals). Star forward Jake Stringer – whilst not enjoying his best season, remains top-five of all small/medium forwards (4th) and still kicked a team-high 42 goals for the year – proving his importance to the team.

With Crameri (56th) to come back in for 2017 and Josh Dunkley (96th) performing wonderfully in his first season, we will likely see a few depth players in Mitch Honeychurch (86th) and Nathan Hrovat (91st) look elsewhere for more opportunities.

RETIREMENTS

Jed Adcock


DELISTINGS

Luke Goetz


TRADE OUTS

Lin Jong
Nathan Hrovat
Mitch Honeychurch
Will Minson


TRADE INS

Travis Cloke

FINAL WORD

The Western Bulldogs defied the traditional football script this year to create history, igniting emotion across Australia within Dogs fans and footy-lovers alike. Their standings in the current rankings are a true testament to just how far above expectations they played in 2016.

With natural growth to come and their first flag in 62 years behind them, they’re well positioned to create sustained success with a talented, young and united group.

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