Vendetta Sports Media is once again covering Australian Rules Football in 2022. Today we continue our AFL season preview series with a look at last year’s beaten grand finalists, the Western Bulldogs.
The Dogs were able to survive a disastrous 2020 off season, an injury to key forward Josh Bruce and unfairly missing out on a top four position to make the grand final. Halfway through the 3rd quarter of the big game, they led by 19 points. One hand on the premiership cup….from there, it all went wrong.
Can the Dogs recover from that emotional body blow to be even better in 2022?
For all of our previous season 2022 AFL team previews, click here.
5th position: 15 wins, 7 losses, 132.8%.
When this side was on, they was awesome to watch.
The Bulldogs relentless, attacking style of football saw them snatch the souls of more that one opponent in 2021. A 128 point win over the Kangaroos; 111 points up against the Saints; 74 point winners over the Suns; 71 over Port Adelaide in the preliminary final; more that doubling the scores of the Bombers and Eagles. When the Bulldogs got rolling it was like an avalanche coming at you.
Luke Beveridge always has his side playing with a high tempo with lots of hard running physicality. They’re also extremely well organised defensively, especially when they turn the ball over, rarely getting caught on the counter. Combine that tactical solidity with one of the most talented lists in the AFL and you have an alchemy that will win you a whole bunch of football matches.
The Dogs midfield was their driving force, with former problem child Tom Liberatore leading the league in clearances, feeding Jack Macrae and inspirational captain Marcus Bontompelli – all three had stellar seasons.
Aaron Naughton emerged as a top level forward, though is still prone to inconsistencies, as is the antagonistic but exciting Cody Weightman.
With so many key players coming into their primes to support the core of the team that played in both last years and the 2016 grand final, this is a team primed to contend for quite a few years, yet.
Key ins: Tom O’Brien (Hawthorn), Sam Darcy, Luke Cleary, Robbie McComb, Charlie Parker, Arthur Jones (all draft)
Key outs: Patrick Lipinksi (Collingwood), Lewis Young (Carlton), Lin Jong, Easton Wood (both retired), Ben Cavarra, Will Hayes (both released)
From top to bottom, this list is stacked. That said, there are a couple of concerns that this writer has with the Dogs.
Their most prominent achillies heel is in defense where the Dogs are somewhat short of quality options for the key posts. The retirement of lock down specialist, former captain and 1930’s matinee idol Easton Wood takes away a key cog from the defense. Alex Keath is resilient but poor by foot, as is Zaine Cordy who, despite an underrated grand final performance, doesn’t always inspire confidence. Taylor Duryea is a tough-as-teak back pocket but Caleb Daniel and Bailey Dale, for all of their counter attacking prowess, are defensively fragile.
Former 2nd overall pick Josh Schache emerged as a utility defender in 2021. Whilst he’s not the type to build a defense around he can fill a gap for the Dogs. An interesting option could be ruck/forward Tim English. The athletic 24 year old is huge and surprisingly fleet of foot, with wonderful hands for a big man. He hasn’t set the world alight as a ruckman, often getting out muscled and as a forward he could be crowded out by the embarrassment of riches the Dogs possess at that end of the ground. It might not work, but early in the season English to defense could be a worthwhile experiment.
Speaking of the forwards, it says so much that 2020 #1 overall pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagen only played five games last season and isn’t expected to be a regular this year, either. With Naughton, Bruce and occasionally English or Laitham Vandemeer (if the team choose to play a touch smaller) all commanding touches in the forward line there really isn’t a spot for another big forward. That’s before we even bring highly touted draftee Sam Darcy (a 3rd generation Bulldog) into the conversation. Sadly, Darcy will miss the first few months of the season with a navilcular fracture.
The Dogs have Weightman, 2016 Norm Smith Medallist Jason Johannisen, cult hero Bailey Smith and the intense Ed Richards to choose from when balancing out their forward mix. Throw in a resting midfielder like Bontompelli, Josh Dunkley – both big enough to be key forwards, themselves – or Lachie Hunter, and you have a forward line that is practically impossible to match up with.
For all of those strengths, they pale in comparison to the Dogs midfield, arguably the best in the competition. Ridiculously deep, the Dogs start Bontompelli, Macrae and Liberatore as their first choice followers but can rotate Adam Treloar, Dunkley, Hunter or Daniel in there without losing all that much quality. The Dogs could do with slightly better service from their rucks, though. English is fine at centre bounces where he can use his athleticism but at stoppages around the ground he can all too easily be pushed out of position. Stefan Martin is brave and capable but also as old as the hills. Formerly a prodigious athlete, he was given a bath by young Luke Jackson – Melbourne’s back up ruckman – in the pivotal 3rd quarter of last years grand final.
With the pain of knowing they were just 30 minutes of good football away from a premiership still very raw, don’t expect the Bulldogs to take their foot off the gas at any point in 2022. The team will be leaving precisely nothing to chance as they search for their 2nd title in six years and just the 3rd overall for the club.
This is a talented, deep and surprisingly young list. They’re helmed by a coach who has developed from a ‘cult of personality’ type to being one of the better tactical thinkers in the sport. Beveridge’s players would take bullets him, though now he can work out a way for them to dodge the gunfire.
When we reach the end of the home and away season, the Dogs will be sitting atop the AFL ladder. Don’t put another deep finals run and possibly a premiership beyond them, either.