Home Australia One and done or on the right track: why it is difficult to understand the situation at the Bulldogs

One and done or on the right track: why it is difficult to understand the situation at the Bulldogs

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Marcus Bontempelli holds the premier's cup as Tom Liberatore hugs him from behind

Is there any team in the AFL currently more confusing than the Western Bulldogs?

Just over two years after their breakthrough finals appearance, Luke Beveridge’s side currently sit 11th in the standings with a 2-3 record following a deflating loss to Essendon in Round 5.

Beveridge is now in his 10th season at the helm of the Bulldogs in a tenure that virtually began with a fairytale run to a drought-breaking premiership in 2016.

One of the hallmarks of the Beveridge era has been the 53-year-old’s tendency to make team selections in left field (either playing with players out of position or dropping them) and the veteran coach is at it again.

So far in 2024, Beveridge has eliminated three Australians – Caleb Daniel, Jack Macrae and Bailey Dale – raising questions about where exactly the Bulldogs stand in the race for the AFL’s top spot.

Many experts believe Beveridge’s selections are a sign that the Bulldogs as we know them could become one of the real contenders for the AFL’s top spot. But are they really done winning?

What has happened since the 2016 premiership?

A proper analysis of the Beveridge era cannot begin without dissecting the 2016 mandate, which remains one of the most unlikely victories in the last three decades.

Of the 22 players who defeated Sydney in the 2016 decider, only five remain on the Bulldogs’ current roster: Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Liberatore, Jason Johannisen, Jack Macrae and Caleb Daniel.

Five more players from the 2016 squad remain active at other clubs: Joel Hamling (Sydney), Lachie Hunter (Melbourne), Zaine Cordy (St Kilda), Jake Stringer (Essendon) and Josh Dunkley (Brisbane).

The Bulldogs won the premiership from seventh in the standings, defeating the sixth-place Eagles, third-place Hawks and fourth-place Giants, before toppling the AFL minor premiers in the grand final.

Marcus Bontempelli and Tom Liberatore are two of five players from the 2016 main team still on the Bulldogs’ roster. (Getty Images: Quinn Rooney)

Since then, Beveridge’s charges have finished better than seventh on one occasion and finished fifth in 2022.

They threatened to replicate 2016’s fairytale run in 2021, once again reaching the grand final from seventh place before being crushed by Melbourne.

Aside from the 2021 finals campaign, the Dogs have been eliminated in the first call on three occasions and missed the finals entirely on three other occasions, the most recent being last year’s ninth-place finish.

It’s a poor performance by any measure, given the level of star power the Bulldogs have possessed over the last decade.

Since 2016, when Marcus Bontempelli was the only Australian on the team, the Bulldogs have had multiple players make the Australian team on four separate occasions.

Bontempelli leads the pack with four Australian jackets, followed by Macrae (two) and Dale, Daniel and Tim English all with one each.

Where does the current list rank compared to recent first prime ministers?

While there has been significant turnover from the 2016 main squad, a large portion of the team that played in the 2021 grand final remains on the Bulldogs’ roster.

Of the 23 players selected that day, 15 are still wearing Bulldogs colors.

The Bulldogs’ roster ranked sixth in terms of average age (24.8) and average games (76.3) entering this season. according to AFL.com.au statistics.

It’s a demographic list that should see the Bulldogs still well and truly in the hunt for the premiership.

In terms of average games played, only the 2015 Hawks (third) and 2022 Cats (first) won the flag without ranking between fifth and 10th in average games played rankings, according to Draftguru stats.

The 2016 Beveridge Bulldogs were the least experienced premierships in the last decade, ranking 10th in terms of average games played. It’s a ranking that makes sense looking back, as Bontempelli, Macrae, Liberatore, Daniel and Johannisen were all between 20 and 24 years old at the time of the grand final.

Cutting the likes of Macrae, Daniel and Dale – all players still in the core age group – is risky, but it appears the Bulldogs are attempting to operate on two separate timelines by bleeding some youngsters around their core veteran.

“Although we are evolving and there are some changes in personnel at different times, the players themselves have created an internal pressure to get places, and that is fine if you end up being a formidable team, now we are not.” Beveridge said after the loss to Essendon.

“We need to make sure we do what we can, whether it’s the players or our support staff, just to make sure we capitalize week to week, and we’re missing out on some opportunities.

“I understand people aren’t sure where we stand in the scheme of things, but that’s the reality.”

The good news for Bulldogs fans is that other teams have similarly operated on separate timelines in recent years and found success.

The common theme? All have been able to welcome a steady stream of high-level talent, courtesy of father-son or academy selections to complement the more experienced cores.

Collingwood has been boosted by the arrival of Nick Daicos via the father-son rule, while the Giants and Swans have been blessed by their respective academies which have produced the likes of Isaac Heeney, Callum Mills, Nick Blakey, Braden Campbell and Tom Green.

The Bulldogs have enjoyed this luxury on both fronts. They were able to draft Jamarra Ugle-Hagan first overall in 2020 as a Next Generation Academy selection, and drafted Sam Darcy second overall the following year via the father-son rule. Last year’s No. 15 pick Jordan Croft and Rhylee West are other father-son additions coming to the ranks.

Two AFL players fighting for the ball during a match

Tim English has become one of the AFL’s leading ruckmen since the Bulldogs selected him 19th overall in the 2016 draft.(Getty: Quinn Rooney)

As the Magpies, Swans and Giants have shown through their rapid rises up the table, it is essential to select well around father-son and academy selections, and the Bulldogs have done well in this regard too.

The club has hit virtually every top 20 selection it has had since taking over as premier in 2016, landing stars such as Tim English (No. 19, 2016), Aaron Naughton (No. 9, 2017) and Bailey Smith ( number 7, 2018) through the draft. .

Given the club’s draft success of late, Beveridge is clearly not afraid to trust the new generation of youngsters emerging.

“I will always coach and our coaches and decision makers will always make decisions for the now, but we need to make sure we provide opportunities to young players who will be important players in the future as much as they are now.” he said.

“It’s a pretty steep learning curve at this level for guys who haven’t played many games, but in no way are we saying we’ll do it for next year or the year after that or anything like that.” “.

What are the Bulldogs doing differently this year?

The Bulldogs were second in clearances in their premiership year in 2016, but immediately suffered a drop the following year, placing second to last.

However, as Beveridge’s 2016 on-ball squad matured, they gradually became one of the most formidable punting teams in the competition.

Since 2020, where they ranked ninth in total clearances, the Bulldogs have ranked in the top five each year, according to AFL Tables statistics.

After ranking fifth last year, the Bulldogs have fallen to eighth in total clearances so far this season.

The decline was evident on Friday night when the Dogs were outscored 34-28 in clearances and 16-10 in the middle by a younger Bombers midfield group.

Jack Macrae of the Bulldogs and Darcy Parish of the Bombers compete for the ball

Star midfielder Jack Macrae’s future at the Bulldogs looks increasingly cloudy after a major role change this season.(AFL Photos via Getty Images: Michael Willson)

Beveridge’s chosen midfield has largely been the trio of Bontempelli, Liberatore and Macrae for the last five seasons, but that has changed in the last two years.

The arrival of Adam Treloar via trade has seen a drastic change in Macrae’s role in particular.

Macrae led Bulldogs midfielders in center rebounds taken just two seasons ago, hitting 64 per cent of them.

Last year that figure fell to just 36 percent, when it was surpassed by Treloar.

So far this year, the lefty has fallen even further down the pecking order, and last year’s No. 6 pick, Ryley Sanders, has assisted on more center rebounds in five games (45 to 23), per DFS Australia Statistics.

Treloar, Bontempelli and Liberatore remain Beveridge’s central rebounding trio of choice.

At 29, it seems unclear whether Macrae is part of Beveridge’s long-term plan, despite being under contract until 2027. Once one of the AFL’s most dominant ball winners, he is likely to be a major presence if available at the end of the season. .

Lucas Beveridge

Luke Beveridge is the fifth-longest serving coach in the AFL and will be out of contract at the end of 2025.(Getty Images: Michael Willson/AFL Photos)

Could the Bulldogs get rid of him like Collingwood did with Brodie Grundy at the end of 2022 to maintain salary flexibility? It is certainly possible.

The future of Smith, Dale and Daniel is also truly up in the air, meaning we could see a significant change of sunbeds this summer at Whitten Oval.

Where do we go now?

All of this puts Beveridge’s future in the spotlight.

While the 2016 premiership has earned him significant credits among the club’s powerbrokers, they will be aware that he is now the fifth-longest serving coach in the AFL behind Sydney’s John Longmire, Geelong’s Chris Scott, Ken Hinkley of Port and Adam Simpson of West Coast.

Beveridge is out of contract at the end of 2025 and has seen significant off-field turmoil around him over the past 18 months.

If recent league history is anything to go by, the Bulldogs have every chance of moving back up the rankings in the coming years. Whether Beveridge will remain at the helm to see success is another question.

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