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Bulldogs seeking new paths to goal

If the Western Bulldogs are to return to the finals for the first time since their 2016 AFL flag, coach Luke Beveridge needs to find new routes to goal.

Bulldogs seeking new paths to goal

If the Western Bulldogs are to return to the finals for the first time since their 2016 AFL flag, coach Luke Beveridge needs to find new routes to goal.

Bulldogs coach LUKE BEVERIDGE looks on during a Western Bulldogs AFL training session at Whitten Oval in Melbourne, Australia.
Bulldogs coach LUKE BEVERIDGE looks on during a Western Bulldogs AFL training session at Whitten Oval in Melbourne, Australia. Picture:Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Has there ever been an AFL team more difficult to read than the Western Bulldogs?

Opponents on their road to the 2016 premiership will tell you so and pundits have been struggling to categorise Luke Beveridge's side since.


Are they a bunch of battlers that put together the greatest finals series in recent memory?

Or are they a good side so cruelled by injury and fate it's stopped them backing up their flag, with two seasons outside the top eight?

In 2019, the Bulldogs could be anything.

There are still 15 premiership winners on their list, with Marcus Bontempelli, Lachie Hunter, Jackson Macrae and Mitch Wallis maturing into A-grade AFL talent.

Young guns Aaron Naughton and Ed Richards showed plenty in their first AFL seasons, while Tom Liberatore is back and firing if this year's pre-season is anything to go by.

Yet Beveridge's desire to keep turning over the list in search of the right culture and talent means the already-young Bulldogs will be low on experience again.

In 2018, they fielded the least-experienced side of the round 14 times.

Jordan Roughead and Luke Dahlhaus have left Whitten Oval, joining 2017 high-profile departure Jake Stringer and retirees Matthew Boyd and Bob Murphy.

Are the Bulldogs simply too young to make an impact?

"There's always two sides to every coin," captain Easton Wood tells AAP.

"Yeah, there has been a lot of change in the playing ranks. We've got plenty of new boys in this year and it feels like we've gotten younger again.

"To me, that's been really exciting. Particularly as captain, most of the guys coming in are open books.

"We're all on the same page, pushing in the same direction and it's got me excited about what we could do."

There's no question the Bulldogs' midfield packs a punch.

Hunter and Macrae are ball magnets, Bontempelli is a genuine star and a rejuvenated Liberatore can help lift the club's contested ball back to 2016 levels.

Down back, the Bulldogs also look well stocked.

Naughton and Bailey Williams could be defensive mainstays for the next decade, joining Dale Morris and Wood in a strong back six.

It's in the tall stocks and up front where the Bulldogs might be stretched.

Tom Boyd's absence for half the season will be keenly felt, with Jackson Trengove a likely replacement in ruck.

At 21, Josh Schache has raced to put on weight this season to leave an impact in the forward line, given the lack of other towering targets inside 50.

Sam Lloyd's arrival from Richmond should help the Bulldogs given the 29-year-old's undoubted class.

But plainly the Bulldogs need a spearhead - Billy Gowers led the Dogs' goalkickers with just 26 majors last year - as well as a greater spread given only seven players kicked more than 10 for the season.

On paper, the draw gives the Bulldogs a chance to jump ahead of the ledger early.

An opening-round visit by Sydney is followed by matches with Hawthorn, Gold Coast, Carlton, Fremantle and Brisbane within the next seven rounds.

The Bulldogs play 17 times in Victoria with 12 matches at Marvel and two in Ballarat.

Outside expectations are still far from high but Wood can live with that.

"There's always reason why people think you can't do things but I'd rather focus on the reasons why we can," the skipper said.

"I think we'll have a real chance of proving those people wrong."

Just like in 2016?

"I wasn't going to bring that up, but yeah," Wood laughs.

WESTERN BULLDOGS

Coach: Luke Beveridge

Captain: Easton Wood

Last five years: 14-7-1-10-13

Premierships: 2 (1954, 2016)

Key five: Marcus Bontempelli, Lachie Hunter, Tom Liberatore, Jason Johannisen, Jackson Macrae.

One to watch: Josh Schache. There are better players on the Bulldogs list but the bulked-up key forward prospect is crucial to whether the Bulldogs can take flight in 2019. With Tom Boyd sidelined for half a season, they need a big body inside the 50m arc and Schache looms as the man.

Ins: Ben Cavarra (Williamstown), Taylor Duryea (Hawthorn), Will Hayes (Footscray VFL), Buku Khamis (Western Jets), Sam Lloyd (Richmond), Bailey Smith (Sandringham Dragons), Jordon Sweet (North Adelaide), Latham Vandermeer (Murray Bushrangers), Rhylee West (Calder Cannons).

Outs: Marcus Adams (Brisbane), Shane Biggs (retired), Tom Campbell (delisted), Kieran Collins (delisted), Luke Dahlhaus (Geelong), Mitch Honeychurch (delisted), Jack Redpath (retired), Jordan Roughead (Collingwood), Clay Smith (retired).

Best line-up:

B: Bailey Williams, Dale Morris, Ed Richards

HB: Matt Suckling, Easton Wood, Aaron Naughton

C: Lachie Hunter, Marcus Bontempelli, Jason Johannisen

HF: Sam Lloyd, Josh Schache, Toby McLean

F: Mitch Wallis, Tom Boyd, Billy Gowers

R: Jackson Trengove, Jackson Macrae, Tom Liberatore

Int: Caleb Daniel, Josh Dunkley, Zaine Cordy, Patrick Lipinski

Predicted finish: 13th

AAP


AAP




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