2015-16 Season Comparisons
Position: 8th (Elimination Finalists)
Percentage (After Round 23): 115.1%
Position: 1st (Premiers)
Percentage (After Round 23): 115.4%
You wouldn't have thought this was possible when this season started. 12 months ago they bowed out of the first week of the AFL Finals Series in an epic contest against Adelaide.
Sure we were expected to see developments in such a young list inherited by a senior coach who had only been on the job for a season. But not in anyone's wildest imagination could anyone have pictured how the Western Bulldogs' finals campaign would pan out.
They started the year so strong, smashing the Fremantle Dockers at Etihad and won four of the first five games, but ended the home and away season with disaster, losing to the very same, hapless team at Domain Stadium, although it takes a little bit of sting off the loss, given the Dockers were playing for a retiring legend.
From there, nobody rated the Doggies a shot for the cup as they came across last years runners-up in West Coast on their home pitch in an elimination final. Admittedly, I had my fair share of doubts for this side, that have had countless players fall to injury throughout the year, but thanks to the controversial bye weekend, a number of Dogs recovered at the right time of the year and with belief that seemed impenetrable, they defeated all that stood before them.
They smashed the Eagles in the first week, defeated Hawthorn the next week and ended their historic quest for four in a row, and the weekend after that, they pipped another one of the league's up and comers in Greater Western Sydney to deny the Giants their first Grand Final and reach their first Grand Final in 55 years. They then finally overcame that 62-year old barrier and became the first team to win the premiership from 7th spot on the ladder at the conclusion of the home and away season, defeating the Sydney Swans in what can only be described as one of the best Grand Finals in the modern era.
The only question that remains to be asked is: IS THIS THE START OF A DYNASTY?
What Went Right?
Amazingly, the Football Club pretty much won every single piece of silverware they could get their hands on this year. The Western Bulldogs' women won the Hampson-Hardeman cup when they smashed the Melbourne ladies in the week leading to the Finals. Footscray won the VFL premiership when they knocked off the more fancied Casey Scorpions after an eight-goal to nil third term, and finally, the Western Bulldogs earning their first premiership since 1954 with a hard-fought 22-point win over the Swans.
They managed to get most of their stars back from injury at the right time thanks to the week off before finals, and those that suffered injuries earlier in the year peaked at the right time. Jack Macrae and Tom Liberatore looked like their seasons had ended prematurely back in round 19, and Easton Wood who injured his achilles in round 22 all had massive influences in the finals, as did Jason Johannisen and Tom Boyd, both of them missed significant chunks of footy this year, and both of them were huge in their Grand Final triumph.
The defence was something the Dogs had to nail if they were to be serious contenders this year, and for all bar a few games, they managed to excel in it. They were the third best defence in the competition, conceding just under 77 points a game during the home and away season and conceded an average of 71 points during the finals series.
Dale Morris is somewhat of an unheralded hero in this team – he hardly gets enough recognition outside of the club for his work in the defensive half and his second placing in the Bulldogs' best and fairest count exemplifies this. If that doesn't sway you, maybe the fact that he played the entire Finals Series with cracked vertabrae will. Joel Hamling has been a revelation in the back-half of the year and was a big contributor during the Finals, keeping Lance Franklin to one goal in the Grand Final. Matthew Boyd capped off another stellar year with a spot in the All-Australian team, Shane Biggs played every game in 2016, whilst stand-in captain Easton Wood came filled in admirably for Robert Murphy when he went down with his knee early in the year.
And like all great teams, they continue to unearth draft gems. Marcus Adams (Pick 35) was an early season revelation before injuries derailed his 2016 campaign, but when he has been on the park, the mature-aged defender has hardly put a step wrong in his first year, whilst Josh Dunkley (Pick 25) took home the club's best first-year player on Wednesday night after playing 17 games for the Dogs this year as a midfielder, averaging 17 disposals, six tackles a game and kicking nine goals, whilst second-year players Zaine Cordy, Caleb Daniel and Toby McLean have been great finds this year.
What Went Wrong?
A number of injuries threatened to derail this team's season and could've potentially robbed them of a serious tilt at challenging for a flag.
An ordinary side might've crumbled, but this team is no ordinary team. If one man went down, another man comes up and fills in and more often than not, the Dogs still managed to get the job done. The round 18 loss to St. Kilda where they not only lost the game, but lost both Mitch Wallis and Jack Redpath to horrific injuries could've proven to be the straw that broke the Dog's back, but as we all know now, they stood up the following week and kept on rolling with the punches.
Another area that needed some serious addressing was the forward set-up. We stated it in the mid-year review, but in the second-half of the year, the Dogs still couldn't get it together up in the attacking 50, sitting 12th in the AFL for points scored, averaging 84 points a game. Jake Stringer eventually got dropped for his poor form late in the year, Tom Boyd wasn't getting much of the ball and Tory Dickson was eventually starting to back up his 2015 form, but they all clicked at the right time of the year and all played big contributions at the business end of the year with the aid of midfielders such as Liam Picken, Clay Smith and Josh Dunkley who rested up forward during the Finals.
The Best Performance of 2016
If we put the Doggies' phenomenal Finals run aside, and the best performance throughout the year would either have to be the round one demolition job on Fremantle, or the round 15 win against Sydney.
Coming up against the team who finished season 2015 as the minor premiers in the first round of the new season, nobody had any idea what would transpire between the two sides, but from the first bounce, the Dogs were switched on, kicking seven goals to two behinds to set up a match-winning lead by quarter time. The Dogs went on to win the game by 65 points and sent a message to the rest of the competition in the process.
Travelling up to the Sydney Cricket Ground and getting the win is no easy feat, but 14 months on from one of more remarkable wins in Western Bulldogs history, the Dogs were in for another tough match against the Swans, trailing for much of the first half, before breaking clear with a six-goal third quarter to lead by 13 points at the final change. A goal from Will Minson early in the last quarter extended the lead to 17 points, before the Swans mounted a charge late to take the lead late in the game, before Jason Johannisen, who had just come back in the team after missing the last two months with a hamstring injury, stepped up with a goal from long range with just seconds left to go to sink Sydney hearts all across their home deck.
The Worst Performance of 2016
There were two that I couldn't seperate, but both games were very different in terms of how it all panned out.
The first one was of course the Round 13 game meeting with Geelong. The Cats had the game done by half-time, kicking 10 goals to one with the Dogs horrible kicking in front of goal not helping the cause. The Cats went on to win the game by 57 points as Patrick Dangerfield was allowed to do what he pleased, recording 37 disposals and two goals.
The other was the round 18 meeting with St. Kilda, and whilst the margin wasn't as massive as the Geelong game, the Dogs had thumped the Saints earlier in the year and were expected to make short work of them again, but couldn't put them away by three-quarter time as the Saints took control of the Dogs after quarter time. With the game still in the balance in the fourth quarter, the Dogs then proceeded to lose Mitch Wallis to a broken leg and Jack Redpath to an ACL, and they couldn't recover from there, failing to register a single score for the term as St. Kilda went on to register a 15-point win.
While many Dogs have enjoyed fantastic seasons this year, Marcus Bontempelli's 2016 just couldn't be ignored and is already building on a stack of accomplishments to put in his resume. At only the age of 20, Bontempelli has broken the record of youngest player to captain a winning team (Round 11 vs West Coast), became a premiership player, an All-Australian and is now a best and fairest winner after taking home the Charles Sutton medal on Wednesday night, beating Dale Morris and Lachie Hunter. The Bont now joins the great Ted Whitten as players to win the club's best and fairest in a premiership season.
Going? Going? Going?
Lin Jong, Nathan Hrovat, Koby Stevens, Matthew Boyd, Josh Prudden, Joel Hamling
The massive one that could potentially leave is Matthew Boyd, who is still contemplating whether or not he will play on in 2017. It's believed that the 2016 All-Australian has been offered a one-year deal to stay at the Dogs, but if he doesn't take the deal, it's more than likely he'll hang up the boots than go anywhere else. Josh Prudden and Joel Hamling also are out-of-contract at the end of this season, with the injury-prone Prudden facing huge uncertainty on his playing career, whilst Hamling weighs up the possibility to return home to Western Australia.
Others who could be searching for new homes in the off-season are Lin Jong, Nathan Hrovat and Koby Stevens, who are all out-of-favour and have contracts expiring this year. Jong has been strongly linked to Collingwood for the second-half of this season, but Gold Coast are also vying for his services, Hrovat – taken at pick 21 in the 2012 draft has been linked to Carlton after only managing 30 games in four seasons at the kennel, with injury holding him down as well as form troubles, whilst the fall of Stevens has been a surprise, only managing 24 games in the past two seasons. Essendon have expressed significant interest in him.
Will Minson, Jed Adcock, Luke Goetz
Rookie-listed ruckman Luke Goetz was given his marching orders in the midway point of the season for failing to keep up to the standards of AFL, whilst the former Lion Adcock announced his retirement in the lead-up to the Bulldogs' Finals Campaign.
But the one that'll disappoint Doggies fans the most is the departure of ruckman Will Minson, who announced at the best and fairest award night on Wednesday that he will not be donning the red, white and blue in 2017 in a video that brought tears to my eye and probably many others.
Minson was selected with the 20th overall pick in the 2002 AFL draft, but didn't make his debut until round nine 2004. He played 191 games across 13 seasons for the Bulldogs. He was named as the All-Australian ruckman in 2013 after leading the AFL ruckmen in hitouts that year. It is undecided whether Minson will play on for another club in 2017 or he will just call it a day.
Who Will The Club Target This Off-Season?
The Dogs have made it well-known that they will get discarded Collingwood forward Travis Cloke this off-season. Whether you like the decision or not, Cloke brings in a little bit of depth at the key forward position, given that Jack Redpath will miss most of next year, and who knows, maybe a move will rejuvenate his career. It's said that the move is already a done deal, with Collingwood prepared to accept a fourth-round selection to get Cloke to the Kennel.
Other than that, the Dogs haven't been strongly linked to anyone else seeking a fresh start so far, but it's only the start of all the hoopla that is the off-season. The Dogs will probably look for the best available selections at the draft, and with their first selection coming in at pick 18, it'll be interesting to see what happens with that draft selection, whether they keep the pick or turn it into something else like last year, when they traded their first-round selection for two picks in early in the second round - one of those was Josh Dunkley remember.
Well they did what they couldn't do for so many years, they've finally captured that elusive premiership cup, but why stop at only just one premiership with such a young and talented list?
Questions have been asked if this team can go back to back? You bet your rear-end they can!!
Is this a beginning of an AFL dynasty? One can only hope.
Even if all those mentioned above get moved on to other clubs, the Dogs still have all the major pieces in place to make another serious push for a second-straight premiership. Murphy will be back next year and he will be as keen as anyone for a premiership medallion, but has he still got it after nearly a year out of the game?, and lets not forget that Stewart Crameri will be back to give the forwards a much-needed boost. How much impact will he make next year, and will we see Tom Boyd's Grand Final heroics on a weekly basis next season?
All those questions and more will be answered in 2017, but until then, drink this premiership win in for all it's worth.
I know this'll sound crazy, but as unlikely as it sounds, it could just be another 62 years until the Dogs get another premiership.