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Can They Go Back To Back? A 2017 Western Bulldogs Season Preview

  • Can They Go Back To Back? A 2017 Western Bulldogs Season Preview

    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 01: Robert Murphy and Easton Wood of the Bulldogs hold up the the premiership cup during the 2016 Toyota AFL Grand Final match between the Sydney Swans and the Western Bulldogs at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on October 01, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Western Bulldog fans have been given plenty of time over the summer to relive one of the greatest and proudest moments in the history of this club.

Now it's time to reset, as the commencement of the 2017 season approaches as the Western Bulldogs prepare their quest to go back-to-back for the first time in the history of the club. A number of questions surround Luke Beveridge's men in 2017, but the main one is:

Will this club be a dynasty? or was last years premiership win just 'premature'?

As spectacular and as miraculous the Western Bulldogs were in 2016 - being the first team to win the premiership from seventh on the ladder - the biggest question mark dangling over the head of this side is that will they be able to repeat and contend again this year? or will they fall similarly to Hawthorn did in 2009 after they unexpectedly shocked Geelong and took home the premiership in 2008?

History says they're a good chance to go backwards, the Baby Bombers of 93-94 is another prime example of this, but the Bulldogs have the coach and the personnel to be one of the greatest teams of the modern era. Luke Beveridge has successfully turned this club from a basketcase to a champion team in just two years, whilst the young talent such as Marcus Bontempelli, Luke Dahlhaus, Jack Macrae, Tom Liberatore and Lachie Hunter have emerged as elite talent in this competition.

New Recruits

The Dogs only made one trade in to the team and that is the acquisition of the much-maligned, ex-Collingwood forward Travis Cloke. Despite a few years in which he's kicked 50 or more goals in a season, Cloke struggled massively in the last couple of years for the Pies, playing only 13 games last year and kicking 17 goals. 

Cloke arrived at his first pre-season at Whitten Oval noticably leaner, and if his performance in the pre-season game against Melbourne was anything to go by, he could prove to be one of the recruits of the year - but let's not get too carried away here. One thing for certain though, is that Cloke's presence will release second or third choice defenders on guys like Jake Stringer, Tory Dickson and Stewart Crameri, all three of them capable of 30-plus goal seasons - that's a scary thought for opposition supporters.

At the draft, the Bulldogs opted to go for players with versatility and untapped potential. Tim English, who was highly rated as a top-10 pick, slid to the Dogs with the 19th overall pick and given the injuries to Jordan Roughead and Tom Campbell, is in the box seat to make his debut in round one. They also picked up Patrick Lipinski, Lewis Young and Fergus Greene with their other live selections. Key position prospect Young shows promise at either end of the ground but will need time to develop, as will Lipinski and Greene, who will probably spend most of their time down forward this year.

The Fixture

After winning their first premiership in over 60 years, the Dogs were rewarded with a regular prime-time slot. The Dogs find themselves scheduled for seven Friday night games and a Thursday night game this year, but with that, it's a significantly more difficult draw as opposed to last year.

The opening five games for the Bulldogs presents a good opportunity to be 5-0 before they take on Greater Western Sydney in a rematch to that thrilling preliminary final last year in round six. They will play Collingwood in the opening round, followed by a Grand Final rematch against Sydney at Etihad Stadium, and then Fremantle in Perth North Melbourne in the first-ever Good Friday game and Brisbane at home.

They will have play the Swans and the Giants again later in the year, as well as playing North Melbourne, Brisbane and West Coast twice throughout the year. The Dogs will have travel seven times interstate in 2017 and will get eight six-day breaks which equals the most of any team in the AFL. 

Alex Docherty's Best 22

B: Dale Morris, Marcus Adams, Matthew Boyd
HB: Easton Wood, Fletcher Roberts, Robert Murphy
C: Lachie Hunter, Marcus Bontempelli, Jason Johannisen
HF: Stewart Crameri, Travis Cloke, Luke Dahlhaus
F: Tory Dickson, Tom Boyd, Jake Stringer
FOL: Jordan Roughead, Tom Liberatore, Jack Macrae
INT: Caleb Daniel, Liam Picken, Mitch Wallis, Matthew Suckling

The hardest thing when it comes to predicting a best 22 for a premiership side is that it is often so difficult to pick the best 22 blokes. There are probably another six or seven blokes that I can say are quite unlucky to miss out. Toby McLean, Josh Dunkley, Shane Biggs, Zaine Cordy and Clay Smith are all premiership players, but they capitalised on the misfortunes of their team mates.

Lin Jong will get his opportunities but whether or not he can maintain his spot is another question, questions remain to whether or not Jack Redpath will be able to get back into the team when he recovers from his ACL injury and will this year be the make or break year for the likes of Bailey Dale, Lukas Webb, Mitch Honeychurch and Declan Hamilton? The quartet of players have only managed a combined total of 45 games, with Hamilton yet to debut for the Dogs in his short time.

In a first here on Bulldogs Centre, I'm also going to predict who will play in the Western Bulldogs team round one when they play Collingwood

Alex Docherty's Predicted Round One Team Vs Collingwood

B: Dale Morris, Marcus Adams, Matthew Boyd
HB: Easton Wood, Fletcher Roberts, Robert Murphy
C: Lachie Hunter, Marcus Bontempelli, Jason Johannisen
HF: Jack Macrae, Travis Cloke, Luke Dahlhaus
F: Stewart Crameri, Tom Boyd, Jake Stringer
FOL: Tim English, Josh Dunkley, Tom Liberatore
INT: Caleb Daniel, Liam Picken, Shane Biggs, Matthew Suckling

The only changes from the 'Best 22' to this team is the omissions of Tory Dickson, Jordan Roughead and Mitch Wallis as all three are currently on the sidelines. Wallis is still a fair bit away from returning after breaking his leg during a game late last year, Dickson's facing a race to be fit in time for the round one clash as he recovers from off-season surgery on his groin, whilst Roughead injured his hamstring in the Bulldogs' first JLT Community game against Melbourne and after successful surgery, will miss at least the first month of footy. The next best ruckman Tom Campbell is also injured. 

This leaves the first-year prospect Tim English as a good chance to make his debut in round one, he showed impressive signs in last Thursday night's practice match against the Lions, but is going to need some time to develop as he was monstered in the hitouts by Stefan Martin. Josh Dunkley and Shane Biggs are no scrub players either and they'll provide solid replacements for both Dickson and Wallis.

Who's Set For A Breakout Year?

It's always hard to identify a player to breakout when you're looking at a premiership team.

Marcus Adams was very impressive in the first half of his debut season before injuries derailed his year. Despite inquiring about a trade back home to WA at the end of last year, he will probably get the first go to fill the void left by Joel Hamling, and if he can keep his body right for the season, then he could become an established key defender of not just this side, but in the league. He may have some competition in the form of Kieran Collins who only played one game for the Bulldogs last year, and that was when Jeremy Cameron and the GWS Giants gave him an absolute bath, but he's still considered a work in progress and I'm sure he will have his opportunities in 2017.

I am also going to put a little bit of pressure on Lukas Webb and Bailey Dale as they enter their third season in the red, white and blue. Talent-wise, they are both capable young men, but given the strength of this team, they have simply struggled to crack into the senior team even with consistent VFL performances last year. Webb has been developing as a midfielder after spending his first year down back, whilst Dale has proven he can be dangerous around goals. Given how injury-stricken this side was last year, these two should get their chances this year, but they'll need to make the most of them.

Three Games To Mark On Your Calendar

Round 2 - Western Bulldogs vs Sydney

Both Bulldogs and Sydney fans won't have to wait long to renew hostilities as their Grand Final Rematch happens under the roof of Etihad Stadium for Friday night football in the second round of the home and away season. The Swans lost the last three matches to the Bulldogs, with two of those games decided by less than a kick and the other game one of the greatest Grand Finals in the modern era. This game not only looms as another chapter in the budding rivalry between these two clubs, but the Swans need to prove to the football world that they are still a force to be reckoned with.

Round 4 - North Melbourne vs Western Bulldogs

A historic occasion for both clubs as they will participate in the first-ever AFL game held on Good Friday. For years now rival sporting codes had been holding games on Good Friday and it was about time the AFL did the same. This looms as an interesting encounter for the Dogs, as the Roos are going through a rebuild of sorts, but expect as much fire from the North lads as last time as these two teams have put on thrilling, yet spiteful contests over the last few years.

Round 22 - Western Bulldogs vs Port Adelaide

More history to come for the Bulldogs as Round 22 marks the first of many games they will play in Ballarat's Eureka Stadium. Over the last few years, the Bulldogs have been reaching out to the city of Ballarat in attempts to expand the Bulldogs' franchise, and with this one game, both the Bulldogs and Ballarat will be hoping that this game is a success, and I can't see any reason why it won't. A lot of people are getting behind the Bulldogs and Port Adelaide can play, only when they want to. These two sides played out a ripping game at the Adelaide Oval last year, can we expect something similar this year?

Final Verdict

It's the big question on the mind of not just every Bulldog supporter, but from your everyday AFL fanatic: 'Can The Western Bulldogs Go Back To Back?'

There is no reason why they can't. They won the flag last year off a battered and bruised list, with a number of first-choice players either just returning from injury or they were put on the shelf during the year. On top of this, the nucleus of their list is still relatively young and they're only going to get better as they get older. 

Having Bob Murphy back will give the back six more drive out of half back, and on the other end, having Travis Cloke into the team and Stewart Crameri back from suspension will add a couple of extra dimensions down forward and should provide around four-six goals, which was a big weakness for the Dogs during the home and away season last year - a forward line incapable of kicking a winning score.

They're going to contend without a shadow of a doubt, but they're going to face some stiff competition from a number of sides, but the main rivals look to be both GWS and Sydney, as I can see both sides hell-bent on exacting revenge on their respective losses in last years finals series, the Giants in particular who were only a goal away from making their first Grand Final in their short history

It's a strange feeling to hear the words 'Western Bulldogs Premiership Defence' but it's time for the team to get to work. They're now the hunted.

Stay tuned to Bulldogs Centre on the weekend as Alex presents a massive season preview of the season ahead.

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