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Is Top Four On The Horizon? The Western Bulldogs Mid-Season Review

  • Is Top Four On The Horizon? The Western Bulldogs Mid-Season Review

    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 27: Marcus Bontempelli of the Bulldogs celebrates during the 2017 AFL round 10 match between the Western Bulldogs and the St Kilda Saints at Etihad Stadium on May 27, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

The Western Bulldogs have the bye this weekend, giving us the perfect opportunity to present to you the Western Bulldogs' mid-season review.

2017 So Far

Round 1: W v Collingwood - 15.10.100 v 12.14.86 - MCG
Round 2: W v Sydney - 16.14.110 v 13.9.87 - Etihad Stadium
Round 3: L v Fremantle - 10.13.73 v 13.11.89 - Domain Stadium
Round 4: W v North Melbourne - 12.17.89 v 12.14.86 - Etihad Stadium
Round 5: W v Brisbane - 17.20.122 v 14.6.90 - Etihad Stadium
Round 6: L v GWS Giants - 9.19.73 v 11.9.75 - Manuka Oval
Round 7: W v Richmond - 11.14.80 v 11.9.75 - Etihad Stadium
Round 8: L v West Coast - 8.13.61 v 9.15.69 - Domain Stadium
Round 9: L v Geelong - 16.8.104 v 12.9.81 - Simonds Stadium
Round 10: W v St. Kilda - 13.12.90 v 7.8.50 - Etihad Stadium

After Round 10

Position: 4th
Wins: 6
Losses: 4
Points Scored: 879 = 87.9 Points Per Game (Equal 11th in the AFL)
Points Conceded: 811 = 81.1 Points Per Game (2nd in the AFL)
Percentage: 108.4

The Pre-Season Expectation & Has It Been Met?

My expectation from the Bulldogs is to back up their incredible 2016 premiership season with a top-four finish in 2017 at the very least. Because the league is as wide open as we've seen for quite some time, the expectation for another premiership this year is extremely hard, but I expect them to contend and at the very least hold down a top-four spot at the end of the home and away season.

Right now, they sit inside the top four as they have the weekend off, so if we're reading where the Bulldogs are on the ladder, then they are on their way to meeting the end-of-season expectations. However, the Dogs have had a number of issues throughout 2017 - I'll discuss that more of it down below, but sitting in the top four in a competition that has been so incredibly tight is a fantastic achievement and something the club should be proud of as they head into the week off.

What I Like

Bulldogs' captain, Robert Murphy's return from a ruptured ACL this season has been absolutely seamless. Murphy played 9 of a possible 10 games in 2017 and has averaged 22 disposals, six marks, four inside 50s and two rebound 50s per game. Murphy did however, injure his hamstring in the win against St. Kilda and will most likely spend a month on the sidelines. Mitch Wallis' return from a broken leg he sustained last year is also proving to be a feel-good story in 2017, averaging 27 disposals, nine clearances and five tackles over the past fortnight.

I've also enjoyed watching the midfield throughout this season. Marcus Bontempelli, the reigning Charlie Sutton Medallist, has begun his defence of the crown strongly, averaging 23 disposals, six tackles, four marks, four inside 50s and three clearances per game to go with 12 goals in 10 games, but faces stiff competition from the likes of Luke Dahlhaus and Jack Macrae. It's also nice to see last year's Norm Smith Medallist Jason Johannisen performing well as the out-of-contract speedster faces an uncertain future that grows every day.

Their back-line has also been very impressive, when you sit second in the league for points conceded, how can you not be impressed? Marcus Adams has been very good in defence the past few weeks, Robert Murphy continues to play like he's ageless, Easton Wood looks like he's in All-Australian form again and Bailey Williams has been a bit of revelation down back in only five games this season.

What I Don't Like

Three of the four losses the Bulldogs have had this season have been to teams also vying for a spot in the top four. It's not a big deal, losses to fellow contenders will come, but there are a few other things that the Bulldogs need to address in the second half of this year.

The first thing is there slow starts, they've only won three of 10 first quarters in 2017, and had faced massive deficits most weeks, but the positive is they always fight back, but it is still a worry for a Premiership-defending team when they find themselves down five-six goals against sides they should be beating and beating comprehensively. Check out the margins the Bulldogs have had to come back from:

2017 Deficits That The Bulldogs Have Come Back From:

Round Two v Sydney - Down by 23 Points midway through first quarter
Round Three v Fremantle - Down by 25 Points start of second quarter
Round Four v North Melbourne - Down by 29 Points early in the third quarter
Round Five v Brisbane Lions - Down by 38 Points late in the second quarter
Round Seven v Richmond - Down by 32 Points early in the second quarter
Round Nine v Geelong - Down by 32 Points early in the third quarter

Out of those six games, the Bulldogs have won four of them, losing to a resurgent Fremantle in Perth and a Geelong team making amends for a poor performance the week previous. But regardless of who the Bulldogs are playing, they shouldn't be coughing up deficits like this. It does make you wonder whether or not this side is either coping with a premiership hangover, or if they're buying too much into their own hype - or maybe even a bit of both.

Their efficiency in front of goal is another issue that they should be addressing with the week off. They sit dead-last in the AFL in goal-accuracy, sitting at just 41 percent. Some of the serial offenders lie in some of the team's most talented players. Jake Stringer leads all Bulldogs in goals so far this season, but has kicked 19.16 so far this year and Marcus Bontempelli has kicked 12.13 in 10 games this year, and it ultimately cost the Dogs crucial victories over Greater Western Sydney and West Coast, when they kicked 9.19 on the Giants and a wasteful 8.13 on the Eagles.

The Travis Cloke experiment hasn't worked out as Bulldogs' supporters and officials would've hoped. Cloke started 2017 playing the first four games of the year, before breaking his ribs in the win over North Melbourne. He returned to the line-up in round nine before being sent back to the VFL a week later. A few other Dogs - Regular 22 Dogs - have been very down on form. Matthew Boyd was an All-Australian last year, but has struggled a fair bit at times this year - making a lot of people questioning whether or not he has gone one season too far, whilst Tom Liberatore, after a strong start to the year, has been failing to find a lot of the footy in recent weeks and was subsequently sent back to the VFL.

The Mid-Season MVP

Luke Dahlhaus is playing career-best footy at the moment in the midfield and I think he'll be one of three in contention for the Charlie Sutton Medal come the end of season. Dahlhaus has been incredibly consistent, averaging a career best 27 disposals to go along with four tackles, four inside 50s and four clearances per game. We know Marcus Bontempelli will be in amongst the top three at the end of the season - such is his influence on games this season - but Jack Macrae would be the dark horse in all of this. Like Dahlhaus, he averages 26 disposals, six tackles, four clearances and four marks per game this season.

The Most Improved

It was almost a year ago that Lin Jong was out-of-contract and touring the Collingwood facilities. Fast-forward to today and Jong has played every game so far in 2017 and is steadily cementing himself inside the team's 22. Jong averages a career-high 21 disposals per game - five up from 2016 - along with five tackles, three clearances, three inside 50s and three marks a game as a midfielder and at times a very undersized ruckman.

Dogs Under Pressure

There are a few Bulldogs' players I'm concerned about here. I'm not convinced that Travis Cloke will be in Bulldogs' colours beyond 2017, his form hasn't been too impressive, Matthew Boyd and Dale Morris may call time on their careers at the end of this season as injuries have played a part on them this season, captain Murphy might do the same if he can get that premiership he missed out on last year. 

Another few premiership Bulldogs have found themselves on the outer. Shane Biggs, who played every game in 2016, has already been omitted from the line-up twice in 2017 after an ordinary start to year. Fletcher Roberts came out of the team after the round eight loss to West Coast and can't find his way back in, whilst Zaine Cordy hasn't done enough to keep a spot in the side.

But the ones under enormous pressure are the ones that don't see a lot of game time - two of which I think are standing out. Mitch Honeychurch (Pictured Above) has been at the club for four seasons now and has only played 16 games at AFL level. He dominates at VFL-level, he averages 23 disposals a game this year for Footscray and has kicked 10 goals in five games, but because of all the midfield firepower, it has been incredibly tough to get a gig. Lukas Webb is another that has struggled to cement his spot in the team, playing two games so far in 2017 and just 17 games since his debut in 2015.

The Run Home

Round 12: A v Sydney - SCG
Round 13: H v Melbourne - Etihad Stadium
Round 14: H v North Melbourne - Etihad Stadium
Round 15: H v West Coast - Etihad Stadium
Round 16: A v Adelaide - Adelaide Oval
Round 17: A v Carlton - MCG
Round 18: H v Gold Coast Suns - Cazaly's Stadium
Round 19: H v Essendon - Etihad Stadium
Round 20: A v Brisbane - Gabba
Round 21: H v GWS Giants - Etihad Stadium
Round 22: H v Port Adelaide - Eureka Stadium
Round 23: A v Hawthorn - Etihad Stadium

It's not an easy run-home for the Bulldogs, but as the reigning premiers, I don't think it's an extremely difficult one either. They only play four teams that are currently inside the top eight and half of their 12 games will be at Etihad Stadium - the Dogs have yet to lose a game at Etihad in 2017 - however face a few games in which they could potentially lose games.

They've had good history over the Swans at the SCG as of late, but next Thursday night is a night they can't afford to drop one. Adelaide at Adelaide Oval is an incredibly difficult task for anyone, as will be a rematch against the Greater Western Sydney Giants late in the year, a match against an in-form Port Adelaide will be interesting as the Bulldogs launch their second home in Ballrat, whilst a rematch with the Brisbane Lions up at the Gabba is a game that shouldn't be taken lightly, given the Bulldogs haven't won up there since 2009.

The best case scenario I think for the Dogs is if they won 9 or 10 games in these last 12 games of the season before the finals, nine wins will get them to 15-7 like last year, 16-6 however could see them propel into the top four. The worst case scenario is that the Bulldogs lose to Adelaide, Sydney, Port Adelaide, and possibly a couple to lesser sides such as North Melbourne and Brisbane. That will see them at 13-9 and possibly eighth place or even out of finals, given how close the competition is at the moment.

The Final Verdict

The Dogs have managed to win games so far this year without being so dominant and the majority of their wins haven't been so convincing, but they have to begin to dominate games soon if they are to be a serious chance of going back-to-back. Their win against the Saints last Saturday was a step in the right direction, showing big glimpses of the Dogs that won that flag last year.

Unless the unlikely happens and they capitulate for one reason or another, the Bulldogs will be playing finals footy again this year. Whether or not they get the top four and double chance remains to be seen. If they can start playing more footy like they did against the Saints last weekend and topple a Sydney team that looks reinvigorated next Thursday night, then they're a good shot. Their best footy is definitely ahead of them, but can Luke Beveridge rally the troops together for another flag?

Grade: C

Pictures Courtesy Of Getty Images

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