With 11 games to go until the end of the home and away season, the Western Bulldogs still have over a dozen players that are out of contract beyond 2017. Ranging from players who have yet to debut for the club and rookie-listed players that might take some time to develop into AFL-quality players to guys who have been a part of this list for well over a decade, the list of players out-of-contract is a bit of a worry for a side that should be lining themselves up as an AFL dynasty.
Today on Bulldogs Centre, we have a look at the 14 players that have yet to sign with the Western Bulldogs beyond the 2017 premiership defence as we ask a very important question:
Will They Stay Or Will They Go?
The Bulldogs have four rookie-listed players that are out of contract this season. Roarke Smith, Josh Prudden, Bradley Lynch and Nathan Mullenger-McHugh all face uncertain futures beyond 2017, but I think both second-year player Lynch and first-year player Mullenger-McHugh will survive - both are works in progress and are sighted as long-term prospects.
22-year old Prudden will be the most likely one who gets delisted from the rookie list, but it is through no fault of his own. Since being taken with the 50th overall pick in the 2012 AFL Draft, Prudden has had a horrific run with injury, with knee, hamstring and ankle injuries all playing a key factor into why he only has four AFL games to his name after four seasons. Delisted last season, he was given a reprieve with a spot on the rookie list, but has since suffered a hamstring injury that could potentially ruin the rest of his time at the Bulldogs.
I fear that Smith is in a similar position. Now in his third year at Whitten Oval, Smith has gone through his second knee reconstruction in the pre-season, and aside from two encouraging performances at AFL level, could be facing a very unlucky delisting. I don't want to see it happen, Smith has great speed and has that potential to be a brilliant rebounding defender.
Young Pups Struggling On The Senior List
There are four players in this group of uncontracted players that are between the age of 20 and 22 and could all be either delisted or at a new club in 2018. Mitch Honeychurch, Declan Hamilton, Lukas Webb and Bailey Dale are all very young and very talented individuals, but for one reason or another, they just haven't been able to consistently crack a spot in the senior team.
Declan Hamilton is in his third year at the club and hasn't even managed a debut game. Taken with the 39th Pick in the 2014 AFL Draft, Hamilton's slender frame always meant he was going to take a little while longer than some of the others. But in 2017, Hamilton still hasn't done enough to suggest he's in line for a senior debut anytime soon - I fear 2017 will be the final season for Hamilton.
The biggest question mark out of this quartet of pups is with 22-year old Mitch Honeychurch, who was drafted in the same year as one Marcus Bontempelli. Honeychurch was taken with 60th overall selection in the 2013 Draft and at the time, looked one of the steals of the Draft, but he could only manage two games in 2016, taking it up 16 games in over three seasons. Despite playing solid footy for Footscray at VFL level, hasn't been able to cement his spot in the side. With names like Dahlhaus, Bontempelli, Picken, Macrae and Wallis all playing good footy in the midfield, it's near impossible for him to get a game. I think the chances of him seeking a trade out of Whitten Oval is greater than the chances of him staying.
Another player that does very well at VFL level is Lukas Webb, but like Honeychurch, has struggled to get much opportunity since he was drafted by the club back in 2014. Webb has played 18 games so far in what is his third season at the top flight. He has featured in two games so far in 2017, and as a midfielder developing his craft, I think he'll survive the axe at the end of the year, but will he want to be at the club beyond this year? Like the situation with Honeychurch, Webb could be presented with opportunity elsewhere if it presents itself.
The fourth player in this quartet, Bailey Dale, will most likely be the one that retains a spot in the senior list. A mid-sized forward that has the talent and the potential to be a match-winner. His performance against St. Kilda in round 10 is evidence that he has what it takes at AFL level. Whether or not he can be a consistent contributor remains to be seen.
Roberts and Redpath: Will There Be Room?
For key-position players Fletcher Roberts and Jack Redpath, both men were vital parts to the Bulldogs' 2016 premiership campaign, but as they are both out-of-contract by the end of the season, will their be space for these two beyond this year?
24-year old Roberts is a premiership defender, but is considered an old-school defender with the way he goes about it - He doesn't gather possessions, he just works to shut down his opposing forward. He's no star like say Alex Rance or Michael Hurley, but most weeks, he finds himself doing the job with minimal fanfare. I'd like to see Roberts remain at the club beyond 2017, but in an age where the AFL public demands more than a backline player just beating his opponent in defence, I fear he may struggle to retain a spot beyond this year.
Key forward Redpath is a different scenario. Redpath averaged two goals a game in 10 matches in 2016 before a third ACL injury ruined the rest of his season and would've most likely have featured in the Bulldogs' premiership run. He made a fantastic return from his knee injury in the round eight loss to West Coast, but has struggled to maintain his spot in the side since. With the Travis Cloke experiment failing to help the Dogs' quest for back-to-back flags, It is more than likely that Redpath will retain his spot and be that tall option to kick to down forward, he can he is more likely to give you two or three goals a match.
Jason Johannisen: The Man In Demand
A big talking point in the Bulldogs' 2017 premiership season is the contract negotiations - or lack of - in last year's Norm Smith Medallist Jason Johannisen. It all started in late March, when Johannisen publicly declared that he would put all contract talks on hold until the end of the season. That's a massive red flag as anybody who has followed the AFL as closely as myself would know that players who have done that, have gone on to leave at the end of the year. Gary Ablett did it when he was still at Geelong, Sydney star Lance Franklin did it when he was still at Hawthorn, and GWS captain Callan Ward did it when he was at the Bulldogs.
However, a month later after Johannisen put all contract talks on hold, he confirmed that his management were back in talks with the reigning premiers. The Dogs want him beyond 2017, and I have no doubt that Johannisen would love to extend his stay, but there are rival clubs out there throwing big money to lure him out. As a Western Australian, it's no shock to hear that both Fremantle and West Coast have enquired about his services, whilst Essendon have also enquired about Johannisen's services.
With Johannisen reportedly demanding $800,000 a season, there is no way that the Dogs will be able to afford it, or that he is even worth that after he was towelled up by the Swans last Thursday night, and with each passing day a deal doesn't get done, the more I'm convinced that he is leaving the Whitten Oval. At 24 years of age, Johannisen has lived the boyhood dream. Not only does he have a premiership medallion around his neck, he also has the accolade of being the best man on the ground the afternoon the Bulldogs made history last year, breaking a 62-year drought.
The 'Big Three' Veterans
This will be some of the hardest calls that the Bulldogs' list management will need to make. Matthew Boyd, Robert Murphy and Dale Morris have been mainstays in this team since the 2000s, and with all three of them into their mid-30s and still playing reasonable footy, there will be some tough decisions made beyond the 2017 season.
The futures of Boyd and Morris should be easier than the future of Dogs' captain Robert Murphy. Both men have tasted premiership glory that so many champion Bulldogs had failed to accomplish. An All-Australian in 2016, Boyd's start to 2017 has been a little off compared to last year, prompting many to believe that he had played one season too many. A shoulder injury hasn't done much to help him rediscover his form, but it looks almost set that he will call it a day in 2017.
Morris' 2017 season has been plagued with injury so far, only playing three games this year, but his ability to shut down both tall forwards and small forwards has been something that the Dogs have valued over the years, and the fact that he still manages to do it at 34 years of age is simply awe-inspiring. I can definitely see him playing on in 2018, but for this to eventuate, he simply needs to keep his body right, but given his history of injuries, you couldn't blame him if he decided to walk away from the game after this year.
Which leads me to Bob, the inspirational leader of the Bulldogs, who missed last year's remarkable premiership win with a season-ending knee injury sustained early last year. Witnessing that flag drove the Dogs' captain into an 18th season. Murphy returned to the senior team in round one and had lost no kicking skill or that poise everybody knew him for. A hamstring injury in the round 10 win against St. Kilda has put him out of action for the next few weeks, but you can still sense that he's hungry to be a premiership player.
Some will argue that the injuries might force Bob into his final year at the Dogs after a career that spans over 300 games, but Murphy's skill, poise and passion for the game could have him playing for another few years if he really wanted to.