After being touted as one of the league favourites heading into the inaugural AFLW season, the Western Bulldogs ended up winning just two games and finishing sixth. The absence of Katie Brennan for most of the season had an impact on the club, however, it was a lack of depth that was the reasoning behind the lower-than-expected finish.
The Coach: Paul Groves
The Captain: Katie Brennan
The Bulldogs suffered three single-digit point losses, suggesting the team wasn’t far off. However, the midfield lacked depth and the defence wasn’t strong enough once teams had penetrated the defensive midfield area. Champion Data had the Bulldogs ranked first for clearances and third for contested possessions in the league despite the perceived shortcomings in the midfield, yet there was a lack of a point of difference through the middle. Depth has been improved thanks to the Draft, which will undoubtedly give Ellie Blackburn and Emma Kearney some much-needed support. Monique Conti was the fourth pick overall and at just 18 years of age, she is a star of the future. However, there should be a lot of excitement around Jenna Bruton, who beat out Carlton’s Brianna Davey to win St Kilda Sharks’ best-and-fairest last season. She’ll immediately post strong numbers.
Regarding the forward line, Champion Data actually had the Bulldogs as one of the more efficient attacks in the league, despite missing their captain for most of the season. Brennan is more of an athletic player rather than a strong one-on-one target, but her return will be huge for the club. 2018 top draft pick Isabel Huntington is a huge talent, however she missed all of last year with an ACL injury so it may take some time for us to see her at her best. The medium forwards/midfielders were the Bulldogs’ best avenue to goal in 2017 and Kirsten McLeod will have less pressure on herself. There’s an expectation that Kirsty Lamb will spend more time forward after being able to hit the scoreboard last season, while Deanna Berry was impressive at Melbourne and should add a lot to the Bulldogs.
Lauren Spark was the only key defender at the Bulldogs as listed by Champion Data last season, and while she won 50% of her one-on-one contests, she desperately needs more help. The addition of Rachel Ashley via free agency may help, although she may be too raw to play regular footy this season. Paul Groves will likely need to be creative again with the defensive set up, with a heavier reliance on Hannah Scott’s intercepting work a likely necessity. Also expect a key forward to spend some time in defence, with one of Ellyse Gamble or Aasta O’Connor to play that role.
Let me take a selfie 📸 🤳 pic.twitter.com/BHOo8TTnhM
— WesternBulldogs AFLW (@BulldogsW) January 25, 2018
IN: Isabel Huntington (pick 1), Monique Conti (pick 4), Jenna Bruton (pick 11), Daria Bannister (pick 19), Emma Mackie (pick 27), Naomi Ferres (Rookie Draft – pick 3), Bonnie Toogood (Rookie Draft- pick 11), Kim Rennie (rookie selection), Aisling Utri (Free Agency), Rachel Ashley (Free Agency), Jessica Anderson (Melbourne), Deanna Berry (Melbourne)
OUT: Jaimee Lambert (Collingwood), Lisa Williams, Lauren Morecroft, Kate Tyndall, Courtney Clarkson, Jess Gardner, Rebecca Neaves, Meg McDonald, Angelica Gogos, Romy Timmins (delisted)
#MeetTheCoach Paul Groves 👋 Before becoming the head AFLW coach of the Western Bulldogs in 2016, Groves enjoyed success in TAC Cup and youth girls’ football 🐶 DID YOU KNOW?! He coached marquee player Ellie Blackburn in 2013 in the Vic Metro youth girls team, coaching them to a national championship 💥 #RealStrength #AFLW
The preseason so far:
The Bulldogs lost their preseason match against Carlton, however they were without a host of important players. Aasta O’Connor was the only player to kick multiple goals, however once again, she may be needed in defence this season. It’s hard to take a whole heap away from this loss, but the fact they were competitive should give them a lot of confidence.
Scores are expected to be higher in the second season of AFLW and the Bulldogs’ improved depth in the midfield and key attacking stocks will hold them in good stead. The versatility of a number of players could also set them apart from other teams, with in-game tactical flexibility an underrated part of the game.
Players to watch:
Obviously much has been spoken about Katie Brennan here, but seeing the Bulldogs’ captain play a full season is something to look forward to. Ellie Blackburn is one of the best midfielders in the competition and at just 22 years of age, she can only improve from here. Going to another level in 2018 will boost the Bulldogs’ chances of finishing higher on the table.
Hannah Scott was mentioned earlier as a key part of the team’s defence and she’ll be a good player to watch. Her intercepting work is great and she is a good user of the ball off half-back, making her a dangerous proposition coming out of defence.
— WesternBulldogs AFLW (@BulldogsW) January 25, 2018
In terms of interstate matches, the Bulldogs need to travel to both the reigning grand finalists’ home grounds in consecutive weeks, before travelling to GWS later in the season. There’s every chance Brisbane who were a shock minor premier last season, return to the pack, which makes that matchup a little easier for the Bulldogs.
Ultimately, if the Bulldogs want to be one of the top teams this season, they need to be able to win against any opponent in any state. Round three against the Crows will be a massive game.
Author’s prediction: 2nd
While many acknowledge this Bulldogs team is a bit of an enigma, meaning they could end up being hot-and-cold, I feel there’s enough depth and versatility to allow the team to realise their expected potential from the first season. A grand final spot is an entirely plausible position for the Bulldogs to find themselves in and they should find themselves being a key player at the pointy end of the season.
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