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Season preview: Western Bulldogs

Ryan Davidson  March 19, 2017 4:52 AM

AFL 2016 Toyota AFL Grand Final - Sydney v Western Bulldogs

There's no doubt about Marcus Bontempelli reaching superstar status

Best 22 – round one

B: Matthew Boyd, Fletcher Roberts, Dale Morris
HB: Jason Johannisen, Easton Wood, Robert Murphy
C: Caleb Daniel, Tom Liberatore, Lachie Hunter
HF: Luke Dahlhaus, Stewart Crameri, Jack Macrae
F: Clay Smith, Travis Cloke, Jake Stringer
Foll: Tom Boyd, Liam Picken, Marcus Bontempelli
I/C: Zaine Cordy, Shane Biggs, Matt Suckling, Toby McLean

Injury list

After enduring a horror run of injuries in 2016, luck has continued to desert the Dogs at the start of this year. Jordan Roughead (hamstring) will miss at least the first month of the season while fellow ruckman Tom Campbell is expected to miss the early rounds with an ankle injury. Goalsneak Tory Dickson has had a restricted pre-season due to post-season groin surgery, but is some chance to play round one. Rookie Roarke Smith will miss the whole season after rupturing his ACL in the JLT Community Series. Mitch Wallis is unlikely to be seen until mid-season in the midfielder's recovery from a broken leg. ACL victims Jack Redpath and Josh Prudden will be hoping for early-season returns.

The big questions

Who will slay the monsters?
With Fletcher Roberts struggling for consistency and West Australian Marcus Adams battling injuries and homesickness last year, Luke Beveridge will be looking to either of them or second-year key defender Kieran Collins to establish themselves as a reliable stopper.

Is Tom Boyd ready to become a consistently dominant player?
After enduring constant scrutiny in his two seasons at the Dogs, the key forward silenced the doubters with a standout Grand Final performance in the ruck and in attack. At 21, Boyd appears ready to become the dominant big man the club is paying him handsomely to be. 

How will Luke Beveridge evolve as a coach?
After completing his apprenticeship under Alastair Clarkson, the third-year mentor will be well aware you don't win back-to-back flags without evolving as a team. One development the dual coach of the year looks to be implementing is employing a taller forward line with the recruitment of Travis Cloke.

Look for…

Premiership forward Toby McLean is primed to establish himself as a vital cog in the Bulldog machine. Having improved his aerobic capacity considerably over the pre-season, the 21-year-old now has the capacity to use his strong footballing instincts further up the field. Good foot skills and decision-making are complemented by his ability to win the footy both inside and out.

Who they play

One of the few downsides of winning a premiership is the tough fixture you receive the following year. The Dogs will play flag contenders Sydney, Greater Western Sydney and West Coast twice, and will make the most interstate trips of Melbourne clubs with eight.

Fantasy cash cow

At $595,000 for a midfielder, Marcus Bontempelli looks a prudent investment with plenty of growth. After a slow start in 2016, the playmaker picked up the pace from round seven to average 109 points per game.

Sudden impact

Former Magpie Travis Cloke has impressed with his pre-season training and output in the JLT Community Series, and is almost certain to make his Bulldogs debut against his old side in round one. The 29-year-old should prove a valuable foil for Tom Boyd and Stewart Crameri up forward, and also spend time in the ruck. First-year ruckman Tim English has quickly proved why the Dogs were delighted when the West Australian was available with their first pick in the draft, and is a good chance to make an early-season debut.

It's crunch time for…

After playing just 37 games in five seasons, key premiership defender Fletcher Roberts really needs to finally establish himself as the man to contain the League's monster forwards. Out of contract at season's end, the 23-year-old often gets caught in front and needs to improve his physicality.

Pressure rating on the coach

If you've won a premiership and earned coach of the year honours twice in your two seasons in the job, Beveridge is the hottest Dog going around.

The Bulldogs will have a good year if …

The club's young stars like Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Boyd, Jack Macrae, Jake Stringer and Lachie Hunter continue their steady development.

They’re in trouble if …

The club's medical staff has just as busy a year as 2016.

Pass mark …

Going into the season as reigning premiers, a top-four finish would be a bare minimum for a young and ambitious side.

AFL.com.au predicted ladder finish 

The brains trust at AFL Media has the Dogs finishing third behind GWS and Sydney.

Player Ratings star

It should come as no surprise that superstar midfielder Marcus Bontempelli is the top Dog. Finishing fifth on 609 points in 2016, the 20-year-old was youngest player in the top 10.

Want more?

Click here to read 2017 season previews for every club