WINLESS after five matches, a matter-of-fact Western Bulldogs coach Nathan Burke has said his team is not fit enough and some aren't yet up to the professionalism required at AFLW level.
Many Bulldogs players had injury-interrupted pre-seasons, but Burke said there are other reasons the side won't be qualifying for finals after last year's top-eight finish, including not having the grit needed to dig in.
The Dogs lost to St Kilda by 18 points on Saturday night in their VU Whitten Oval homecoming, after a redevelopment at the home base.
"When you get tired, things drop off, and other teams score. That's killed us all year, to be honest," Burke said after the game.
"We're not fit enough. I said that to the girls in there, we're not going to make excuses over that, because I think there are probably things outside of injuries, within our control, that would make us fitter.
"Just understanding the level of professionalism required now – skipping an ice bath or not eating properly, that doesn't cut it anymore. Yeah, we were injured and we're trying to catch up with that. I think looking forward, it's that added professionalism from some of the players.
"I'm not going to point fingers at anyone, it's general across the group. The whole league has raised the level, and we have to accept that and go with it as well."
The Dogs fielded only one player over 34 years old – Richelle Cranston – in the loss, and only have one other player (Elle Bennetts) in their squad.
"I think a lot of them don't know what they don't know. Even Dom (Carruthers), she's mature, but she's played five games of AFLW, Maggie (Gorham) has played four and Aurora (Smith) has played four. They're having a crack, but sometimes, they don't know what they don't know," Burke said.
"It's a young squad, and without Elle Bennetts out there (ACL), that doesn't help, without Eleanor Brown out there (personal), that doesn’t help.
"Our two veterans as well, they were outstanding. 'Blackers' and 'Lamby' (Ellie Blackburn and Kirsty Lamb), they just will themselves to next contest, next contest, next contest.
"I'll let you in on a little secret, that was something we spoke about after the game – at this level, you have to find that, you have to find that ability to go, 'we've just got ourselves in front, they've kicked one goal, they're not going to kick another one'.
"As a general group, they're absolutely lovely women. Are they too nice on the football field? Possibly yes. They need to find that grunt that 'Lamby' and 'Blackers' do, so that for 72 minutes out here, they're fighting for every single ball. That comes with maturity, a little bit."
Burke suggested that bigger squads were now needed at this stage of the competition.
The first season of AFLW saw lists of 27, which were then increased to 30 for season two in 2018. They still sit at 30, with teams able to utilise 10 train-on players (almost all from the state leagues) to assist with match simulation at training.
"Unfortunately, it seems in the CBA that they haven't given us more players. I don't know why we don't have 32-plus on the list. I've got 10 train-ons, every single one of them should be on a list, so there you go, I can hand them out to five teams and they can all have two each," he said.
"But the fact is, because we don't, we have to play players who are slightly underdone. As I said, you get two or three players slightly underdone, the other team is going to take advantage of that. It doesn't look like it's going to change, unfortunately.
"We've brought back Rocky (Cranston) today, but Rocky and Brit (Gutknecht) haven't played a game in 12 months, and they have to come out and play out here and try and perform against a squad that's been together and on a high after performing last week. It's bloody tough for them as well, I thought they battled today."