Main content

Western Bulldogs season review: MVP, surprise packet, low point, final grade

Bailey Smith and Sam Lloyd celebrate a goal during the win against Adelaide that secured the Dogs' finals berth. All pictures: AFL Photos - AFL,Season reviews,Tag-Analysis,Western Bulldogs
Bailey Smith and Sam Lloyd celebrate a goal during the win against Adelaide that secured the Dogs' finals berth. All pictures: AFL Photos
In a nutshell

Exceeded expectations on all accounts. The Bulldogs' young guns kept improving and Marcus Bontempelli could be on his way to the Brownlow Medal.

What we said in the pre-season

None of AFL.com.au's reporters tipped the Dogs to make the eight in our pre-season 'crystal ball' and no one really expected the Bulldogs to give much of a yelp in 2019. We definitely underestimated the quality of their kids and their ability to be competitive with an inexperienced forward line.

What worked 

Second half of the season
They won eight of their last 11 home and away matches to storm into September and knocked off the likes of Geelong, GWS and Essendon in the process.

Taylor Duryea celebrates a goal in the round 22 win over the Giants. 

Aaron Naughton's move forward
After showing so much as a key defender in his debut season, the decision to play him as a permanent forward was a big risk. But it looks like it will pay off handsomely in the years to come.

Youth development
With the likes of Naughton, Bailey Smith, Rhylee West, Patrick Lipinski, Tim English and Ed Richards, they've now got one of the youngest and most exciting lists in the competition and a handful of players on the brink of becoming A-graders.

Rhylee West and Patrick Lipinski emerged as genuine AFL players in 2019.

What failed

First half of the season
Just four wins from their first 11 games including losses to Carlton, Gold Coast and Fremantle.

Goalkicking accuracy
The Bulldogs had more shots at goal than any other side (618) but only finished with the fifth-most goals (279). This inaccuracy may have cost them wins against Gold Coast (round three) and Collingwood (round 14).

Tom Liberatore's knee (again)
After rupturing his ACL in round one 2018, Liberatore's return was looking positive before the bye. However, the second half of Libba's 2019 was severely hampered by issues with his right knee once again, removing an important player from the Western Bulldogs' midfield.

Overall rating

B+

In a season where nobody expected them to do anything, a brilliant second half of the year lifted the Bulldogs into their first finals appearance in three years. 

The coach

The Bulldogs showed great faith in Luke Beveridge by extending the contract of the premiership coach in July this year, before the Dogs really hit their straps. 'Bevo' is contracted to the Dogs until at least the end of 2023.

MVP

Marcus Bontempelli: The Bulldogs superstar went to new heights in 2019, averaging career-highs in disposals (26.9), clearances (6.1), rebound 50s (2.1) and inside 50s (5.4).

Surprise packet

Josh Dunkley: Dunkley went from a decent half-forward to a genuine ball-magnet after being given a permanent position in the Bulldogs' midfield. The 22-year-old had some monster games, including 41 disposals against Carlton and 39 disposals and two goals against Melbourne. 

Get excited

Aaron Naughton: The second-year forward played every game in 2019 and led the league in contested marks (53). While his high flying was the highlight, he produced a match-winning five-goal game against Richmond and four goals against Geelong too.

Disappointment

Billy Gowers: After leading the Bulldogs' goalkicking in 2018, Gowers started the season solidly before an ankle injury at training sidelined the forward. Despite returning to full fitness, he finished the year in the VFL.

Best win

Round 17: Western Bulldogs 21.11 (137) def Essendon 4.9 (33)

Twenty-one goals in a row. What more needs to be said? It was arguably the most impressive thrashing any side has handed out this season.

INDICATIVE DRAFT ORDER Dons, Dogs locked in, Giants' double win

Best individual performance 

Josh Dunkley: Round 17 v Melbourne

Dunkley managed 39 disposals, 15 tackles, nine clearances and two goals against the Demons in one of the most complete performances we've seen from an inside midfielder this year.

Low point

Dale Morris being forced to retire after injuring his knee again halfway through his return game in round 19 was undoubtedly a crushing blow for not just Morris and the Bulldogs, but even neutral football fans who had respect for the way the veteran defender went about his business. 

The big questions 

What's the best way to build around Aaron Naughton?

How does the club respond from the elimination final loss to the Giants?

Is Jack Martin the right trade target?

Season in a movie title

2 Fast, 2 Furious. Not quite as good as the first edition, but an electrifying ride that had some moments.

 

Who's done?

Retirements: Tom Boyd, Liam Picken, Dale Morris.

Delistings: N/A

Unsigned free agents: Tory Dickson, Fletcher Roberts.

WHO'S HANGING UP THE BOOTS? Your club's retirements and delistings

How should they approach trade and draft period? 

Alex Keath, Josh Bruce and Jack Martin are the three targets the Bulldogs have been linked to, and all three make sense for a club looking to make a significant finals push.

Early call for 2020

With another year of development for Bailey Smith and potentially a decent haul in the Trade Period, there's no reason why the Dogs cannot win a final next season.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs