The Bulldogs finished the 2019 home and away season with a barnstorming finish, before being bundled out of the finals. 2020 looms as a big year for the Dogs, as they look to recapture some 2016 magic.
What Went Right?
The Sons of the West started 2019 well, with wins over the Swans and Hawks before faltering, playing some very ordinary football and finding themselves with 4 wins from 11 outings heading into the bye in round 12.
They turned that form around later in the season, showcasing the energy and intensity that was synonymous with their fairytale, drought-breaking premiership victory over the Swans, and seeing them win 8 of their last 11 leading into the finals – finishing 7th.
This return to form came on the back of some stellar form from their best player in Marcus Bontempelli – arguably recording his best season statistically, with career high averages in disposals (27), clearances (6), rebound 50s (2) and inside 50s (5.4) .
The Bulldog’s will also be buoyed by the emergence of youngsters, particularly Bailey Smith, Aaron Naughton, Rhylee West, Patrick Lipinski, Tim English and Ed Richards.
What Went Wrong?
Ruck firepower – Tim English is a fantastic prospect for the Bulldogs, but he does struggle to impact the hit-out department, his light frame is easily out-maneuvered by bigger types, he does however, make up for this shortcoming with his work around the ground and his ability to impact the scoreboard. The Dogs were ranked last for hitouts and last for opponent hitouts per game. This was offset though by the fact that the Dogs recorded the least amount of opponent clearances, surprisingly.
Slow Start – As previously mentioned, the Bulldogs only recorded 4 wins from their first 11 games, with disappointing losses to cellar-dwellars Gold Coast and Carlton
Round 21 vs Essendon, Marvel Stadium.
Apart from the opening 20 seconds of the match, where Essendon won the clearance and goaled through Shiel, the Bulldogs were an absolute force to be reckoned with.
That opening 20 seconds aside, the Dogs ran riot against finals fancies Essendon, forcing 21 (yes, 21) unanswered goals down the throat of a hapless, insipid Essendon outfit.
The win kept the Bulldogs finals chances alive, and gave them a head of steam heading into the final 2 rounds. Josh Dunkley was massive, gathering 39 touches, 7 clearances and a goal. Macrae chimed in with 38 touches also, while Dale, Shache and Mclean kicking 3 majors apiece.
Room for Improvement
Tim English could use a chop-out in the ruck department, and that could come from the Bulldogs targeting of Josh Bruce from the Saints, who, while not overly proficient in ruck craft, provides a rest for English – who has proven to be a good contested mark himself.
Targeting Bruce will also provide welcome firepower in the Bulldogs forward 50, he is ranked 4th in contested marks, and is capable of 50 goal seasons, as he has shown at the Saints. Naughton will benefit greatly from another forward target, as he looks to continue his ominous rise to being one of the league’s premier big forwards.
Marcus Bontempelli – Had arguably his best season, leading from the front with career high averages in disposals (27), clearances (6), rebound 50s (2) and inside 50s (5.4) . The men in green obviously agree about the Bont’s dominance, polling 22 votes.
Grade – B
After a slow start to 2019, the Bulldogs managed to recapture form in the last half of the year, showing shades of their 2016 brilliance. They managed to finish 7th before being unceremoniously bundled out by the Giants in an elimination final. This finish to the year will buoy the hopes of the Footscray faithful in 2020, and will make a few opposition coaches nervous also.