15/04/2024

It was a season like no other for the Western Bulldogs. (Photo: @westernbulldogs/Twitter)

The Bulldogs just fell at the final hurdle after losing to Melbourne in the 2021 Grand Final but it was a season to remember for the Western Bulldogs.

Although many Bulldogs fans were quite optimistic about where the Bulldogs were headed coming into the season, nobody would have thought that they would have made it all the way into the Grand Final.

It started with a bang, winning six games in a row to open up their 2021 account, despite key players to injury the Bulldogs were still able to keep the momentum high, calling upon their strong depth in its list to be sitting at the top of the ladder going into round 20.

After a bad run of games heading into finals and losing key forward Josh Bruce to an ACL injury, many expected the Bulldogs to exit straight away. But with their backs against the wall, the Bulldogs were able to make it to the Grand Final in a stellar run from 5th position.

What worked

The forward setup worked well for the Bulldogs all season, with Josh Bruce and Aaron Naughton setting up a dangerous combination as key attacking posts with 95 goals between them for the 2021 season.

Every time they couldn’t get the mark they were able to bring the ball to ground with the likes of Cody Weightman and Mitch Hannan to crumb and apply the pressure at ground level.

The Bulldogs’ depth was also something that shone throughout the season, when losing key players like Adam Treloar and Josh Dunkley to injury midway through the season, there was always someone that was able to come in and play that role.

Prior to round 21, the Bulldogs had used the most players out of anyone in the competition with 41 players used.

What didn’t

When Stefan Martin went down with an injury in round 19 against Melbourne, the Western Bulldogs struggled to find that ruck balance, with Tim English spending most time up forward, especially towards the back end of the season, the Bulldogs were getting smashed out of the ruck.

In the last three matches of the season, the Bulldogs only got above 20 hit-outs in one of those matches, which was against Essendon in round 21.

In the Bulldogs round 23 clash against Port Adelaide, the Power dominated in the ruck, winning the hit-outs 51-18. Which gave the likes of Ollie Wines and Travis Boak first use of the footy.

Something else that didn’t work was holding onto strong leads early in games, with the Bulldogs being able to come out to a blistering start there were occasions where they weren’t able to hold on.

The round seven match against Richmond was a prime example. The Dogs got out to a 19-point lead at halftime but went on to only kick another two goals for the game, while Richmond stormed home to take the win by 22 points.

Who impressed?

In only in his second year at AFL level, Cody Weightman had a breakout year and cemented his spot in the Bulldogs side. Weightman kicked off his season in fine form when kicking two goals in the Bulldogs win over Port Adelaide.

He also was able to stand up in the big moments, kicking four goals in the Bulldogs’ 49-point win over Essendon in the Elimination Final as well as a string of one-percenters that was able to give the Bulldogs possession back.

Captain Marcus Bontempelli was a key to the Bulldogs successful season averaging  26 disposals and kicked 31 goals across the season which was reflected on Brownlow night, coming in second with 33 votes and winning his fourth Charlie Sutton Medal.

Bailey Dale reinvented himself in 2021, moving to the half-back line and it proved an asset for the Bulldogs, averaging 24 disposals. His season was recognised by some of the best, getting his first All-Australian blazer, being named on the half-back line.

Reliable midfielder Jack Macrae had another stand-out year, averaging 33 disposals, and was again a key cog in the Bulldogs engine room for most of the season.

Macrae took it up a notch in the finals series, playing a key role in the Bulldogs road to the grand final and securing the Gary Ayres Medal.

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Season Highlight

The Bulldogs 71 point win over Port Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval in the Preliminary Final will go down as one of the club’s greatest finals wins. 

After losing Cody Weightman and Alex Keath during the week to injury and with skipper Marcus Bontempelli under an injury cloud, not to mention the issues with quarantine and flying into Adelaide, it was going to be an uphill battle.

The Bulldogs jumped out of the blocks early and within 14 minutes, the Bulldogs were up by 31 points kicking the first five goals of the game.

Josh Schache was able to nullify Aliir Aliir in the air, shutting the defender right out of the contest.

Bailey Smith backed up his epic semi-final performance kicking four-goal and 23 disposals and Jack Macrae was once again reliable with 36 disposals.

Season Lowlight

It was just two weeks later when the Bulldogs let a grand final win slip within just minutes.

After having a 19-point lead going into the final half of the third quarter and having all the momentum things quickly flipped on their head.

Melbourne kicked seven straight goals to go into the final quarter with a 24-point lead that only increased as the game went on.

From the 17-minute mark in the third quarter, Melbourne outscored the Bulldogs (100-7) and won the game by 74 points, with the Bulldogs just getting destroyed out of the middle.

Chopping block

It is all but confirmed that fringe player Patrick Lipinski will depart the kennel over the off-season and seek fresh opportunities at Collingwood.

Vice-Captain Mitch Wallis may look for other opportunities after failing to cement his spot in the side, only playing six games across 2021.

Number one off-season priority

If the Grand Final was anything to go by there are still a few gaps that the Bulldogs have to fill. With Stefan Martin missing the majority of the season, the Bulldogs will need to find an experienced ruckman that can allow Tim English to rotate up forward.

The Bulldogs also need another key defender to support Alex Keath, when Keath went down the Bulldogs struggled to limit the opposition scoring.

The round 21 match against Essendon is a prime example, allowing Peter Wright to kick seven goals and played a key role in getting Essendon over the line, whereas with Alex Keath back in the team a few weeks late in the Elimination final he was able to keep Wright goalless.

Final Say

Although falling over at the last hurdle, this season was filled with positives for the Western Bulldogs.

With a solid core group and young guns waiting in the wings to cement themselves into this ferocious Bulldogs side, anything can happen.

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