28/02/2024

The Bulldogs celebrate a win (PHOTO: Western Bulldogs/ Graphic by Will Cuckson)

The Bulldogs finished the season on a low in a loss to Brisbane to end their finals aspirations in what was a rollercoaster year.

The Western Bulldogs finished the season on a low in a loss to Brisbane to definitively end their finals aspirations, The Inner Sanctum looks at how they fared during the course of the AFLW season.

Finishing position: 7th (4 wins, 1 draw, 5 losses)

What worked?

As is the case with the Western Bulldogs, over their history, this year their midfield has been immense. Strong performances from captain Ellie Blackburn and Kirsty Lamb in particular have buoyed the team across the season.

Both are in All-Australian form averaging 19 disposals each per game. Blackburn has totalling 362 metres gained before the final game of the season as well as Kirsty Lamb averaging four inside 50s a game.

Ellie Blackburn. Image: @BulldogsW. Twitter

Another aspect that worked well for the Western Bulldogs was that even though they had to test their youth, they proved that they were up to AFLW level. Nell Morris-Dalton and Elisabeth Georgostathis both earned rising star nominations for their form as well as the improvement of other young pups meant that the Bulldogs became an exciting young team to watch.

What didn’t?

Many things went wrong for the Bulldogs this year such as COVID rescheduling and injuries meant the Bulldogs had a slow start to the season.

As a result of the AFLW’s Health and Safety Protocols, there were two postponed matches in Rounds two and three, this meant playing seven games in 30 days. This wasn’t the ideal start to try and kick their season off however to finish just outside the finals race was testament to the playing group’s effort.

There were 20 days off between round one and two for the Bulldogs, some of which suffered fitness issues when returning having tested positive to COVID during the protocols.

The Western Bulldogs backline was struggling at the beginning of the season due to the injuries to Ashleigh Guest and Ellyse Gamble. As the season went on the rise of Sarah Hartwig, Katie Lynch and Eleanor Brown was crucial to their success.

Hartwig’s versatility made her an asset as upon the return of Ellyse Gamble, she was sent down forward where she played well.

Eleanor Brown is one of the AFLW’s most improved players in 2022. (Photo: Western Bulldogs)

With the ACL injury to star forward, Isabel Huntington, the Bulldogs had trouble gelling as a forwardline. Despite suffering two ACL injuries in her career, Huntington has become the premier forward at the Bulldogs. In her absence the forwards struggled to score but towards the middle of the season Bonnie Toogood and Morris-Dalton worked together well which helped the Bulldogs to win games.

Bulldogs star midfielder Bonnie Toogood(Picture: Western Bulldogs/Website)

Who impressed? (Best players of the year, any surprise players)

Two players that impressed this year apart from their midfield stars Blackburn and Lamb were their rising star nominees Morris-Dalton and Georgostathis.

Georgosthathis played her break-out game in a close game against the Geelong Cats. She announced herself on the Friday night stage with 23 disposals (career best), six tackles, two marks and one goal. Getting in and under to collect the football and distribute to her team mates has been a development in her game this season.

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Young forward, Morris-Dalton was nominated after the Bulldogs’ win over the West Eagles in Round 9 with a fantastic performance including 12 disposals, three marks, two clearances and two goals. She has also kicked seven goals for the Bulldogs this year working in tandem with Bonnie Toogood.

Defenders Eleanor Brown, Sarah Hartwig and Katie Lynch also had great seasons down back in the absence of some key talent.

Western Bulldogs young midfielder Elizabeth Georgostathis (Picture: Western Bulldogs/Website)

Highs and lows

The best moment of the year for the Bulldogs was the one point win against the Adelaide Crows in Round 6. This could be also the game of the year in the AFLW season this year.

The bottom-placed Bulldogs played a blinder of a first half to stun the previously-undefeated Crows side. They led by 15 points at three quarter time to hold on to a one point win through a late surge by the Crows.

What made this feat that much more impressive was that they were two players down early in the game due to an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury to debutante Aurora Smith and concussion to Brooke Lochland.

All elements were on show in this game, their swift ball movement through the midfield and strong defensive unit held up to one of the best forward lines in the game.

One of the lows of the season was the loss against the GWS Giants in round four. The defensive unit was under pressure all day with unexpected forward heroics for the Giants coming in the form of Nicola Barr and Louise Stephenson.

Before this match, Barr had never kicked a goal in her 33 game career but afterwards she had registered three. Stephenson added to her tally of just one goal with two within the match after being stationed up forward.

The Giants had a host of outs including Pepa Randall, Chloe Dalton, Rebecca Privatelli and Katie Loynes but after the Bulldogs had been out of action for 20 days it was too much.

Captain Ellie Blackburn had just two minutes in the midfield in the second half and for coach Nathan Burke rotating the players on and off the bench was problem. After this game they were expected to play Fremantle in four days time.

Who’s on the move?

Reliable defender Ashleigh Guest has been the first Bulldog to formally announce her departure from the club, as she retires after stints at the Melbourne Demons and GWS Giants.

Guest managed 40 games for the three clubs with 22 at the Bulldogs. She was also part of the leadership group in 2021 and 2022.

It has also been speculated that Isabel Huntington could be on the move to the GWS Giants who would look to add the young key forward to their forwardline to work with Cora Staunton.

What’s next? (What do they have to focus on this off-season, players they have to retain, areas of improvement?)

In the off-season, the Bulldogs have to consolidate their forwardline without Huntington. The scheduling of next season maybe taking place in August means that the star forward might not be fit to play in the next season of the AFLW.

However, the development of the young pups across all lines this year should have Bulldog supporters excited coming into AFLW season seven.

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