13/04/2024

It was an up and down season for the Bulldogs in 2022. (Photo: Western Bulldogs; Design: Will Cuckson)

It was a disappointing season for the Western Bulldogs, with the side showing plenty of promising signs during the 2021 finals series.

The Bulldogs weren’t able to meet expectations in 2022, after just scraping in the top eight by the skin of their teeth, then blowing a 41-point lead to Fremantle.

The 2021 grand finalists failed to get going on a consistent basis this season, with the club failing many times to back up performances the following week or dropping away during games.

Finishing position: Eighth (12 wins, 10 losses)

What worked?

The Bulldogs midfield was strong at stoppages, ranked first in the competition for clearances with 921 across the season. Tim English had another strong season in the ruck, averaging 23.7 hit outs, often meaning the Bulldogs’ midfield would get first use to the football.

This was led by the likes of Tom Liberatore, who averaged 24.7 disposals per game along with 7.2 clearances, and Jack Macrae, who averaged 30.7 disposals and 6.4 clearances.

The pair were once again being the side’s key contributors in the midfield, working alongside the likes of Marcus Bontempelli and Bailey Smith.

Smith was strong in the midfield all season, averaging 29.1 disposals and demonstrating his speed to break away from stoppages. He would however leave a big hole in the Bulldogs side during his four-match suspension.

The club unleashed third generation Bulldog Sam Darcy in Round 22 against Fremantle and he was strong on debut playing in defence, finishing on the match with 10 disposals and eight marks.

Darcy was able to keep his spot in the team for the rest of the season, and in Round 23 against Hawthorn made the move up forward, kicking two goals and providing a strong target.

What didn’t?

The Bulldogs’ consistency was one of their biggest let downs in 2022. On several occasions teams would jump out of the blocks against them, like in Round 12 against Geelong, when the Cats had a seven goal to one opening quarter.

When the Bulldogs faced the Cats later in the season it was a different story, with the Bulldogs being the ones to have the first blow, but a second half comeback saw them bow out by 28 points.

The backline once again proved to be an issue, with bigger forwards able to get off the leash. Jeremy Cameron kicked six goals in the team’s first encounter back in Round 12, while Rory Lobb kicked four goals when the Bulldogs came up against Fremantle in Round 21.

Other times, opposition teams were able to find free players far too easily when matching up against the Bulldogs, with Bayley Fritsch kicking four goals in the first half back in Round 19.

Breakout stars:

Ed Richards had a break out season in the red, white and blue this season after spending most of 2021 on the sidelines due to a mix of injuries and not being able to break into the side’s best 22.

In 2022, Richards proved to be a key contributor across half back, averaging 5.9 marks and 362.8 meters gained. The 23-year-old was able to use his run and carry to generate defensive transition through the corridor.

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After not being able to string together consistent games at AFL level previously, Rhylee West had a strong 2022 campaign. He enjoyed a breakout game against Hawthorn in Round 15, kicking three goals and having a career best 19 disposals.

West played 14 games at the AFL level this season, acting as the high pressure forward to help lock the ball into the Bulldogs’ forward 50.

More AFL Season Reviews

AFL 2022 Season Review: St Kilda Saints

AFL 2022 Season Review: Port Adelaide

AFL 2022 Season Review: Gold Coast Suns

Highest point:

The highest point of the season for the Bulldogs was the Round 19 match against Melbourne, going in as the underdogs with the chance to play finals almost gone. The Bulldogs were able to snap up a 10-point win in what was a nail-biting game at Marvel Stadium.

When Melbourne was able to pile on four straight goals out of the centre, many Dogs fans thought it would be déjà vu from last year’s Grand Final. Unlike that match though, the Bulldogs were able to claw their way back into the game.

Five goals from young pup Jamarra Ugle-Hagan was a highlight of the match, with three of those (including the sealer) coming in the last quarter. Tim English also contributed to the scoreboard, kicking two goals.

Adam Treloar was strong across half back until being subbed off in the final quarter with a calf injury, finishing the match with 28 disposals and five intercept possessions.

Lowest point:

The elimination final against the Dockers stands out as one of the lowest points for the Western Bulldogs’ season. The Bulldogs came firing on all cylinders in the opening quarter and the first half of the second, leading the Dockers by 41 points as of the nine-minute mark of the third quarter.

After Dunkley’s goal to extend the margin, the Bulldogs only kicked two goals for the remainder of the match. Second to almost every contest and with a few brain fades, their fate was sealed, with the Dockers running home by 13 points.

One of those key moments included a melee on the wing. With play still going, Fremantle was able to quickly transition the ball into forward 50 to score a goal.

Where to next?

2023 proves to be an interesting one for the Western Bulldogs, with a number of experienced players exiting the Kennel.

2016 premiership player and 2022 Charles Sutton Medallist Josh Dunkley has departed to the Lions, while Zaine Cordy arrived at the Saints, with Lachie Hunter and Josh Schache joining the Demons.

The club has locked away a number of other key players, with the likes of Tim English, Jack Macrae, Bailey Smith, Bailey Dale and Caleb Daniel all putting pen to paper to remain at Whitten Oval in 2023 and beyond.

The Bulldogs will be looking to fill in gaps to bring them back into premiership contention, with Fremantle forward Rory Lobb coming to Whitten Oval for 2023 and beyond.

Former Bulldog turned Blue in Liam Jones has also returned to the club on a three-year deal.

While they have filled important key positions for the season ahead, there’s still a fair bit of improvement to come in this team before they can think about challenging for a flag again.

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