As we hit the bye rounds in the AFL season, The Inner Sanctum will be conducting our mid-season reviews of all 18 clubs and assessing the first half of the season and what fortunes may lie ahead.
Up next, the Western Bulldogs.
Many had touted the Western Bulldogs to be ones to watch after their bruising defeat to Melbourne in last year’s Grand Final. Yet, the first half of the season has presented us with a Bulldogs side that has struggled to find its form.
A 26-point loss against reigning premiers Melbourne in round one set up what would be an inconsistent beginning to its 2022 campaign which included a spate of injuries to key players and only six wins which sees them sit just outside the eight.
Since conversation centered around their goal kicking and inaccuracy earlier this year, it seems that the Western Bulldogs have slowly started to turn things around in this area.
Following on from its matchup against the Blues where they saw a figure of 50 per cent for goal accuracy, the men in red, white and blue saw a decrease to 24.1 per cent against the Tigers. Though the Bulldogs’ goal accuracy had varied percentages throughout games, they are yet to see a percentage as low as the one seen during their game against the Tigers.
The Bulldogs are currently ranked fourth for goals (13.3 per game). The Dogs recently marked a milestone in round 11 against the Eagles, where they equalled the VFL/AFL record for the most individual goalkickers in a single game. The 16 players were Aaron Naughton, Josh Dunkley, Alex Keath, Cody Weightman, Rhylee West, Bailey Williams, Marcus Bontempelli, Taylor Duryea, Tim English, Buku Khamis, Tom Liberatore, Robbie McComb, Lachie McNeil, Anthony Scott, Bailey Dale, and Adam Treloar.
Whilst their start to 2022 may not have gone to plan, the Bulldogs have seen a silver lining in the form of ruckman Tim English who has continued to captivate on the field this year. The West Australian has been critical for the team and has been named as one of the best on the ground during multiple games this season.
Across the seven games he’s played so far this season, English is averaging 22.1 disposals, 22.1 hit outs, 5.9 clearances, and 7.6 score involvements per game which are up on all his averages from 2021. His prominent performances this season to date were against the Sydney Swans (24 disposals and 28 hit outs) and West Coast (25 disposals and 28 hit outs).
Players being sidelined always cause frustrations for any AFL team, but for the Bulldogs, it led them to have a significant impact on their key position players this season.
The absence of Alex Keath for several matches this season and the continued absence of Josh Bruce as a result of injury has impacted the team and has seen the Bulldogs have to get creative considering that its injury list has grown considerably throughout the season.
The lack of a reliable key position defender has prevented them from holding down the opposition’s forwards. Regarding defensive one-on-one losses, the Bulldogs are one of the worst teams in the league, with a percentage of 38.1 percent.
With Bruce’s absence, it has left a huge hole in the Bulldogs’ forward. Many thought young Jamarra Ugle-Hagan could help play the role, but has struggled.
The Bulldogs have also lost a string of players throughout the season for an assortment of reasons including Aaron Naughton, Zaine Cordy and Tim English, as well as Toby McLean who is still recovering from an ACL injury.
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After struggling to cement a spot and with only nine AFL games under his belt in 2020, two years later 25-year-old Bailey Dale is flourishing in the competition.
The re-invented half-back is averaging a career-high 27.3 disposals, 19.3 kicks, 5.3 marks, 3.2 inside 50s, and 6.7 rebound 50s per game in season 2022.
The 2021 All-Australian has gone from strength to strength in 2022, and improved has on his averages from last year.
Who needs to lift?
Someone who needs to lift for the Western Bulldogs is Bailey Williams who has had a pretty underwhelming start to 2022. Following on from the club’s grand final loss in 2021, Williams hasn’t been playing as he has been in previous years.
Whilst he has appeared in 11 games so far this season, he is down on all his averages from last year. With Ed Richards, Caleb Daniel and Bailey Dale prospering across the halfback, it has seen Williams shift to a new role further up the ground which has seen him struggle to make an impact.
This season, Williams is averaging 15.6 disposals, 4.3 marks and 1.4 tackles per game. A stark contrast to the numbers that the 24-year-old has been known to put up which include career-high averages of disposals (20.1) and kicks (13.6) per game.
Best and Fairest Contenders:
When it comes to who’s leading the charge for the Charles Sutton Medal this year, there are many names who could potentially put their hand up to claim the medal.
Although he has put forward several best-on-ground performances, last year’s medallist Marcus Bontempelli has had a relatively less impactful season so far which is likely to see the field open for another player to win it. A lift in performance in the second half of the season may see Bontempelli crawl up the count.
Following a season so far underscored by consistent on-ground performances, Josh Dunkley looks to be one of the favourites. Dunkley is averaging 25.7 disposals (10.4 contested), 3.6 clearances and 7.3 score involvements per game over the 12 games he’s played so far this season.
The 25-year-old has been one of the Bulldogs’ best players in almost every game so far in 2022, including in the Dogs’ 38-point loss against the Tigers where he had a season-high 37 disposals.
Jack Macrae is another name who could be in contention for the medal this year. His presence can really be noticed on-field this year with the 27-year-old averaging 31.6 disposals (12 contested), 7.5 clearances, seven score involvements and 423.1 metres gained per game.
Bailey Smith‘s recent form over the ten games he’s featured in could see him get a few votes, but the impact of his recent two-game suspension handed down is yet to be known.
Other names who can potentially see themselves feature high in the count are Adam Treloar, Tom Liberatore, Tim English, and Bailey Dale should their form continue through the second half of the season.
Expectations for the second half of the year:
Coming off the back of a last year’s grand final appearance, initial expectations would have been high in the Bulldogs camp, but their slow start to their 2022 has put their plans to feature in September action again in doubt.
The Bulldogs come into the bye, sitting just outside the eight in 10th position, getting knocked out of the top eight following the conclusion of round 12. As they head into the remainder of the season, the Western Bulldogs will need to focus on consistent wins to ensure they can make the top eight and see finals action.
However, it won’t come easy for the side, as they play six of the top ten teams in their remaining 10 games. Whilst that might seem like a monumental challenge, the bye might be the key that sees a more freshened up Western Bulldogs side come round 14.