21/02/2024

The Western Bulldogs start to 2022 hasn't been the dream start they would of been hoping for. (Image: Western Bulldogs Twitter).

One month into the AFL men's season, the Western Bulldogs faced questions over their recent performance. But how much of it is just white noise?

Amidst ongoing commentary regarding their performance so far in recent weeks, the Western Bulldogs responded to recent criticism with a dominating 61-point win against North Melbourne on Friday. 

The encouraging win follows what has been a tumultuous season for the side so far, with only two wins against the Sydney Swans and now the Kangaroos to their name following the Good Friday win. 

Following their most recent loss, to which they fell short 99-61 against in Richmond in round four, Coach Luke Beveridge admitted “frustration” to their goalscoring woes. 

“We’re creating many, many opportunities.” Beveridge told the media post-match in round four.

“We could sit here and say it takes some time with the blend and lack of chemistry here and there, but there were some obvious opportunities skill-wise just breaking down, and decision making at times.”

It would not be what the Western Bulldogs had envisioned for their beginning of their 2022 campaign.

Coming off last year’s grand final where they were handed a souring defeat by Melbourne, the side had expectations on them to fire up in 2022 and charge on through with premiership intentions. But a combination of losses in the double digits, injuries and inaccuracy at goals now have them at 2-3 as they prepare to head into the sixth round of the competition. 

Whilst some football fans and the media seem to have questioned whether their decline in performance underscores a tough examination that the club has to face, Coach Beveridge called for calm this week and said that his team “don’t need to reset” in regards to their season so far.

Similarly to the questions being poised, such as the likelihood of St Kilda being finals bound in 2022, or the potential for Port Adelaide’s woes to cease, the one month of the competition makes it difficult to write the Dogs out completely of premiership contention.

So where exactly did the criticisms towards the team stem from, and does their win on Good Friday point to encouraging signs for a resurgence?

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Marcus Bontempelli is one of the leading goalscorers for the Western Bulldogs, currently ranked #3 for goals this season so far. (Image: Western Bulldogs official website)

Goalkicking and inaccuracy

It’s been something that is noticeable in their past few games, in particular when up against Carlton and Richmond.

Their match-up against Carlton were they struggled to overtake a dominant Blues front, the Bulldogs goal accuracy was at 50.1 percentage. In comparison, their opposition had an accuracy of 72.7.

Whilst in their 38-point loss against Richmond, the Dogs scored 7.19 (61) with a goal accuracy that’s even more concerning with 24.1 percent.

Following on from the scrutiny faced in regards to their goalkicking, there wasn’t any shortage of points added to the board on Friday, with the Dogs having a number of players contributing to the win. In regards to their goal accuracy, it saw a slight improvement 58.3.

Aaron Naughton and Cody Weightman shone on field each pocketing goals to their name, whilst Marcus Bontempelli impressed with three goals. Zaine Cordy, Tim English and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan were also among the other Dogs who scored on the night.

That’s not to say that the Dogs don’t typically have a reliant list when it comes to goals. Since the season begun, 17 different players have contributed to the scoreline with at list one goal to their name.

Currently, the Western Bulldogs are ranked 11th in the competition so far as they average 12.2 goals after five rounds – they’re only behind Carlton by 4.4. The total of goals scored so far is 61, whilst they currently stand on 42 goal assists.

Though it is important to consider that the previous year, the dogs were ranked 5th for goals over the entire home and away season.

North Melbourne win: One trick pony or sign of what’s to come?

Whilst the Bulldogs bagged their second win of the season, some were asking were whether this meant that a tide was turning for the struggling side.

Can they make it 3-3 against the Adelaide Crows next? (Image: Western Bulldogs Twitter)

2022 marked the second consecutive year that the Western Bulldogs pulled off an upset when they battled against North Melbourne. The Dogs delivered the Kangaroos another humiliating loss after a stunning upset last year in their 128-point win.

Despite the much needed win for the Western Bulldogs, it may be too early to decide that the side are back to firing form.

The Kangaroos, who at the time of writing this sit 17th on the ladder, failed to overcome defensive pressure put on by the Dogs. Missed opportunities at shots at goals saw the Dogs capitalise on their opponents struggles to take out the win, with North Melbourne taking until the 22nd mark of the opening quarter to score for the first time.

The missed opportunities is underscored by the stark difference in terms of the two teams goal accuracy. Whilst the Kangaroos had the better accuracy with 61.3 percentage (compared to the Bulldogs 58.3), they weren’t able to translate that accuracy into more goals on the scoreboard.

Key defender woes and injury concerns

The issue of a key defender will be a prominent cause of concern for the Bulldogs with the news that Alex Keath is expected to sit on the sidelines for roughly six weeks as a result of a hamstring injury. The news adds salt to the Bulldogs wounds who have endured a tough past weeks prior to the recent win.

Whilst Cordy returned to the side following a stint on a sidelines from concussion, the injury list for the Bulldogs is still stacked with names like Laith Vandeermeer, Jason Johannisen and Sam Darcy not expected to return for a little while.

Ryan Gardner could be the answer to help fill the void left by Keath in the next coming games. The 24-year-old had previously been criticised for lacklustre performances in 2021. Gardner, who has 25 games under his belt since arriving at the club in 2019, showed glimpses of brilliance this season.

His performance against Sydney was a standout with Gardner pocketing nine disposals, seven kicks and four handballs. Meanwhile, he improved on his stats this week with a performance encompassed with 16 disposals, 14 kicks and eight marks.

Former Hawthorn player Tim O’Brien is a potential name to also potentially fill the void.

During the Good Friday match, the 28-year-old had a performance of 17 disposals, five handballs, 12 kicks and eight marks.

21-year-old Riley Garcia was the latest casualty after he was subbed out of Friday’s match with a suspected knee injury. Other names also on the sidelines as a result of injury are Dominic Bedendo, Josh Bruce and Toby McLean.

Whilst it’s clear that the Dogs haven’t had an ideal start to 2022 so far, time will tell whether they can move past their recent misfortunates and make the best of the talent they have so far. The next string of games will be critical to see if they can move closer to their best form. Adelaide, Essendon, Port Adelaide, Collingwood and Gold Coast will be who the Dog will be facing over the next several rounds.

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