(L-R) Sarah Hartwig, Nell Morris-Dalton, and Elisabeth Georgostathis of the Western Bulldogs. (Photos: Western Bulldogs FC)

The young pups have led the Western Bulldogs to the very edge of the top six. But just who have been the biggest drivers of their sudden improvement?

After a tumultuous start to the 2022 AFLW season, the Western Bulldogs have won three of their last four games, and drawn one.

Facing COVID interruptions two weekends in a row meant the Dogs were always going to have one of the most condensed schedules of any team. Brisbane similarly just played three games in eight days, with Gold Coast also doing it tough.

The Bulldogs started the year low on personnel, both through injury and the league’s COVID health and safety protocols.

Ellyse Gamble missed the starting rounds, Izzy Huntington went down in Round 1 with an ACL, while Gabby Newton was ruled out before the season with a dual shoulder reconstruction.

But since that point, the young pups have stood up alongside the experienced contributors to get the Bulldogs barking again.

The Inner Sanctum takes a look at the players that have made an impact beyond their age.

Elisabeth Georgostathis

Georgostathis received the plaudits for her near best on ground performance against Geelong in a massive 23 disposal, six tackle, two mark and a goal game, earning a Rising Star nomination.

The 20-year-old came into the season with 15 AFLW games under her belt, threatening to take the next step after a dominant end to the VFLW season.

And that she has, becoming one of her side’s most consistent contributors.

“I’m pretty confident [in] my game,” Georgostathis told Bulldogs Media after the win over Geelong.

“I went in with a different mindset, being attacking and just playing my role for the team.”

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While Kirsty Lamb’s rise through the midfield has been well documented, it has been the support of Georgostathis both on the inside and receiving the dish off handballs that has complemented her expertly.

She’s developing her skills as an in and under type while also delivering the footy consistently, averaging 13.4 disposals and two inside 50s a game.

The Bulldogs identified that they needed another bash and crash mid with balanced skills, and Georgostathis has come out of nowhere to be just that.

Nell Morris-Dalton

Morris-Dalton has become Bonnie Toogood’s key forward partner in crime, and even outshone her in the comeback draw against Gold Coast.

While Toogood’s scoring and leading out of the forward 50 has been nothing short of elite, Morris-Dalton helps to crash packs, while adding a little something extra of her own.

She’s scored four goals in her past four games, and while she’s not always taking grabs, she’s become a very smart footballer. The 20-year-old will often find herself peeling off packs, keeping her feet and finding the footy almost like a small.

Against the Suns, she got her teammates going, kicking two of the four last quarter goals.

Key forwards are often looked to to stand up in big moments, and from what she showed on Tuesday night, Morris-Dalton might be doing just that more often.

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Sarah Hartwig

Hartwig was moved into the forward line as an almost necessity of Gamble’s return, but to her credit, has taken on the role expertly.

Playing in just her 14th AFLW game, she laid two tackles and constantly pressured the Cats into turnovers exiting defensive 50. She backed that up with three more against Gold Coast, a big part of why Kate Surman remained goalless when she rotated through the forward line.

“She didn’t get a lot of the footy, but her pressure around there was a strength,” coach Nathan Burke said.

Hartwig is showing a lot of versatility to her game already, and the move forward may be one that sticks around.

Isabella Grant

Shades of her old man are starting to shine through, as Issy Grant settles into a rebounding defender role.

Her skills by foot and her aerial marking are beginning to flourish. The Bulldogs backline is built around maintaining their zone, creating space away from where forwards want to lead to and plucking off marks.

When you watch Ashleigh Guest, Eleanor Brown, and Katie Lynch in action, they’re doing just that. Now, Grant has joined the party.

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Grant was perhaps one of the biggest unknowns of the young group heading into the 2022 season, having previously played just two games prior, named on the bench for both.

Her breakout game came against Richmond, where she picked up 15 disposals and took four marks. She backed this up against the Suns, with 14 disposals, two marks and two tackles.

The 20-year-old’s boot is becoming a dangerous weapon, and when she can feed the likes of Ellie Blackburn, Celine Moody and Elle Bennetts along the outside with it, the Dogs look better for it.

Jess Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald’s contribution to the Bulldogs’ midfield may go less noted than most, as she plays a more defensive role than her fellow on ballers.

Her tackling pressure and intensity has been the benchmark for the Dogs since their game against the Giants, where she laid a career high 10 tackles, with another seven against Geelong.

She’ll do the little things, like smothering a kick from a player bursting away from the pack, or setting a shepherd.

Fitzgerald has been a defensive marvel in the guts, and a particularly important role on Tuesday night saw her shine.

She’s been rotated through the forward line throughout 2022, kicking her first goal for the year against the Suns. It both gives her time to freshen up after stints in the middle while keeping her defensive pressure on field.

Fitzgerald poses with her fans. (Photo: Western Bulldogs)

After kicking that goal, Fitzgerald was rotated through the middle with Lamb, giving the latter prime opportunity to kick one of their four final term goals.

Fitzgerald was a force to be reckoned with through the contest, finishing with three clearances as she constantly wrestled her way past the likes of Charlie Rowbottom and Jamie Stanton.

She also deserves high praise for picking up a career-high 16 disposals in the win over Adelaide. Just like Morris-Dalton, Fitzgerald is becoming a player to rely on in big games.

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