Western Bulldogs 2012 Season Preview

INS: Tory Dickson (national draft), Daniel Pearce (national draft), Fletcher Roberts (pre-season draft), Clay Smith (national draft), Michael Talia (national draft).

OUTS: Barry Hall (retired), Josh Hill (West Coast), Ben Hudson (Brisbane Lions), Sam Reid (GWS), Jayden Schofield (delisted), Brennan Stack (delisted), Callan Ward (GWS).

YEAR IN REVIEW: 2011 was, by the Doggies’ recent high standards, a stinker. Three consecutive preliminary final appearances gave way to a nine-win campaign that saw the Dogs finish 10th and ushered Rodney Eade out the door after seven seasons at the helm. Injuries to key players in Lindsay Gilbee, Ryan Hargrave and Brian Lake robbed the Dogs of considerable creativity and drive from defence and they failed to produce the crisp ball movement that had become their trademark. Among few bright spots were the emergences of dreadlocked speed machine Luke Dahlhaus and Bob Murphy’s first All-Australian season in the back half.

GAME BREAKER: Defence is the new offence in the AFL and few players have the ability to turn one into the other quite as effectively as Brian Lake. For all his well-documented struggles in 2011, Lake remains one of the most instinctive defenders in the game. If he can recapture something like his All Australian form of 2010, it will go a long way towards giving the Dogs the cutting edge they lacked in his absence.

RISING STAR: Luke Dahlhaus is everything the Dogs aren’t: young, quick and vibrant. The 19-year-old whippet from Geelong Falcons was a revelation in the second half of last year, tackling and harassing opponents and burning them on the rebound. He’s the prototype for the modern small-forward and looks set to become a favourite with Dogs fans.

KEY ARRIVAL: Tory Dickson arrived at the kennel without much fanfare at pick 57 in last year’s national draft, but don’t be surprised if he becomes a valuable contributor to the Dogs forward line. The unassuming 24-year-old is a proven goal-kicker – booting 48 as a roaming forward in the VFL last year and 100-odd in the more-than-handy Eastern Football League in 2010 – and works his butt off without the footy in his hands. Played under McCartney at Bendigo Bombers last year, so the coach obviously saw something he thinks will translate to the elite level.

COACH FACTOR: No new coach wants to use the word “rebuild”, because such an admission would be a slap in the face to senior players who still believe they are capable of dragging their club into the finals. Presumably, that’s the case for experienced stars Matthew Boyd, Daniel Cross, Bob Murphy, Brian Lake, Adam Cooney, Daniel Giansiracusa and Lindsay Gilbee at the kennel. Brendan McCartney has preferred the word “refresh” since crossing from Windy Hill last year and certainly needs to inject a liberal dose of young blood into the Dogs’ best 22. His ability to turn promising youngsters Mitch Wallis, Tom Liberatore, Easton Wood and Liam Jones into consistent contributors may well define his first season at the helm.

STATS THAT MATTER: With hard-nuts Matthew Boyd and Daniel Cross in the engine room, getting the footy isn’t going to be a problem for the Dogs. Keeping it, however, is a big problem. They took the third-fewest marks of any team in 2011, which says more of their footskills than it does about the Dogs’ ability to catch the ball. Converting wasn’t an issue, ranking second in the league for goal accuracy (63.1 per cent) thanks largely to sharp-shooter Barry Hall. Don’t expect them to repeat that in 2012.

THE VERDICT: 14th. Intriguing year ahead for the Dogs. Barry Hall’s departure leaves Jones, Grant, Dahlhaus to join Giansiracusa and maybe Minson to pick up the slack. Without Cooney in the midfield they can look one-paced, with Cross, Picken, Wallis and Liberatore all spending time through there in 2011. The fitness of Cooney and Lake will have a bearing on results but its likely to be a rebuilding period for new coach Brendan McCartney.

BEST 22

B: Morris Lake Murphy

HB: Gilbee Hargrave Wood

C: Griffen Cooney Higgins

HF: Dahlhaus Jones Sherman

F: Grant Minson Giansiracusa

Foll: Roughead Cooney Cross

I/C: Liberatore, Wallis, Picken

SUB: Dickson

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