Tag: Western Bulldogs

Six sides race for last VFL Women’s spot

THERE are just five rounds remaining in the 2021 VFL Women’s season, and the ladder has well and truly taken shape. With the top five teams having seemingly created enough separation – three wins or 12 points and a percentage difference that will never be matched – from teams in the bottom six, it is fair to say that Essendon and Casey Demons’ 6-3 records and 165 per cent-plus will be enough for them to join the unbeaten Collingwood, and top three sides Port Melbourne (8-1) and Geelong (7-2) in the finals series. This leaves one spot for a side to grab hold of and we look at those in the running.

SOUTHERN SAINTS:

Position: 6th
Wins: 4
Losses: 5
Percentage: 104.8

As the saying goes, sixth spot is the Saints’ to lose. A recent defeat at the hands of the Western Bulldogs would have hurt the Saints, but they bounced back with an important win over Hawthorn last round. They have a superior percentage to the teams below them – 30.7 per cent higher than the next best side – which means they would need to fall in a heap to drop outside on percentage. Effectively they are a game and a half ahead of other sides with that extra percentage, so one would think that two wins in the final five matches should do it, and three wins certainly will do it – as long as the two losses are not severe.

Opponents: Port Melbourne, Geelong, Western Bulldogs, North Melbourne, Carlton

That is one stiff draw for the Saints, coming up against two of the genuine title contenders in the next two rounds means they could slip outside the six from Round 11 if they drop them both. Whilst the final three are a little bit easier, they lost to the Bulldogs a fortnight ago, and the trio of sides are all the next in line to take their spot. Talk about pressure and making them earn it, none are guaranteed, though they should pick up a couple of wins. Will it be enough? Only time will tell.

NORTH MELBOURNE:

Position: 7th
Wins: 3
Losses: 6
Percentage: 74.1

For a side that has been heavily favouring VFL Women’s listed players compared to many of its AFLW-aligned counterparts, North Melbourne should be pretty happy with where it sits in the scheme of things. If Southern Saints do indeed lose their next two games, then the Roos could pounce with some favourable results. Ticking over an important win two starts ago against Carlton was unfortunately cancelled out by the heavy loss to Casey in Round 9, but they were helped by the fact their nearest rivals – Western Bulldogs and Carlton – both had huge defeats to reduce their percentages further.

Opponents: Collingwood, Hawthorn, Essendon, Southern Saints, Port Melbourne

An even harder draw than the Saints, North Melbourne face three of the top four sides, as well as the Saints in what could ultimately be a do-or-die clash. The game against bottom three side Hawthorn is a must-win for the Roos, as that appears to be the best chance for a win, though if they do load up on some AFL Women’s talent, then they have enough talent on the list to worry most sides. The Hawks are no easy beats either with the list they are assembling, so again, no easy games here.

WESTERN BULLDOGS:

Position: 8th
Wins: 3
Losses: 6
Percentage: 69.6

One step forward, three steps back is probably apt for the Western Bulldogs at the moment, with some great strides made in the past few weeks undone at the hands of a ruthless Geelong outfit last week. On paper the Bulldogs had the talent to match the Cats, but were blown off the park, and will be hungry to make up for it this week. This issue is, now the Bulldogs have copped a huge percentage blow, and will have to earn a finals spot via wins rather than percentage, which will mean they will need a minimum of three wins, and hope the Saints do not grab their two victories. Realistically though, the Dogs probably need to win four out of five to be a chance.

Opponents: Carlton, Essendon, Southern Saints, Casey Demons, Collingwood

Needing four wins to get in – and even then probably needing results to go their way, the Bulldogs simply must beat Carlton to be a chance, especially with four top six teams to round out their year. The Saints are a side they beat, and the only AFLW-aligned side they have managed to defeat this year. They might get two to three wins, but the last fortnight – with Casey and Collingwood not mucking around when it comes to AFLW talent – the Bulldogs need to head into those games with three consecutive wins under their belt.

CARLTON:

Position: 9th
Wins: 3
Losses: 6
Percentage: 71.8

The biggest outsider of the possibilities, the Blues have really struggled to score when they have lost, but have shown patches of brilliance, such as their hard-fought loss to Port Melbourne a couple of weeks back. Had they snatched that one, the Blues would be in prime position for sixth spot, but instead, they have the lowest percentage of the teams jostling to force their way back in the top six, and will be needing a miracle to not only notch up the required likely four of five wins, but hope results go their way as well, much like the Western Bulldogs with a sub-70 per cent.

Opponents: Western Bulldogs, Casey Demons, Geelong, Williamstown, Southern Saints

The fortnight of Casey Demons and Geelong will be a painful one based on recent results, but if the Blues can cause an upset there, then it is game on. The other three matches are winnable, but certainly not guarantees by any stretch. A loss to the Western Bulldogs this week would effectively put a line through the Blues finals chances, as it means they would need to beat both Casey and Geelong, which is asking a fair bit given what those sides have been able to achieve.

HAWTHORN:

Position: 10th
Wins: 2
Losses: 7
Percentage: 72.3

Hawthorn seem like the side that might not make finals, but they could certainly ruin some chances and play the role of party pooper along the way. They are not completely out of the running despite just winning the two games, but they need a near-perfect run from here, pretty much winning all five games to lock themselves in, or four and hope for the best with results. The one plus is they have the second highest percentage of teams in the bottom six, though that is still too far away from the sixth placed Saints.

Opponents: Darebin, North Melbourne, Williamstown, Port Melbourne, Geelong

What makes Hawthorn intriguing is the fact that they face the two bottom sides, as well as the inconsistent North Melbourne, in the next three weeks. If the Hawks can pull off three wins – one would expect they at least claim two of those – then it would give the other sides competing for a finals spot something to think about. One would suggest they probably fall short with Port Melbourne and Geelong in the final fortnight, but expect them to give it a red hot crack to the line.

WILLIAMSTOWN:

Position: 11th
Wins: 2
Losses: 7
Percentage: 50.1

Definitely into the mathematical chances now, with the Seagulls having had just the two wins this season and have a really low percentage with some heavy losses. They would need to be in a similar boat to Hawthorn, winning just about all of them, or hoping to win four and have results go their way.

Opponents: Casey Demons, Darebin, Hawthorn, Carlton, Essendon

Admittedly it is not the worst draw for the Seagulls, but they are bottom two for a reason, though they could really cause some headaches for the top sides. They have been competitive for the most part at times, and just blown away here or there to really impact their percentage, but with games against the other bottom four sides, Williamstown on a good day could come away with three wins. It would not be enough for finals though, with Casey and Essendon both having that extra class with AFLW talent.

Bulldogs out of the dog house and off the leash

A FORTNIGHT is a long time in football, and for the Western Bulldogs, the past two weeks have seen their fortunes change from bottom two side in the Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s competition, to potential finals contenders. Prior to the past two weeks, the Western Bulldogs had not won a game since Round 1, losing five consecutive matches to head into the Easter break with a 1-5 record. Fast forward two weeks later, and the Bulldogs are still behind the ledger, but at a much more manageable 3-5, and only percentage outside the top six.

So, what was the catalyst for the change?

It would be easy to say that the injection of AFL Women’s talent is a massive part of it. The Western Bulldogs season finished by the Easter break, so the likes of Eleanor Brown, Gemma Lagioia, Isabelle Pritchard, Isabella Grant, Nell Morris-Dalton, and on Friday night, Elisabeth Georgostathis and Sarah Hartwig filtered through the side. But all bar the standalone sides in Darebin and Williamstown have the flexibility to bring back their AFLW talent, and therefore the team still relies a lot upon its VFL Women’s talent.

Statistically, the Bulldogs do better when they can move the ball by foot and transition between defence and offence. Thanks to Nicole McMahon in the ruck, the Whitten Oval-based side will hardly ever lose the hitouts. In fact, just the once has she lost the hitouts to a direct opponent in Collingwood’s Sarah King, and the Bulldogs were smashed that day, going down by 60 points. Molly Denahy-Maloney is the young up-and-coming ruck to help McMahon in that department, but with her overhead marking and athleticism, she has been deployed predominantly as a forward. But considering the inside 50s were 48-9 in an almost unheard off discrepancy, the home team was lucky not to suffer a worse defeat. The other match where the Bulldogs lost the hitouts was against Port Melbourne where McMahon was not playing.

Indeed, games are said to be won and lost in the midfield, and that is true for the Bulldogs. Whilst clearances are not tracked, there is a correlation between winning clearances and getting inside 50s. Against Hawthorn in Round 1, the Western Bulldogs had 20 more inside 50s and forced the Hawks to be chasing them all day (Hawthorn had 43 more tackles). Most importantly, the Bulldogs finished with a 65.9 per cent kicking ratio from their disposals.

When they are able to use the ball by foot 63 per cent or more, the Bulldogs are 3-1. The only exception was in the loss to Port Melbourne, where, despite going down by 35 points, showed that there was some improvement by sticking with the Borough for large periods of the match. Even the statistics reflected that the teams were fairly even, with the home team on that day just getting nine more looks inside 50.

So where do the Western Bulldogs’ strengths lie?

The defence of the Bulldogs has stood up time and time again this season, even in the disappointing losses. Simone Ruedin is having an outstanding season in the back 50, and remains one of the most consistent performers in the competition. The move of traditional midfielders, Brooke Hards and Katelyn Betts into defence has also proved to be a turn of fortune for the Bulldogs.

Betts was a prime mover onball during the first half of the season, and Hards predominantly played forward but has now gone back to her Under 16s days of playing off half-back after spending several years in her preferred position of inside midfield – where she made Vic Country – at Bendigo Pioneers. The pair have complemented the work of the AFL Women’s talents returning, with Brown and first Grant and then Hartwig filling out the other running positions.

Katelyn Betts bursting away against Darebin.
Brooke Hards using her speed against North Melbourne.

Up forward, the return of Morris-Dalton helped straighten the side up in the past couple of weeks, with Mary Sandral also able to be supported with an extra tall down there, though unfortunately Sandral was injured during the win against Darebin. The class of Lagioia  teaming up with the speed and toughness of Amelia Van Oosterwijck in the forward half provides a well-balanced unit.

Perhaps the biggest return in the past fortnight was that of Angelica Gogos, who has averaged 20 disposals and five tackles playing through the midfield. Ellyse Gamble‘s first game against the Saints was also a massive boost, racking up a game-high 27 touches, five marks and two tackles in that match. Then it is these returns of players that flow on to help lift those around them, such as Danielle Marshall who has slotted 5.2 in the past two weeks after 0.2 in the prior two weeks. Having more entries inside 50, and having the flexibility to push up the ground has aided them.

The Bulldogs have also brought in a few youngsters along the way, with Jemima Woods slotting three goals in the win over Darebin on debut, and the Western Jets season is now done and dusted, with teammates Nikita Wright and Stephanie Asciak among others who could return to the team if selected. Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels’ Lilli Condon is another who looked very comfortable at the level, and speedster Nyakoat Dojiok who is among the potential Rebels to debut at state league level in the final month and a half once the Rebels season is over.

Lilli Condon gets her kick away against Port Melbourne.
Jemima Woods celebrates one of three goals on debut.

What do they need to do to keep it going?

Having the flexibility to rotate through their AFLW talent is important, not only for those players match fitness, but for filling little gaps that the team might not be able to fill with the VFLW-listed talents. A perfect example was Hartwig who provides that intercepting ability combined with the run and carry. The Bulldogs best interceptors are talls, whilst the best runners are smalls, where Hartwig provides the best of both worlds. The class of Lagioia and the hands and leading work of Morris-Dalton, as well as the poise and smarts of Brown make the Bulldogs well-stocked across all thirds of the ground.

The top-performing VFLW-listed talent of Betts and Hards in defence should be allowed to use their mix of power and speed respectively to breakaway and take grass to drive the ball forward. Both are capable of using the ball well when in space, and with the tall targets now inside 50, the Bulldogs have players to aim at. Eliza Morrison is another versatile talent in the forward half who has enjoyed a solid season in 2021, whilst the ruck is an area the Bulldogs will always take control in. If their midfield can win the ball and limit the flow into the defensive 50, then they will be every chance to knock off top sides on their day.

WESTERN BULLDOGS RUN HOME:

Round 9: vs. Geelong @ Deakin University
Round 10: vs. Carlton @ Whitten Oval
— Below fixtures to be confirmed —
Round 11: vs. Essendon @ Windy Hill
Round 12: vs. Southern Saints @ Whitten Oval
Round 13: vs. Casey Demons @ Whitten Oval
Round 14: vs. Collingwood @ Victoria Park

The Western Bulldogs do not have the easiest run home, with Carlton being the only side outside the top six. They face five of the other top six sides, so will truly earn a finals spot if they can win enough games. Hungry to overturn losses to Geelong and Collingwood – their worst two performances of the season – the Bulldogs get the first chance of revenge this Saturday down at Deakin University this weekend, before first-time clashes with Carlton and Essendon. One would think the Bulldogs need to win at least three, but more likely four games in order to make finals, but if they do not, it will be the start of the season that cost them.

2021 VFLW season preview: Western Bulldogs

A BUNCH of Western Bulldogs VFLW players will finally get to pull on the red, white and blue jumper in a competitive match when they take on Hawthorn to kick off their 2021 campaign on Sunday. While 15 new players have entered the squad since 2019, there is a strong sense of continuity according to head coach, Sean Kavanagh after the lost 2020 season.

“It’s really interesting because quite a few of the girls who have been around, they came on board in that preseason before 2020, even as early as September of 2019,” Kavanagh said. “So some of the girls have been around for close to a year and a half, but have never had the opportunity to play.

“The age and experience profile has changed a little bit. We’ve gone for a certain type of player, a very similar methodology to our AFLW side and how we want to make the list up and play our footy. We’re really excited, it’ll take time and the girls will make mistakes… (but) we’ll learn from those areas and hopefully get some nice flow into our game as the season progresses.”

The Bulldogs have returned in “good condition” after a year away from group training and competitive play, testing their progress with dual practice games against Carlton during preseason. While pure results are not the entire focus of such hitouts, the ledger is squared at one win apiece. Kavanagh says his players “just went for it” in both outings.

“Over the course of the year off, we expected the girls to come back pretty rusty,” he said. “There was a little bit of work to do on skills but on the whole, our group came back in great condition and we’re looking forward to being competitive in Round 1.

“The first practice game we played at Ikon (Park) a couple of weeks ago… some girls hadn’t played since September 2019, so it’s a long, long time. It took a little while to adjust but we started to see some really good footy in the second half. We had quite a large bench that day so continuity in game time was a bit tough, but it was great to tick one off.

“We had an intraclub planned a week or so after that but obviously we went into lockdown then so we missed that opportunity and ended up playing Carlton again on the weekend. It was a similar type of game, Carlton jumped us early and played really good footy, then we changed some fundamental things which was great to see because we took great learnings out of it and that’s been a focus of this week.

“We came back in the second half and lost by a couple of goals so we’re pretty much even on the scoreboard with the Blues at the moment which is exciting. We’re 1-1 if we get to play them again through the course of the year.”

A six-person leadership group was announced last week, with Riley Christgoergl set to skipper the squad ahead of vice-captain Katelyn Betts. The pair featured among the names Kavanagh outlined when speaking on the core group of returning players set to head the side’s efforts. An “exciting blend of youth” will also play a part.

Nicole McMahon in the ruck has had another great preseason, Mary Sandral has also been incredible through the preseason, she’ll play at full forward. Riley Christgoergl and Katelyn Betts, our new captain and vice-captain, they’ve had wonderful preseasons and have been a huge support for the entire group during lockdown in 2020, so I’m expecting a lot from them to take that next step as mature and experienced players being around the system for a couple of years.

“Of our new girls, I think we’ve got some exciting under-22s; Brooke Hards, Eliza Vale, and Margie Purcell. Nikita Wright, who’s still eligible to play NAB League, so she’s played a couple of games with the (Western) Jets already and we were really keen to sign her.

“So we’ve got some young talent that’s come in and they’ll find their feet and adjust to the older and stronger bodies having come out of the NAB League only last year in a very shortened season. It’s a nice balance and we’ll see that progression in our returning players with our new, exciting blend of youth.”

With a strong group of young players coming into the Bulldogs’ system and access to even more as the NAB League season progresses, AFLW alignment is as important as ever for helping develop elite level hopefuls. Having that one-club kind of connection has seen many sides adjust their recruiting policies and style of play. The Bulldogs are no different.

“It’s wonderful for our young girls to see the level in conditioning and footy smarts that’s required to be identified as an elite player and to make and an AFLW list,” Kavanagh said. “It’s also nice to hear the feedback from the AFLW girls as well, these VFLW girls are really going in the right direction, they’re doing all the right things, and are really genuinely excited to get the opportunity to play together.

“With the change in the rules, we’ve changed from 18 on the ground to 16, which is the same as the AFLW program. Having the ability to run and cover the ground is really important so we’ve gone for those type of characteristics in our players. Obviously not only do we need to play the game well, but also have those physical and athletic attributes to cover more ground than they would normally have to because we’ve got less players on the ground.

“We’re looking to play a free-flowing game, but also it’s also been our mantra to be really tough to play against, to be strong and physical in the contest but also have the ability to spread hard and provide opportunities for our forwards to kick a winning score.”

Looking towards Round 1, the Bulldogs have a couple of lingering niggles but are “relatively healthy” according to Kavanagh. An accelerated and shortened preseason period has hardly helped in an injury sense, though just about the full list is there to select from.

A “wonderful” breakthrough was also made as Megan Chadwick made her return from an ACL injury during preseason. She came on for a minute against Carlton in the second practice game, which made cause for celebration amongst the tight-knit group.

In terms of expectations ahead of their opening game, Kavanagh says there is sure to be a heap of “pent-up energy” to be released once players cross the white line and attack the first bounce.

“It’s just going to be ‘let’s get out there and play’,” he said. “There’ll be mistakes made, but it’s going to be all about who can settle the quickest, who can get on top in regards to the arm-wrestle early on and  put scoreboard pressure on.

“We usually have so much longer to see where we’re at but it’s still a mystery, we’re hoping for a good result but it’s going to be a great game. I know both sides will be busting to get that first competitive four points in a long time.”

Image Credit: Western Bulldogs Media

Dogs bite late to overrun Blues

AFTER a heartbreaking Round 1 loss to St Kilda, the Western Bulldogs have bounced back to take a huge scalp by defeating title contenders Carlton in a massive Pride Round win. The Bulldogs looked down and out through parts of the match, particularly at the final break, but the inspirational effort from captain Ellie Blackburn saw the skipper drag her team over the line and win 6.6 (42) to 5.6 (36).

When the young Dogs needed a hero, Blackburn stepped up, kicking two majors in the final term, as Carlton had a lot of possession in the front half of the ground but could not muster up a score. They had looked good after leading at every break prior to the final term, with a three-point quarter time lead, five-point half-time lead and 10-point three quarter time lead.

Despite the Melbourne weather threatening to cause all sorts of havoc on the game, it was fitting that in Pride Round a rainbow emerged from behind the clouds, and provided hope for a Dogs side that just found a way to get off the canvas and muster a win. The home team also had to overcome an early injury to Bailey Hunt who went down with a calf injury and forced coach Nathan Burke to reshuffle the magnets.

There were no shortage of memorable moments in the match, such as Jess Fitzgerald‘s remarkable first goal after great work, and then a Kirsten McLeod running special into an open goal. Despite Tayla Harris finding her range – including a long-bomb, Carlton could not step up when it counted, and once again lost a game by a narrow margin.

Blackburn was easily best-on for her 22 disposals, five marks, three tackles and two gaols, while Madison Prespakis could hardly be faulted in a herculean effort. The reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP) won 24 touches, took two marks and laid six tackles, well aided by Georgia Gee (17 disposals, eight tackles and a goal) and first-year talent Mimi Hill (19 disposals).

For the Dogs, Fitzgerald showed why the club had faith to use pick two on her with a 15-disposals, four-mark, four-tackle and maiden goal game. Gabby Newton (14 disposals, two marks and six tackles) and Kirsty Lamb (16 disposals, two marks and eight tackles) were also impressive, while McLeod made the most of her eight touches with two goals.

The result means the Bulldogs move to 1-1 for the season, while the Blues ponder how they can capitalise when it counts. The year they made the AFLW Grand Final the Blues were 0-2 and found a way to get there, and Daniel Harford will need to pull out something special again in the nine-round season.

WESTERN BULLDOGS 0.3 | 2.4 | 3.6 | 6.6 (42)
CARLTON
1.0 | 3.3 | 5.4 | 5.6 (36)

GOALS
Western Bulldogs:
 Blackburn 2, McLeod 2, Huntington, Fitzgerald
Carlton: Harris 2, O’Dea, Loynes, Gee

BEST 
Western Bulldogs:
 Blackburn, Fitzgerald, Lamb, Newton, McLeod
Carlton: Prespakis, Gee, Hill, Harris, Hosking

Picture credit: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

2021 AFLW Preview: Western Bulldogs

THE Western Bulldogs lay claim to one of the competition’s most promising young lists and after two dour seasons, will be eager to accelerate their return to the AFL Women’s summit. With head coach Nathan Burke at the helm for his second year in charge, the sky is the limit for these young pups in 2021.

2020 RECAP

A 1-5 record and sixth-place finish among the stronger Conference B makes for quite harsh reading, but does not tell the full story of the Bulldogs’ season. Expectations were not overly high on the rebuilding side heading into 2020, especially given the amount of inexperienced players yet to truly cut their teeth in the bigtime, with ups and downs abundant along the way.

The campaign began brightly with a 25-point win over expansion side, St Kilda, putting the Dogs right on track. Two losses by just over three goals followed, but were somewhat expected against hardened Melbourne and Carlton teams. A four-point loss to West Coast would have really hurt though, with Collingwood taking full advantage the next week but green shoots emerging in a 15-point loss to the undefeated Fremantle.

Overall, the Bulldogs averaged a losing margin of 18.4 points and remained relatively consistent throughout a tough campaign in terms of results. The five-game losing run will only have them more keen to hit the ground running in Round 1 this time around and turn their potential into marked improvement.

NEW FACES

The Bulldogs have had access to some of the best Metropolitan talent, particularly in the last two years, and were faced with an embarrassment of riches at the top end at last year’s draft. Northern Knights co-captain Jess Fitzgerald was their choice at pick two, a balanced midfielder who was labelled her side’s most valuable player by now-assistant coach, Marcus Abney-Hastings in 2019. She should slot strait into the engine room and can also rotate forward, joining a formidable group of Knights graduates at the Kennel.

Marking defender Sarah Hartwig was a steal at pick 11, instantly boosting her new side’s backline with a blend of aerial ability and poise on the ball. The Sandringham Dragons product also has the potential to move further afield or swing forward, such is her versatility. Isabelle Pritchard (pick 16) was another bargain and in a similar vein to Hartwig, is a tall prospect who can play defence while providing another positional threat in her midfield craft.

Katie Lynch proved the Bulldogs’ big trade coup as she switches from Collingwood to help bolster the Bulldogs’ midfield stocks. She is a former first round pick who lies in a good age bracket for her new side and should take some pressure off the Dogs’ established midfielders. Annabel Strahan is the other fresh face, a surprise selection as replacement for Katy Herron, who will be inactive in 2021.

ONE TO WATCH IN 2021

Isabella Grant is one to watch in red, white, and blue this season; a player who could well act as a completely fresh recruit given she missed her entire maiden season through injury. The versatile tall may take some time to find her feet at senior level given her lack of experience, but has already attracted plenty of hype given her family connection to Whitten Oval as the club’s first father-daughter selection. With Izzy Huntington set to switch ends, Grant could be one to provide relief and will only add to the Bulldogs’ dynamism.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT

The Bulldogs may better be known as pups as it stands, but once those youngsters click at senior level, watch out. Burke has already coached a wealth of players in his squad at junior level and knows how to extract quality from young footballers, meaning his team’s development could be accelerated drastically as the next generation takes hold. Under strong leaders in Ellie BlackburnBrooke Lochland, Kirsty Lamb, Huntington, and co., the Bulldogs’ rate of improvement will strike fear in many an opposition coach.

QUESTION MARK

There’s two sides to every coin and while the Bulldogs’ youthful exuberance makes them highly promising, it can also be perceived as inexperience depending on the context. The rebuilding list is coming along nicely but suffered from some lapses in concentration last season and did not have the depth to regularly compete with top sides across four quarters. It is a factor which will only be ironed out over time, but the Dogs will give plenty of sides a good run throughout 2021 on raw talent and intent.

FINAL WORD

The future is bright for these Bulldogs but as it stands, they may have to put some more runs on the board before becoming a true finals threat. One win should be a very beatable tally this time around, with every side now wary of the Dogs’ growing depth and undeniable young talent. Expect some sharp improvement with even more to come down the line.

Image Credit: Kelly Defina/Getty Images via AFL Photos

2020 AFL Draft recap: Western Bulldogs

WITH the consensus best player available in this year’s draft tied to their Next Generation Academy (NGA), the Western Bulldogs did a heap of early work to ensure their man would arrive at the kennel, along with at least one more National Draft selection. The momentum of a bumper trade period carried on into the next intake opportunity and is set to put the Dogs in good stead for another finals push in 2021. Boasting a spine which is filling out nicely and a ridiculously deep midfield, Luke Beveridge‘s side looks primed to ascend in the coming seasons.

WESTERN BULLDOGS

National Draft:
#1 Jamarra Ugle-Hagan (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Country)
#55 Dominic Bedendo (Murray Bushrangers/Vic Country)

Rookies:
Lachlan McNeil (Woodville West Torrens), Roarke Smith (Re-listed)

The Bulldogs were well prepared to match a bid for NGA gun Jamarra Ugle-Hagan anywhere within the top three, and did so without second thought when Adelaide put them on the board with the very first pick. Their remaining selections were effectively wiped, leaving only a late third rounder to look forward to thereafter.

Ugle-Hagan promises to form a formidable forward combination with Aaron Naughton, adding even more aerial firepower and match-winning ability. The Oakleigh Chargers graduate is quick off the mark and has a sizeable vertical leap, making him near-impossible to stop on the lead. Despite the lack of a top-age season, he has long been pegged as this year’s first choice and could quickly become one of the competition’s elites. He should be in the frame for an early debut.

With just one more point of call in the National Draft, the Bulldogs added another raw and athletic talent in Dominic Bedendo at Pick 55. The lean Murray Bushrangers product has outstanding athleticism across the board and good versatility in the the sense that he can play either up forward or as a wingman. His ceiling is quite high, but there is plenty of development left to make and strength to be added to his 187cm frame.

The only other fresh face to arrive at Whitten Oval was 19-year-old Lachlan McNeil, taken in the Rookie Draft. After being overlooked last year, the Woodville-West Torrens midfielder remained in the conversation with a quality SANFL League campaign for the eventual premiers. His inside-outside balance and running capacity would have appealed to the Bulldogs, who admittedly now have an embarrassment of riches in the engine room.

VIDEO RECAP:

Featured Image: Jamarra Ugle-Hagan was the consensus best player in this year’s draft | Credit: Western Bulldogs

2020 AFL Draft Preview: Western Bulldogs

WITH the 2020 trade period done and dusted, it is now time for clubs and fans alike to turn their attention to the draft. Between now and draft day (December 9), clubs will have the opportunity to exchange picks until the final order is formed a couple of days out. While the chaos ensues, Draft Central takes a look at how each club may approach the upcoming intake opportunities with the hand they formed at the close of trade period. Obviously they are still subject to heavy change, so perhaps we can predict some of that movement here.

Next under the microscope are the Western Bulldogs, one of the big winners out of this year’s trade period after nabbing Adam Treloar, holding Josh Dunkley, paying next to nothing for some ruck experience in Stefan Martin, and bringing Mitch Hannan back to Whitten Oval. They should also prove big winners on draft day given the consensus best player available, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, is tied to their Next Generation Academy (NGA). On-field, the Dogs have snuck a game clear into finals twice in as many years, now boasting arguably the deepest midfield in the competition and plenty of stock to continue that trend in 2021.

>> 2020 AFL Draft Guide
>> Power Rankings: November Update

CURRENT PICKS: 29, 33, 41, 42, 52, 54

2021 PICKS: WB Round 1, WB Round 4

>> Podcast: The current best AFL Draft hands

ELIGIBLE ACADEMY/FATHER-SON PICKS:

Jamarra Ugle-Hagan (NGA), Ewan Macpherson (father-son), Cody Raak (NGA)

>> Podcast: The best academy/father-son hauls

LIST NEEDS:

Key position forward
Small forward depth

FIRST PICK OPTIONS:
(Pick 29)

The current figure of 29 as the Bulldogs’ opening pick can effectively be ignored, as at least their first four selections will be off the board when Jamarra Ugle-Hagan is bid on within the top three. As has been widely known for some time now, the Bulldogs will not think twice in matching said bid and obtaining much-needed key forward support for Aaron Naughton. Given the strength they have in midfield, aerial dominance and dynamism will be key to the Bulldogs’ forward game with those two in the same side.

Though Ugle-Hagan will inevitably act as the Dogs’ first pick, the hand they are left with will ultimately yield their selectors’ first genuine choice in the draft. There are three scenarios likely to play out; if Adelaide bids with pick one the Bulldogs will match and have their entire hand wiped out with leftover points yielding pick 66, if North Melbourne bids at pick two the Bulldogs will match and see their first four picks wiped while obtaining pick 73 with leftover points, and if Sydney bids at pick three the Bulldogs will match and again see their first four picks wiped, but gain the equivalent to pick 53 on leftover points.

With the late picks remaining, the Western Bulldogs could target some small forward depth, or look to pick up a developable tall for the long-term. Alternatively, it provides good cover for potential bids on Ewan Macpherson (father-son) or Cody Raak (NGA), but they are likely to be available as rookies.

LIVE TRADE OPTIONS:

Given the Bulldogs have already worked to manufacture a hand good enough to cover a top three bid for Ugle-Hagan, there is not much else they may seek to do in terms of live trading. Depending on where the bid comes and which picks they have leftover, the Bulldogs could decide to package the late selections and move slightly up the order to nab a player they are keen on. In scenario three, where Sydney is the team to bid, they could also use picks 52, 53, and 54 to trade back into next year’s draft given they only boast a first and fourth rounder there. Still, do not expect too much significant action from the Bulldogs in this department.

THE KEY QUESTIONS:

Will Adelaide bid on Ugle-Hagan with pick one?

How many more players will the Bulldogs take after Ugle-Hagan in the National Draft?

Will Macpherson and Raak attract bids, or slide to the Rookie Draft?

EXPLAINER | Pocket Podcast: Club AFL Draft previews (Part 1)

OVER the past few weeks, Draft Central launched its brand new series of pocket podcasts, a collection of short-form discussions which narrow in on a range of topics heading into the 2020 AFL Draft. In the next edition, Special guest Tom Cheesman joined Chief Editor Peter Williams and AFL Draft Editor Michael Alvaro to breakdown how the this year’s draft may pan out for each club.

The clubs featured in part one are Carlton, Gold Coast, Geelong, Richmond, West Coast and Western Bulldogs – all teams which may not feature too heavily among action at the pointy end as it stands. The Tigers, Eagles, and Cats would consider themselves well within the premiership window and thus may not have any pressing list needs to cover at the draft, making them muted players this year. Geelong and West Coast will hope to find a gem with their respective picks 51 and 62.

The Bulldogs’ picks may be wiped off the board if Academy gun Jamarra Ugle-Hagan yields a bid with pick one, leaving little for their recruiters to work with down the line. Meanwhile, Carlton has only just gained another pick in the second round and may only make two selections overall. Gold Coast is again set to be called up in the top five, but it could prove the Suns’ only pick given Academy members Alex Davies and Joel Jeffrey will be automatically placed on their senior list.

Nonetheless, there could be some interesting plays to unfold and some exciting prospects taken with later picks by these clubs, much of which formed the basis of their previews. To listen to the discussion in full, click here.

>> AFL Draft Whispers: 2020
>> Power Rankings: November Update

Past Episodes:

Potential cult heroes
An early top 10 look
The best AFL Draft hands
Best readymade prospects
Best players under 175cm
Best midfielders over 190cm
Logan McDonald vs. Jamarra Ugle-Hagan
Best academy and father-son hauls
Brayden Cook vs. Conor Stone
Key defenders kicking comparison
Offence from defence
Denver Grainger-Barras vs. Heath Chapman
The top non-aligned midfielders

EXPLAINER | Pocket Podcast: The best academy & father-son hauls

OVER the last week, Draft Central launched its brand new series of pocket podcasts, a collection of short-form discussions which narrow in on a range of topics heading into the 2020 AFL Draft. In the next edition, Chief Editor Peter Williams again sat down with AFL Draft Editor Michael Alvaro to discuss which AFL club shapes as boasting the strongest combined academy and father-son hauls.

The Next Generation Academy (NGA) and Northern Academy programs have garnered plenty of attention as we prepare for what will arguably be the most compromised AFL Draft in history. Adding fuel to the fire, consensus number one prospect Jamarra Ugle-Hagan is a Western Bulldogs NGA product, while fellow potential top 10 picks Braeden Campbell (Sydney) and Lachlan Jones (Port Adelaide) are also already aligned to clubs. Add to that Gold Coast’s pre-listing rights and access to the Darwin zone, as well as some handy father-son prospects overall, and around a quarter of the likely draft pool will include club-aligned juniors.

It got our editors thinking, ‘which club lays claim to the strongest academy and father-son pool?’. We outline the strongest eight hauls, and touch on a few others to look out for in the latest pocket podcast.

To listen to the discussion in full, click here.

Here are some of the strongest likely academy and father-son hauls:

Sydney:
Braeden Campbell (Academy) | 181cm/75kg | Midfielder/Forward | Range: 8-15
Errol Gulden (Academy) | 175cm/75kg | Outside Midfielder/Small Utility | Range: 15-30

Gold Coast:
Alex Davies (Academy) | 192cm/85kg | Inside Midfielder | Range: 10-15
Joel Jeffrey (Darwin Zone) | 192cm/80kg | Tall Utility | Range: 20-30

Fremantle:
Joel Western (NGA) | 172cm/68kg | Midfielder/Small Forward | Range: 25-40
Brandon Walker (NGA) | 184cm/75kg | Medium Defender | Range: 25-40

Port Adelaide:
Lachlan Jones (NGA) | 186cm/89kg | General Defender | Range: 7-12
Taj Schofield (F/S) | 178cm/72kg | Outside Midfielder/Forward | Range: 35+

Western Bulldogs:
Jamarra Ugle-Hagan (NGA) | 195cm/90kg | Key Forward | Range: 1-5
Ewan Macpherson (F/S) | 181cm/82kg | Defender/Midfielder | Range: Late/Rookie
Cody Raak (NGA) | 190cm/78kg | Defender | Range: Rookie

Adelaide:
Luke Edwards (F/S) | 188cm/83kg | Inside Midfielder/Utility | Range: 30-45
Tariek Newchurch (NGA) | Small Forward/Midfielder | Range: 30-45
James Borlase (NGA) | 192cm/93kg | Tall Utility | Range: 40+

Brisbane:
Blake Coleman (Academy) | 181cm/79kg | Small Forward | Range: 30-45
Carter Michael (Academy) | 188cm/74kg | Balanced Midfielder | Range: 40+
Saxon Crozier (Academy) | 190cm/80kg | Outside Midfielder | Range: Late-Rookie

Essendon:
Cody Brand (NGA) | 196cm/87kg | Key Defender | Range: 30-50
Joshua Eyre (NGA) | 198cm/85kg | Tall Utility | Range: Late/Rookie

There are plenty of others who loom as solid options not only aligned to the clubs listed here, but also to others around the league. Additionally, the selections above are not indicative of those clubs’ entire available pools, but rather the top prospects who have garnered the most attention.

Elsewhere, Reef McInnes is arguably a first round talent who may slide to the 20-30 range for Collingwood, another from their NGA program. Connor Downie is a proven quantity out of the Eastern Ranges, a line-breaking outside mover who boasts a penetrating left boot and is tied to Hawthorn through its NGA. Of course, another prospect who has already garnered plenty of attention is Maurice Rioli Jnr, the son of late Richmond and South Fremantle great, Maurice Rioli. He is a hard-tackling small forward with terrific goal sense and will most likely be picked up as a Richmond father-son, despite also qualifying for Fremantle under the same rule, and Essendon via the NGA.

Expect to see most of the above names find homes at AFL level in 2020, and for the inevitable top five bid on Ugle-Hagan to shape the pointy end of the draft. About a third of the top 30 names could well come from academies, bringing out plenty of baulking and bluffing in the bidding process. As we have seen in previous drafts, being aligned to a club does not always mean you will end up there, so those with big hauls will undoubtedly be made to pay a pretty price for their products.

>> Power Rankings: October Update

Past Episodes:
Key defenders kicking comparison
Offence from defence
Denver Grainger-Barras vs. Heath Chapman
The top non-aligned midfielders

AFL Women’s Draft preview: Melbourne & Western Bulldogs

THE AFL Women’s Draft is fast approaching and in the lead-up to the draft, we take a look at each of the AFL women’s sides in pairs and see what they might look for, and who might be available with the selections they have. Next up in our series are the two inaugural sides from Victoria, in Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs.

Melbourne – Victorian Pool

Draft selections: 5 (3), 15 (9), 17 (11), 35 (24), 40 (27), 47 (30)

Off-season summary:

With somewhat of an ageing list and the premiership window closing, Melbourne seemed to recognise both factors during the sign and trade period. As one of the busier clubs, the Dees enacted a big turnover of established players, allowing them to bolster their draft hand to make the most of a bumper crop and regenerate ahead of the 2021 season.

Elise O’Dea was the biggest loss, as she was packaged up and sent to the Blues alongside Maddy Guerin, while defender Harriet Cordner was shipped to Richmond, Aliesha Newman to Collingwood, Bianca Jakobsson to St Kilda, and Katherine Smith to GWS. A strong, established core remains, but that’s a big loss in starting-21 players. Coming the other way, though is a third Irishwoman on the Dees’ list in Lauren Magee, a star of the Gaelic code.

A draft look:

This is as important a draft as ever for Melbourne, with a lot riding on its first pick and the value lying in its remaining hand. The Dees also boast the equal-most selections available with six, ensuring they’ll be able to cover each loss at the least.

With pick five, the third in the Victorian pool, Melbourne will likely look to bolster its defensive stocks. Sandringham Dragons tall Sarah Hartwig seems a good fit to plug a key position gap, while Western’s Isabelle Pritchard is a versatile option who can also move through midfield. Should the Bulldogs (see below) opt to overlook Northern key forward Alyssa Bannan, she could well land at Demonland.

The Demons’ remaining hand should see them further boost that defensive line with depth of all sizes, while potentially targeting another key position forward depending on what happens with pick five. Youth should be the priority, though mature-age recruits have payed off for many clubs throughout the draft, especially last year.

Western Bulldogs – Victorian Pool

Draft selections: 2 (2), 11 (6), 16 (10)

Off-season summary: 

The Bulldogs have been gutted of some serious senior talent over the expansion years, so a quieter sign and trade period would have been a refreshing change for their fans. Still, Aisling McCarthy leaves a gap in midfield as she departs for West Coast, while Hannah Munyard has returned home to Adelaide, and Nicole Callinan is the sole retiree. 20-year-old key forward Katie Lynch was their only recruit, and may well help predict what the Dogs will do with their first pick in the draft. Having traded well to land three top-end selections, the Bulldogs’ rebuild is in decent shape.

A draft look:

Familiar themes could well arise from what the Bulldogs decide to do with picks two, 11, and 16 – the second, sixth, and 10th choices in the Victorian pool. After taking in a bunch of Vic Metro based talent last year, all familiar to coach Nathan Burke, the Bulldogs will likely again revert to the deep Northern Knights well of talent. While the recruit of Lynch fills a massive key position forward requirement, don’t be surprised if the Bulldogs opt for another in Alyssa Bannan with pick two. Otherwise, Olivia Barber could be the key forward they’re after with one of the two later selections.

Should they feel that area is covered, midfield support for Ellie Blackburn is another important area of improvement. Ellie McKenzie could then become the second Northern Knights captain to land at the kennel in as many years, joining Gabby Newton, while Dandenong’s Tyanna Smith is the other likely number one pick who could get a look-in. Both are damaging midfielders who should be ready to set the competition alight from Round 1. Keeping with the Knights’ theme, Jessica Fitzgerald would be a handy choice with either of the two remaining selections, a balanced midfielder who co-captained her side with McKenzie.

Featured Image: Jess Fitzgerald and Gabby Newton at this year’s NAB League Girls launch | Credit: AFL Photos