The Western Bulldogs are licking their wounds after last weekend's brutal AFL finals loss to Fremantle, but their attention is quickly turning to the potential departure of key midfielder Josh Dunkley.
Bruised and battered after surrending a 41-point advantage against the Dockers in Perth last weekend, the Bulldogs are now sweating on Dunkley's looming free agency decision.
Dunkley has had a contract extension from the Bulldogs in front of him for several months, but opted to wait on making a decision until after the season.
The 25-year-old has also entertained offers from Port Adelaide and the Brisbane Lions, while the Bulldogs haven't given up hope of retaining the premiership player.
A key part of negotiations however, is the fact that Dunkley's partner, Tippah Dwan, is living in Adelaide.
Port Adelaide have reportedly tabled an offer that is potentially more lucrative than those tabled by the Bulldogs and Brisbane.
Combine that with the fact that moving to South Australia to be closer to Dwan, who plays for Super Netball's Adelaide Thunderbirds, is a compelling argument to switch and the Bulldogs have every right to fear his departure.
The youngest player in their 2016 premiership side, Dunkley has gone on to establish himself as one of the premier midfielders in the AFL.
Dunkley admitted on Thursday that despite his love for the Bulldogs, moving to be closer to Dwan was a compelling factor in his decision.
“They have given a lot to me over the past seven years and I’ve loved every minute of it,” Dunkley told reporters at Melbourne Airport on Tuesday.
“It’s more just trying to think about my future and my life and things like that, so a few big decisions to make over the next few days.
“Family’s always been important to me and Tippah’s obviously living in Adelaide, so we’ll have to weigh up those decisions over the next few days, as I mentioned.”
It's not the first time Dunkley has sought an exit from the Bulldogs, with a trade request to Essendon in 2020 falling through after the Bombers opted against ponying up the asking price of two first-round draft picks.
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Dunkley isn't the only Western Bulldogs star who could be playing in different colours next season.
Norm Smith medallist Jason Johannisen, who is an unrestricted free agent, is attracting interest from Gold Coast.
Bulldogs defender Zaine Cordy is another player weighing up his future.
"There are some unknowns," a frank Beveridge said after the loss to Fremantle.
"We're desperate, we hope Josh is going to stay, but I can't tell you whether he is or whether he isn't.
"There are a couple of boys in that boat - JJ, Zane, there may be one or two others.
"The scope to move clubs - whether it's free agency or in contract - it's pretty significant. We all have to manage our situation within the ceiling of the salary cap."
The Bulldogs have been heavily linked to Fremantle forward Rory Lobb.
Lobb has booted a career-best 36 goals this season while rotating between his forward line and back-up ruck roles.
The 29-year-old would give the Bulldogs vital experience in attack alongside Aaron Naughton, Sam Darcy, and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan.
Veteran forward Josh Bruce was axed for the elimination final after booting just one goal from five games in his return from an ACL injury.
The 30-year-old is contracted until the end of 2023, with next season looming as a make-or-break year for him.
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