Western Bulldogs under fire as 'alarming' AFL issue comes to light

Big moves in the AFL off-season have left the Western Bulldogs looking a shadow of themselves to start the 2023 season.

Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge and captain Marcus Bontempelli.
The Western Bulldogs' season is already on the line after back to back losses to start their AFL campaign in 2023. Pictures: Getty Images

Serious questions are being asked of the Western Bulldogs after dropping the first two matches of their AFL season, with their streak of consecutive finals appearances in jeopardy if they can't turn things around. Losses to Melbourne and St Kilda in the opening two rounds have left the Dogs searching for answers.

The Bulldogs were well and truly beaten at the coalface by the Saints, who won the contested possession count by 11 and out-tackled their opposition by 13 in the first quarter alone. The Bulldogs have prided themselves on their midfield dominance on previous seasons, however some fear the off-season departures of Josh Dunkley and Lachie Hunter could have irreparably changed their chemistry.

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Thumped by the Demons to the tune of 50 points in round one, many had expected the Bulldogs to come out firing against the Saints. Instead, Dogs fans had to endure what seemed to be a repeat of the previous week's capitulation against Melbourne.

The result left alarm bells ringing for the likes of former AFL players Leigh Montagna and David King, who both agreed that the Bulldogs' midfield had been 'blown away' in the first fortnight of the season. King labelled their performances 'inept' and said the loss of Hunter and Dunkley had more of an impact than the club expected.

“You’ve got to have a point of difference in this competition – and they had one. Now I think they overlooked that and thought they could maybe absorb a couple of losses – Hunter and Dunkley – and not necessarily replace those players," King said.

"They think they had enough on the list to just bring them in from the flanks. That’s proven to not be the case – and that’s a real concern now, because those young forwards haven’t been able to grasp the opportunities. Now they’re just so-so.”

Beveridge acknowledged the club faced 'challenges' in the coming weeks to get their season back on track, particularly with a telling stretch of games on the road. The head coach remained optimistic however that the problems they had faced required 'troubleshooting' rather than anything to panic about.

The Bulldogs' next two games see them face the Brisbane Lions and Richmond in Melbourne, before they hit the road to face Port Adelaide and Fremantle. All four of those teams had top four aspirations heading into the season.

Adding to the Bulldogs woes is a relative lack of return from big name recruits - albeit in a brief two game sample size. Rory Lobb was held goalless in round one before missing the loss to the Saints altogether.

'Tentative' footy of chief concern amid poor Western Bulldogs start

Of most concern to Montagna was a sense that the Bulldogs were playing 'tentative' footy - often hesitating at time where their success in the past had been borne from a relentless attack on the ball. “I was really bullish on the Western Bulldogs – a lot of people were – they added some pieces, they’ve got some talent and I thought that they would change a bit of their system," Montagna noted.

"But at the moment after two weeks of footy, they kick forward the third least in the competition – going against the trend of what everyone else is doing – their pressure is bottom six, they are last in scoring from stoppage – which is meant to be their strength with that midfield – they can’t move the ball forward, they're 18th in inside 50s, they can’t defend it and they can’t cover the ground.

“But what is the most alarming for me is it looks like they are playing tentative football. We thought we were going to get a response after the game against Melbourne and coming up against St Kilda, St Kilda outworked them and out-worried them. Some of these efforts just really surprised me.”

Bailey Smith walks off the ground after the Western Bulldogs' loss to St Kilda.
The Western Bulldogs have copped back to back 50-point drubbings against St Kilda and Essendon. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

The Bulldogs shipped nine of the last 10 goals in Saturday night's thumping 14.8 (92) to 5.11 (41) loss to St Kilda. When pressed on whether the Bulldogs' fitness was up to scratch, Beveridge said he was confident they'd prepared for the season strongly but hadn't been able to go with the Demons or Saints.

"Well, I think you'd have to say that the first two rounds we've been outworked," he told reporters. "So we've had a really solid pre-season but some surprises coming into the year with some boys.

"We've got 11 on the injury list at the moment - but that's not an excuse, it's just the way it is. You need a deep squad.

"But there's no doubt that when we compare our output as far as the ground cover and the intensity and the speed of it, we haven't been up to the level that the first two teams we've played have.

"Now that's a combination of things - it's definitely not because we haven't worked hard enough. So it's a difficult one to analyse but we've just got to face up to it."

With AAP

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