AFL Players Under The Radar
UNDER THE RADAR
The Western Bulldogs have slipped to ninth spot on the AFL ladder midway through the season. After two consecutive drubbings, to the combined tune of 103 points at the hands of the Sydney Swans and Melbourne Demons, there’s plenty of questions to be answered.
Potentially, a ‘premiership hangover’ is looming, with Jason Johannisen’s issues and the lack of firepower from the forward line well and truly noticeable. So, what’s really going on at the red white and blue?
Tighten the clamps
The Western Bulldogs running game and intensity took the league by storm last year, After 12 rounds in 2016, the Bulldogs were the best in the competition at contested football, winning the count by an average of 16.5 possessions per match.
This year, however, they are 12th and the intensity around the contest and desire for the game that booked them a ticket to the final dance last year has rarely been seen.
This time last year, the Dogs were first for clearances and fourth for scores from clearances. Currently, The Doggies are 16th and 13th, respectively.
They’ve been out-marked, out-kicked, and most importantly, out-tackled in their 12 contests this season. All of which is odd, considering they’re ranked number one number in tackling.
With teams learning how to muzzle the dogs, a tactic that has worked well is limiting the influence of last year’s Norm Smith medallist, Jason Johannisen.
The South African native has had significantly down season compared to last year, not necessarily in numbers but in influence.
Across the first 10 games of the season, Johannisen averaged 25 touches. But it’s the last two games that prove worrying for the future of this out-of-contract superstar.
Against the Swans, Johannisen had five touches to halftime and nine for the whole game (his lowest in 56 matches).
Against the Demons, he was marked by Tom Bugg and Jack Watts, who gave him a bath on the pitch and social media prior to tipoff—holding him to 15 touches.
He’s currently ranked 15th in total Rebound 50s per game, which he must increase if he is to warrant his $800,000 free agent price tag.
Moving forward, Johannisen must break the tag, and continue to save face from the media after some interesting rumours surrounding teammate Jake Stringer’s ex-partner, Abby Gilmore.
Either way, there’s some snarling dogs at the kennel.
Big boys don’t cry…
There has been no greater critique of the Bulldogs this season than the fact that nearly every opposition team has outworked them in possession, hunger and tenacity.
Currently, they’re averaging just 81 points per game from the firing squad upfront, and are ranked 16th in the AFL for scoring.
Tom Boyd has been disappointing considering the promise he showed—averaging 11 disposals, 2 marks and half a snag per game.
Surprisingly, Boyd hasn’t been the worst of them—that honour falls on the former Collingwood Magpie Travis Cloke, whose 2017 has been nothing short of horrid.
Cloke’s stats read better than Boyd’s, though: 2 disposals, 4 marks, and a goal per contest.
It’s been his lack of commitment, however, that has plagued his season so far at the Bulldogs. Some say his body is breaking down, others say he doesn’t ‘look likely’. Either way, it’s looking like a regrettable mistake signing him this offseason.
The ‘Package’, Jake Stringer, is looking serviceable so far with 2 goals a game. However, he needs more time through the middle, only averaging 14 touches right now.
“All work and no play makes Luke a dull boy.”
The famous movie where Jack Nicholson chases his family around an abandoned house with an axe looks applicable at the Red White and Blue this season as Coach Luke Beveridge has swung the axe week in and week out.
Ruling with an iron fist, ‘Bevo’ has chopped some of his best players at points this season—including Tom Liberatore, Travis Cloke and most recently, Matthew Boyd.
Although Beveridge is admirable in his desire to spark some action from his players, it may be further to the detriment of a team whose very identity is under assault, a problem that can have lasting effects on morale.
For signs the club is recovering, it’s important to see Beveridge choose some players and back them in; trust in his players was a key sign to the success of 2016.
Signs of the future
In a game of Russian roulette, it appears the Bulldog’s like finishing down the bottom of the ladder each season.
With the likes of Essendon, St Kilda, Richmond, Melbourne, Fremantle – and a bolting Sydney Swans nipping at their heels—this former top dog may be put down by seasons end.
It’s hard to see where the Dogs will get their points from, but considering last season they were only 12th in scoring, the more worrying sign is their lack of rebound and dash.
They face North Melbourne, West Coast, Adelaide, and the Blues in the coming weeks. Going 2-2 just won’t cut it; they’ll need to upset either West Coast or Adelaide to stay afloat.