2018 AFLW team preview: Western Bulldogs

Along with Fremantle and Collingwood, the Western Bulldogs were right up there in terms of 2017 premiership favouritism, but their fate seemed to be determined in round two when captain Katie Brennan was ruled out of the rest of the season due to injury.

From that point on, the Dogs’ forward line was in a state of disarray, which not even the exceptional midfield combination of Emma Kearney and Ellie Blackburn could overcome.

2018 is a different story, however. Brennan is back and in career best form, and the Dogs have added some young stars who could make a world of difference this season.

2018 AFLW team preview: Adelaide Crows
2018 AFLW team preview: Brisbane Lions
2018 AFLW team preview: Carlton Blues
2018 AFLW team preview: Collingwood Magpies
2018 AFLW team preview: Fremantle Dockers
2018 AFLW team preview: GWS Giants
2018 AFLW team preview: Melbourne Demons


Western Bulldogs

2017 in a nutshell
Ladder finish: 6th (2 wins, 5 losses, 102.2%)
Touted as likely premiers before last season, the Bulldogs got away to a cracking start with a 32-point win over Fremantle but their season fell away after that, with consecutive, if close, loses for the next five rounds putting paid to any chance of making the grand final. A final round 32-point win over GWS kept them from the wooden spoon. The loss of Katie Brennan after round two created a giant gap in the forward line. Multiple niggling injuries, especially to Jaimee Lambert, plus a real gap between midfield powerhouses Ellie Blackburn and Emma Kearney and their next nearest teammate all provided headaches for the dogs and their season ended with a whimper.

2018 fixture
R1: Sunday, February 4 (4.35pm EDT): Western Bulldogs vs Fremantle @ VU Whitten Oval
R2: Sunday, February 11 (3.35pm EDT): Brisbane vs Western Bulldogs @ South Pine Sports Complex
R3: Saturday, February 17 (1.35pm CDT): Adelaide vs Western Bulldogs @ Norwood Oval
R4: Friday, February 23 (7.05pm EDT): Western Bulldogs vs Carlton @ VU Whitten Oval
R5: Sunday, March 4 (2.35pm EDT): Collingwood vs Western Bulldogs @ Ted Summerton Reserve
R6: Saturday, March 10 (7.10pm EDT): GWS vs Western Bulldogs @ UNSW Canberra Oval
R7: Saturday, March 17 (7.10pm EDT): Western Bulldogs vs Melbourne @ VU Whitten Oval

2018 squad
Coach: Paul Groves
1 Brooke Lochland, 2 Ellie Blackburn (vc), 3 Katie Brennan (c), 4 Aasta O’Connor, 5 Emma Kearney, 6 Kirsten McLeod, 7 Deanna Berry, 8 Monique Conti, 9 Isabel Huntington, 10 Nicole Callinan, 11 Lauren Spark, 12 Kimberley Ebb, 13 Laura Bailey, 14 Ellyse Gamble, 15 Rachel Ashley, 16 Naomi Ferres (rookie), 17 Hayley Wildes, 18 Libby Birch, 19 Tiarna Ernst, 20 Daria Bannister, 21 Bailey Hunt, 22 Hannah Scott, 23 Aisling Utri, 24 Kimberley Rennie (rookie), 25 Emma Mackie, 26 Jess Anderson, 27 Kirsty Lamb, 28 Bonnie Toogood (rookie), Jenna Bruton, Angelica Gogos
Injuries: Lauren Spark (possible round 1 start), Kirsten McLeod (possible round 1 start) and Ellyse Gamble (possible round 1 start)

Best 21

Why the Bulldogs can win the flag in 2018
In 2017, the Bulldogs were the number one team at converting inside 50s into scores, but they were let down by their inaccuracy. With the return of Katie Brennan, the reigning VFLW best and fairest and joint leading goal kicker alongside the drafting of Isabel Huntington, those inaccuracy issues should be put to rest. The addition of Jenna Bruton, who won the 2017 best and fairest at the St Kilda Sharks in the VFLW, beating out teammate Brianna Davey, and Daria Bannister should provide support for Ellie Blackburn and Emma Kearney in the midfield. If the Dogs can fire from the midfield and their forward line can convert that hard work into goals, they could be a real threat in 2018.

The difference maker
It’s hard to go past Katie Brennan as the difference maker for the Dogs. The captain only played two games in 2017 and she was sorely missed. However, her VFLW campaign was stunning, winning the league best and fairest despite a delayed start, as well as tying the goal kicking. A blistering season in the VFLW and likely a desire to prove herself at the highest level should see her have a stellar 2018 AFLW season.

Why the Bulldogs can’t win the flag in 2018
Plenty of state league teams rested AFLW players throughout their respective season; Melbourne University, not so much. Much of the Bulldogs midfield comes from the VFLW team and you have to question if the likes of Blackburn, Kearney, Brooke Lochland, Deanna Berry and Bailey Hunt are fresh after consecutive season of VFLW and AFLW. This is a season that leaves very little room for error, and for a team that relies heavily on its midfield to generate and convert scores such as the Bulldogs, being a step slower than the opposition could be catastrophic.


GPF staff predictions

Matt Marsden
This Western Bulldogs team is no doubt filled with talent, but whether it’s enough talent to push them into a Grand Final spot is to be seen. Despite drafting Isabel Huntington, the Dogs have still put all their chips in the Katie Brennan basket, and as we saw in 2017, there is no substitute for her if she isn’t in the team. If you rely on one player to make your team a challenger, you’re probably not going to have a wonderful time. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the Dogs also traded away Jaimee Lambert, who would’ve made a significant difference in a team also featuring Katie Brennan. The Bulldogs just seem to still be missing a few pieces. They will be better this year, but maybe not good enough to mix it with the serious teams – unless Izzy Huntington and Monique Conti are instant stars.
Ladder prediction: 4th
Record prediction: 3 wins, 4 losses
Best and fairest: Ellie Blackburn
Leading goal kicker: Katie Brennan

Katie Lambeski
It should be an improved Western Bulldogs unit in 2018, but whether it is enough to jump into a Grand Final position is the question. Led by Katie Brennan, who will no doubt be ready to make up for lost time after an injury-interrupted 2017 campaign, the Bulldogs will also be boosted after picking up highly rated young Victorian talents in Isabel Huntington and Monique Conti. Question marks remain on Ellie Blackburn and two-sport athlete Emma Kearney after grueling campaigns at VFLW level, and in a league which doesn’t leave much for room for error, it may hurt them. The Bulldogs should push hard in the premiership race, but may come up just short.
Ladder prediction: 4th
Record prediction: 4 wins, 3 losses
Best and fairest: Katie Brennan
Leading goal kicker: Katie Brennan

Peter Holden
There’s much to like about the Western Bulldogs, but also a number of concerns. Izzy Huntington moved like a carbon copy of Katie Brennan in the practice match at Ballarat, while Aasta O’Connor looked to have wound-back the clock five years to when she was considered of the top half-dozen players in the country. On the flip side, a large number of injuries meant they were forced to bring in fill-in players, thus indicating they could be restricted early in the season with their selections. Also, the Bulldogs engine room is largely made up of Melbourne University footballers. Uni faded badly in the second half of last year’s VFLW season as many of their stars were not rested, unlike sides such as Darebin and Diamond Creek. The question is, are those players refreshed enough both physically and mentally for another high intensity AFLW season?
Ladder prediction: 4th
Record prediction: 3 wins, 4 losses
Best and fairest: Ellie Blackburn
Leading goal kicker: Katie Brennan

Kirby Fenwick
Touted alongside Fremantle as one of the teams to beat last year, the Dogs struggled with accuracy in front of goals and suffered a few close losses that put paid to their season. The return of Katie Brennan, who won the VFLW best and fairest and tied for leading goal kicker, should certainly help. Alongside Brennan, the addition of number one draft pick Isabel Huntington, Daria Bannister and Jenna Bruton to the midfield are welcome inclusions. Niggling injuries to Lauren Spark, Kirsten McLeod and Ellyse Gamble that kept the trio out of the practice match against Carlton may provide some headaches in the early rounds. While they are unlikely to make the Grand Final, they should get some more wins in 2018.
Ladder prediction: 4th
Record prediction: 3 wins, 4 losses
Best and fairest: Ellie Blackburn
Leading goal kicker: Katie Brennan