AFLW 2019 preview: Western Bulldogs

So if my rule of thumb is that AFLW groups want to enhance twenty % annually to carry their place in an bettering league, how can I justify predicting the Canine going back-to-back? In spite of everything, the Canine misplaced league MVP Emma Kearney, the engine of their midfield, together with helpful help midfielder Jenna Bruton and ruck/ahead Asta O’Connor – plus, successful the flag final 12 months, they didn't have the best picks within the draft. Nicely firstly, it should be recalled who the Bulldogs received that title with out the 2 greatest names of their ahead line, Katie Brennan and Izzy Huntington, who have been each lacking for half or extra of the season, together with the enterprise finish. Assuming each are match this 12 months, that’s sufficient to offset all their losses after which some. The Canine have additionally made a behavior of recruiting gamers with monumental upsides. Emma Mackie, former bicycle owner and up to date soccer convert, is simply coming off an infinite VFLW season for Hawthorn, and seems to be bettering by leaps and bounds. Fellow mids Naomi Ferres and Angelica Gogos are additionally on an upward trajectory, as are utility and former netballer Bonnie Toogood, hockey participant Aisling Utri, and former ice-skater turned terror of the ahead line Brooke Lochland. (Photograph by Michael Dodge/Getty Pictures) Even star defender Libby Birch continues to be solely 20 years outdated, and has been taking part in for lower than three years, and an analogous story holds true for a lot of the Bulldogs’ lineup. This 12 months it’s not unrealistic to anticipate a twenty-percent-plus enchancment from all of them. Secondly, the Canine have managed to recruit some intriguing gamers within the offseason regardless of their meagre draft numbers. First decide Eleanor Brown is one other current soccer convert, this time from an athletics background — her abilities generally look somewhat ungainly, however she’s tall for a midfielder and might run all day, continuously having her greatest durations within the final quarter when everybody else is gassed. Aisling McCarthy is an completed Gaelic footballer, and given Cora Staunton’s instant affect final 12 months for the Giants, there’s no cause to consider she couldn’t do one thing related for the Canine. McCarthy’s not as huge as Staunton, however the Canine have had nice success with small, quick forwards like Lochland. Thirdly, the Canine took Tessa Boyd, sister of Tom and former basketballer. If she’s something just like the athlete her brother is, she could possibly be precisely the type of code-hopping participant the Canine have had such nice success with previously. And lastly, the Canine took 18-year-old Kate Bartlett, who has been the excellent junior ahead in Western Australia for the previous couple of years, solely to be utterly ignored by the Dockers. Seemingly the Dockers assume she’s not fast or sturdy sufficient to be a key ahead within the AFLW, and it’s doable that they’re proper – however evidently the Bulldogs teaching workers assume otherwise. Add up the previous few years’ success of the Dockers teaching workers, and evaluate that to the Bulldogs’, then decide who you assume is most probably to be right. If not less than a few of these new recruits pan out, the Bulldogs look completely loaded within the ahead line, with Brennan, Huntington, Lochland (who kicked seven in a single sport final 12 months, don’t neglect), McCarthy, Toogood and numerous goalkicking mids. And their backline is equally loaded, with Lauren Spark and Tiarna Ernst each taking part in very important shutdown roles on opposition talls in lots of video games, plus the dynamic Libby Birch, the powerhouse Hannah Scott and the zippy Nicole Callinan. Midfield, after all, is the one space the place concern nonetheless stays, as a result of irrespective of how a lot the likes of Mackie, Ferres and Gogos have improved, if everybody performs in the identical positions as final 12 months, the vast majority of the load will nonetheless be born by Ellie Blackburn and workhorse Kirsty Lamb. Eleanor Brown is thrilling, however she’ll by no means be an inside mid, and Lamb, whereas a robust inside employee, lacks the abilities to be in comparison with the league’s A-graders. And so, right here is the place I resume my favorite theme from final 12 months — if the Canine are to be aggressive within the midfield (the place AFLW matches are received and misplaced to a good higher extent than the AFL), they have to transfer star teen Monique Conti from the ahead line to the center. (Photograph by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Pictures) With out Conti, the Canine solely have one genuinely A-grade midfielder, and that’s Blackburn — Brown will probably grow to be a second, however probably not in her first 12 months. Elite as Blackburn is, it’s not sufficient, and having numerous good B-graders, as Carlton may inform you, solely serves up extra cannon fodder for the perfect midfield opponents to mow down. This 12 months, groups like GWS may have as many as 5 A-graders, and you may’t win video games by taking part in limitless defence in opposition to all of them and struggling to win your personal ball. With Conti, the Canine may have two critically A-grade onballers and a growing third in Brown — Conti’s agility is unmatched not solely in AFLW, however probably in Australian girls’s sports activities. Along with her, Blackburn and Lamb working collectively to feed the ball out to runners like Brown, the Canine ought to do okay in opposition to the league’s higher midfields with out essentially pulverising them, and from there the higher stability and energy on the remainder of the sector ought to make the distinction. However I make a robust level of it as a result of I sense that Coach Paul Groves is reluctant, loving the dynamism that Conti brings to his ahead line. Given what’s occurred to groups which have uncared for midfield firepower up to now within the AFLW, if Groves persists with a Conti-less midfield, my prediction for the Canine falls to… effectively, in case your midfield can’t win the ball, any and all video games are losable no matter a crew’s general expertise. But when Groves places Conti on the ball the place she belongs, the Canine may have a greater stability of expertise throughout all components of the bottom than some other crew within the competitors. Luck and accidents permitting, they continue to be my decide for 2019 champions. Prediction: First.