A QUICK GLANCE AT 2010:
Western Bulldogs took a massive risk before the start of 2010, signing former Sydney bad boy Barry Hall. However the dangerous signing immediately paid dividends, with the full forward’s seven goals in the NAB Cup grand final against the Saints helping the club to its first piece of silverware since 1967.
Following the victory, the Dogs were all the rage. Could they finally break their 56 year premiership drought?
However, that hype was quickly tempered when Collingwood notched up a comfortable seven-goal win in round one. The Dogs endured a topsy-turvy season from then on, constantly struggling to cement a place in the top four. Injuries started to mount towards the end of the season and the unwelcome distraction of the sacking of Jason Akermanis didn’t help either.
Despite the surplus distractions, the team still performed at a reasonably high standard, crushing fellow top four aspirants Fremantle by 84 points in round 17 to secure a top four spot.
Heading into the finals series, the Doggies were the walking wounded, with up to ten key players unavailable or not at their best due to injury. A heavy loss to Collingwood in week one was followed by a gutsy three-point win against Sydney. They advanced through to their third consecutive preliminary final, but once again fell at the second last hurdle, losing to St Kilda by 24 points.
Touted as a future Bulldogs captain, Shaun Higgins has a lot to prove this season. The Dream Team and Super Coach fantasy favourite had a wretched run with injury and illness in 2010, playing 17 of a possible 25 games. But no injury setbacks in the past few months have meant Higgins has been able to complete a full preseason for the first time in many years. The 23-year-old’s versatility will be crucial to the Dogs’ premiership challenge. He can be used as either a small forward or a midfielder, but no matter where he plays on the field, his sublime foot skills will always come in very handy.
THREE MOST IMPORTANT GAMES IN 2011:
Round 3 – v Gold Coast, Saturday 9 April at Etihad Stadium
Expect the Dogs to expose and demolish a young Gold Coast side, which will be playing its first ever match in Victoria. It will also be interesting to see what sort of reception ex-Bulldog Jarrod Harbow receives as he takes on his old teammates for the first time in a Suns jumper.
Round 6 – v Collingwood, Sunday 1 May at MCG
This match promises to be an absolute cracker. The Magpies destroyed the Dogs when they met each other twice in 2010. But it will be fascinating to see whether the Bulldogs have made significant improvement during that time, or whether the Pies have upped their game even more.
Round 12 – v St Kilda, Friday 10 June at Etihad Stadium
This encounter completes a run of three very tough games for Western Bulldogs. In the two weeks before this match, the Dogs would have played fellow premiership contenders Geelong and Hawthorn. Having lost the last two preliminary finals against the Saints, the Dogs will want to make a statement about their own premiership credentials, while also obtaining a small slice of revenge.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2011:
Many people in football circles believe the Dogs’ premiership window is fully closed after a third consecutive preliminary final loss last year. But some astute recruiting from coach Rodney Eade leaves that window slightly ajar.
Veterans Akermanis, Brad Johnson and Nathan Eagleton have all left the club, while Mitch Hahn has been downgraded to the rookie list. But new recruits Justin Sherman, Patrick Veszpremi and Nathan Djerkurra will inject plenty of leg speed into the club, something that has been missing from the Dogs’ list over the past few years.
There are also big raps on father-son recruits Mitch Wallis and Tom Liberatore. And Darwin highflyer Zephaniah Skinner, who impressed against Fremantle in the NAB Challenge series with four goals, should also get Dogs fans excited.
But if the Dogs are to be a force once again, they need to avoid injuries to key players. Higgins and Adam Cooney need to stay injury free and produce big seasons, as they tend to be the barometers of the side, along with indispensible full back Brian Lake.
They also need to spread their goal kicking options. Hall kicked 80 goals in 2010 but was the forward target way too often when the Dogs went inside 50. Jarrad Grant is one player who could relinquish plenty of pressure from Hall’s shoulders with a good season.
If the Doggies get a little bit of luck and can stay fresh around finals time, they could go very close to glory.
Interested in writing an AFL preview for Port Adelaide? Let us know – email@example.com