We talk a lot about Coach Luke Beveridge “going full Bevo” in fantasy circles with his bizarre press conferences and nonsensical player usage, but it was the Western Bulldogs’ list management team that took the cake in 2020. Instead of dealing wantaway midfielder Josh Dunkley after he was starved of midfield time (and even had to run around as a circus freak of a ruckman) at times this year, they went and added another elite midfielder ahead of him in the pecking order.
To summarise: Josh Dunkley was screaming out that he was on fire and not only did the Bulldogs refuse to even piss on him to put it out, but they went and doused him in fuel instead.
Which, even taking out the Dunkley fuck-you angle, was a mystifying list management call in itself. Recruiting Treloar was like upgrading to the top-of-the-line Ferrari engine – then stuffing it in a shitty 1990 Subaru wagon with 3 missing wheels and a broken windshield. When your club ranks 3rd in disposals, the midfield probably isn’t the issue. If you’re having to choose between Billy Gowers, Ryan Gardner and Josh Schache each week and Bailey Dale is your best goalkicker, then maybe it’s a sign that your recruitment priorities lie elsewhere.
So despite a midfield dripping in excess, the Bulldogs generated only the 9th-most fantasy points last year. Well, if the AAMI Community Series is anything to go off, that won’t be the case in 2021. Macrae (152 AF), Bontempelli (133), Dunkley (130), Liberatore (116) and Daniel all exceeded 30 touches, with Lipinski (100), Bailey Smith (95) and Hunter (87) not far behind. Scary numbers.
And they haven’t even added Treloar yet.
La Young [trades, free agency]
Lloyd, Dickson [retired]
Gowers, Greene, Lynch, Porter, Suckling, Trengove [delisted]
Treloar (COLL), S Martin (BRIS), Hannan (MEL).
While Treloar was a needless purchase that the Bulldogs talked themselves into because of the “price reduced” stickers plastered all over him by Collingwood, Stef Martin was an absolute necessity.
Unfortunately, the Bulldogs couldn’t capitalise on their elite midfield with their young pup ruck, ranking 15th for clearances and dead last in hitouts. Bringing in Stef allows English to develop at his own pace, and the Bulldogs’ midfield unit finally gets the aerial supply they deserve. Win-win.
#1 Jamarra Ugle-Hagan – F – 64 avg from 9 games in 2019 NAB League
How often does a team that makes the Finals walk away with the best player in the next year’s draft? The long-term investments paid off handsomely, with the NGA product rising to the top of the draft boards and unable to be prised from the Bulldogs’ grasp. You should all know about the #1 pick already – the high-leaping, goal-kicking, show-stopper from the Oakleigh Chargers. You should also know that key forwards are a slow burn in the AFL, meaning that even if we see Ugle-Hagan early – which is a tough sell when you have a dual ruck structure and Bruce, Naughton and Schache ready to go – the scoring will be inconsistent at best and mostly unusable in DFS.
#55 Dominic Bedendo – F – 48 avg from 9 games in 2019 NAB League
With all their draft chips in on Ugle-Hagan, the Bulldogs had only a 4th-rounder leftover and opted to take a project player in Bedendo. We’ve seen a few players of his type taken at this year’s draft – the incredibly-athletic-but-slim marking forward that doubles as a wingman. The Bulldogs think Bedendo can be anything… after a couple of years anchored to a gym kit.
Rookie #11 Lachie McNiel – M – 69 from 17 games in SANFL
This selection looks like something out of Ricky Ponting International Cricket 2005 and had me scanning the draft pool for any Christopher McJudds or Garry Abbotts. Overlooked in last year’s draft, McNiel finally earns his AFL ticket after a solid season in the SANFL seniors. A hybrid midfielder by trade, McNiel lands at a rough destination for onballers and might have to get his foot in the door with some forward-line work to start with.
The Bulldogs had a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” mentality in the midfield, sharing the ball around obnoxiously between their many stars. They ranked 2nd in uncontested possession and 1st in handballs with the lowest K:H ratio in the league as their onballers played keepies-off to delay the inevitable kick inside 50 to tumbleweeds.
If nothing else, it’s a promising sign that no one at the Bulldogs midfield table will starve at least, even if there’s never second helpings to go around.
The Bulldogs had two clear DvP trends you could exploit last year. They’ve likely closed the fruitful RUC loophole with the recruitment of Stef Martin, but the mild Key FWD weakness is still wide open with Keath and Gardner expected to headline the Doggies’ tall backline stocks this year.
5 IN FOCUS
1. Jack Macrae
The assumption all pre-season has been that Macrae would move to a wing to facilitate Treloar’s arrival, but that wasn’t the case in the AAMI (although obviously, Treloar wasn’t playing). Instead it was Bailey Smith who moved to the outside on the back of his beep test victory during the pre-season, failing to attend a single centre bounce in his 87% game-time. Meanwhile, Macrae was the most active Bulldogs midfielder, featuring at a massive 90% of CBA’s and scoring accordingly with 37 touches, 6 marks, 8 tackles and 152 AF.
But this is Bevo we’re talking about, so Macrae could be a key defender next week. Who knows?
As for the potential for wing time with Macrae, I’m not actually concerned. He averaged 74% CBA presence last year and still averaged 111 AF when going under that figure, as well as averaging 121 AF across the 8 games where dedicated wingman Hunter was missing.
After all, if there’s any team you’re going to want to play on the wing for in 2021, it’s the Bulldogs.
2. Josh Dunkley
But a half-forward flank? Not so much. There are a lot of red flags surrounding Dunkley this year, all the way from his quirky ruck role last year to Beveridge’s recent presser where he claimed that Josh wasn’t a lock in the Bulldogs outfit. While Dunkley did attend 62% of CBA’s in the AAMI hitout, that was without Treloar and Bailey Smith not seeing a single attendance; neither of which will happen in the season proper.
Other small things bother me about the clash with the Demons where he scored 130 AF. Firstly, his 62% was the lowest of the CBA core, and it makes sense that it’ll be a last-in, first-out situation when Treloar is added to the mix. Secondly, Dunkley needed 11 tackles to get there, which is the antithesis of all the rule changes that has opened up the game over the pre-season hitouts.
Dunks is a jet and his 2019 season (where he pumped out 124 AF per game over the last 16 rounds) proved that. He just needs the role consistency and unfortunately, no matter how much Bevo tries to subtract and divide the numbers in his head, 8 doesn’t fit into 6. And guess who’s the whipping boy?
3. Caleb Daniel
We already know Daniel is a fantasy gun on his day, we just need to know which days those are. It turns out that the answer is simple – he beats up on the little guys, which sits somewhere between ironic and cannibalistic for the diminutive defender. Daniel squeezed out an extra 18 AF with a 99-point average in Western Bulldog victories last year, managing just 76 points per game against last year’s top 4 sides.
Keeping that in mind, the rule changes look delightful for someone with Caleb’s role and skill-set. As I noted in the Richmond preview, half-back distributors went silly in the AAMI series with Short (171), Houston (154), Bonner (120), Hughes (133), Sinclair (112), Jordan Clark (135) and May (102) joining Daniel (108) in taking full advantage of the new man-on-the-mark interpretation. Throw in his mortgage on the kick-outs by taking 6 in the AAMI (and playing on from all of them), and we have all the ingredients for some tasty DFS dishes from Chef Daniel in 2021.
4. Stefan Martin
Stuck in a timeshare with Big O and carrying knee and back issues made 2020 a miserable time for Martin, and that was well before Brisbane revealed that they couldn’t guarantee him a list spot this year. Which is why his relocation is a new lease on life for Stef; not only does the 34 year-old secure himself another contract, but he also walks into a situation where he’s the clear #1 option at a contender.
Which is just so vital for his output, as the kind of ruck who relies on ground-level accumulation rather than aerial dominance. Stef was stuck in that timeshare loop for a couple of years at Brisbane, with his only game without either McInerney or Archie Smith being a 106-point gem. In 2018, he averaged a gaudy 110 over 6 games without Big O.
Obviously he’s had a couple of extra trips around the sun since then and Tim English will still take a fair chunk of the ruck pie as part of his forward rotation, but this is Stef’s best chance to be fantasy relevant in years. His 69 AF from 77% TOG and 55% CBA share in the AAMI clash was promising, especially with English (96 AF and 1.3) performing strongly as a forward.
5. Bailey Dale
This is a bit of a sneaky one, with Dale delivered a role change only in the past few weeks with the injuries to Wood, Duryea and now Crozier. The only exposed form we have from Dale in this half-back role is the 77 AF from 23 touches in the AAMI hitout, but it’s likely that this move will be much friendlier than the marking forward gig that generated 50 AF per game for him last year.
Keep Dale in mind for the Round 1 clash with the Pies given their propensity to leak to DEF’s, especially as the field might not pick up the role change in time.
- Keath switched forward during the AAMI series but that won’t happen during the season proper as he was just covering for the injured Naughton. With just Gardner and Cordy behind him on the depth chart, he’s a full-time defender.
- Williams was rated elite by Champion Data and looms as a DFS option on the right slates, especially in combos with Daniel and with Crozier’s injury piling more responsibility onto his plate.
- Injuries thrust Johannisen back into the 22 after he found himself in the Ressies throughout the pre-season. Had 3 tons in the first half of last year so if he can get back to that, I’ll start paying attention again.
- SPS addition Scott has played as a MID/FWD during the pre-season, but his VFL experience might see him start in defence to start the year. Duryea is the other option but has been on a modified program and might need more match fitness.
- Hunter averaged a massive 123 AF over the final 6 rounds last year but it’s a watch on his role with Treloar entering the fray. I assumed he’d be the only safe Bulldog with his wing role, but Bevo used him a lot across half forward in the AAMI and his scoring suffered. Early fade territory.
- Bailey Smith was the man that bumped him forward and Baz’s beep test victory in the pre-season suggests he could easily play that role if he wanted. I think the Bulldogs like what he adds at centre bounces though, so expect more of a hybrid role for the ripped youngster.
- Is Treloar’s 2.5 quarters in the VFL enough to tick off full fitness? Probably not. He’s a fade for me in the early rounds as Bevo could use that as an excuse to reduce his ground and/or midfield time.
- Liberatore has crushed it this pre-season with a full-time guts role. He’s almost the safest of the bunch because he doesn’t have a secondary role – the Bulldogs have tried it, and it’s never worked. Love him as a cheaper option in WBD stacks.
- Bontempelli will definitely play more time forward this year, but if he’s going to jail 3 goals and collect 32 possessions each week, does it really matter? The Demons were short-handed so I’m not reading too much into that score specifically, but man… The Bont looked like he’s gone to another level.
- Lipinski was the biggest beneficiary of Treloar’s absence, sitting a the bottom of the midfield totem pole. He was Bont-lite with 3 snags and 22 touches, supplementing his half-forward role with some valuable wing minutes.
- Vandermeer copped a knock early in the AAMI but sits comfortably in the 22 when fit with his specialist HFF role. Can rack it up on his day, and watch out for a wing gig if injuries hit the midfield.
- While he’d like to play in the guts, West is too good to leave out when he’s healthy. A small forward role is his best chance towards getting regular games this year, so beware that he’ll scale heavily with snags and tackles.
- Naughton and Bruce are keeping Ugle-Hagan out in the short-term, but one injury to that pair (or either of the rucks) and we’ll see the #1 draft pick unveiled. History suggests that won’t take long.
- Hayes is a pure wingman who can rack it up when he’s allowed to. Like Vandermeer, look out for Hayes in DFS if injury strikes.
Thanks to Morts at DFS Australia for his all awesome tools, plus websites such as FanFooty, DT Talk/The Traders, Footywire, AFL Tables, Draft Central, AFL Ratings, Daily Fantasy Rankings, @Baked_Beams on Twitter and DT Live for their various stats and references.