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Big Dogs impress early

Nick Bowen (AFL Media)  January 23, 2017 9:00 AM

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 27: Stewart Crameri of the Bulldogs in action during the Western Bulldogs training session at Whitten Oval in Melbourne, Australia on September 27, 2016. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media)

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 27: Stewart Crameri of the Bulldogs in action during the Western Bulldogs training session at Whitten Oval in Melbourne, Australia on September 27, 2016. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media)

The strong pre-season form of Travis Cloke and Stewart Crameri could provide Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge with the option of a new-look forward line when the season kicks off against Collingwood on March 24..

The Dogs found enough bite in attack last year despite their lack of height, with mid-sized and small forwards such as Jake Stringer, Tory Dickson, Clay Smith, Zaine Cordy, Josh Dunkley and Toby McLean largely powering their premiership forward line.

However, midfielder Lachie Hunter is confident the Bulldogs' flag defence will be bolstered by the addition of former Magpie Cloke and the return of Crameri. 

"In the forward line, we've kind of lacked those big talls. Obviously Tommy (Boyd) had a really good finals series but during the year we kind of lacked that big option down forward, so to get Stewie and Clokey in will really strengthen the forward line," Hunter said. 

"It will take the pressure off Tom with Stewie and Trav coming in and hopefully people like Jakey Stringer can step up as well with the pressure off." 

Hunter said Cloke, secured by the Bulldogs in last year's NAB AFL Trade Period for pick No.76, had made a strong start to his first pre-season at the Whitten Oval, impressing with his outstanding endurance and his contested work during match simulation.

"Just in match play and things like that you just notice there's such a big strong option to kick to, which we haven’t really had a great deal of," he said. 

"He just doesn't really get out-marked even if there are two or three on him."

Crameri crossed to the Bulldogs from Essendon at the end of 2013, kicking 69 goals in 40 games, and Hunter expects that he will seamlessly return to the Bulldogs' senior team in 2017. 

"No doubt it would have been a tough year but he's come back really fit. I went for a few runs with him before we got back and he took care of me pretty well," Hunter says. 

"He was flying and ready to go, so that was a good sign for him. I'm assuming he'll slot straight back in."

Hunter, 22, enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2016, finally establishing himself in the Bulldogs' best 22 in his fourth year at the Whitten Oval. 

Playing all 26 games, Hunter became a consistently damaging midfielder, racking up more possessions (719 at an average of 27.7 a game) than any other Bulldog and finishing second at the club for inside 50s and equal-third for goal assists. His outstanding year was rewarded with a third-place finish in the club's best and fairest award.

Hunter is determined to build on his 2016 form this season. His quest has been aided by an injury-free start to the pre-season, while he says his skills on his non-preferred right side can improve. 

And having tasted premiership success, Hunter only wants more. 

"It was such a good feeling and such a good couple of months – not only for us but for the club – that I just can't see why anyone wouldn't want to do it again," he says.

"And we'll be doing everything we can to back it up."