Whitten Oval looks immensely different to the last time Liam Jones parked his car at the Western Bulldogs' headquarters every day.

It's not just due to the $77 million redevelopment that has transformed the iconic suburban ground into a largescale worksite. The people have changed. 

Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Liberatore and Jack Macrae are the only players still at the club since Jones departed for Carlton at the end of 2014, following 66 games across six seasons in Footscray.


Luke Beveridge, who signed a two-year contract extension late last year that locks him in at the kennel until the end of 2025, was still weeks away from joining the Western Bulldogs when Jones moved to Princes Park. He had just left Hawthorn and was yet to spend that single day as St Kilda's director of coaching.

But while plenty has changed, both on and off the field, some things inside the club haven't. Mark Kimpton is still the facility manager, still organising carpark passes among a myriad of daily tasks that keeps the club running smoothly. And Anissa Groves is still the beloved head trainer, still strapping Jones' ankles at 31 years of age, just like she was when he was a 17-year-old schoolboy. 

The people matter to Jones. 

After more than 12 months away from the game, the star defender is back from a season playing for Palm Beach Currumbin in the QAFL, back from the brink of being lost to the game, and back in the No.19 he wore in his first stint at the club. 

Cody Weightman has moved to the iconic No.3, worn by club greats Ted Whitten, Arthur Olliver, Chris Grant and most recently Mitch Wallis. It didn't take the livewire forward long to approach Jones in the gym and suggest the defender wears his old number again.

"It is something that never crossed my mind because Cody is such a good player and has played so many good games in the No.19 – I didn't think it would be available," Jones told AFL.com.au.

"I would have been happy to wear any number, I just wanted the opportunity to play at the highest level again. 

"To get the tap on the shoulder from Cody to say he was moving to No.3 and No.19 had opened back up. It's pretty cool to continue my footy here in the jumper I started in.


"To get back in it and potentially play 100 games in the jumper, and continue my career at the Bulldogs in the same jumper is pretty cool."

Beveridge also wore No.19 during his three-season, 31-game stint in the red, white and blue in the early 90s. The 2016 premiership winning coach has helped Jones transition back into life at the Western Bulldogs, life back in a full-time environment.

"He has been great through the whole process. Even before I signed here, he was very open and we started to build our relationship then," Jones said.

"It's more just been connecting, chatting and getting to know each other. I'm sure when training starts there will be a lot of learning, getting back into the system, he has been a great influence so far."


Jones' AFL career looked like it might be over when he chose not to comply with the AFL's vaccine mandate at the end of 2021, walking away from a lucrative deal and prominent role in Michael Voss' project at Carlton. 

The intercept defender headed north to the Gold Coast and looked set to sail off into the sunset, before the AFL changed course and dropped the mandate midway through the year.

Now he has returned to where it all started, choosing the Dogs over several other suitors to sign a three-year deal as an unrestricted free agent in October.

"It is funny how things work out. I'm just super grateful the club is putting its trust in me to give the opportunity," he said. 

"It's always been my dream to play AFL football so to continue that dream where it started is really special to me. I don't want to leave any stone unturned. 

"I feel like every year since I moved to defence I've improved every year and I’ll continue wanting to improve. I'm nowhere near a finished product."

After struggling for multiple options in the key posts at either end in 2022, the Western Bulldogs now have depth that will cause selection headaches next year if everyone is available for selection.  

While Alex Keath found himself out of the best 22 at times in the second half of the season, the former Crow has been reliable in defence, Ryan Gardner produced a career best campaign and Sam Darcy showed he is the future. 

Despite a year out of the game, and the fact he will turn 32 before the 2023 season starts, Jones feels like he has quickly adjusted to the speed of training, laying the foundations with an impressive block ahead of Christmas. 

"I feel really great. I thought the tempo and intensity of training (might take some time to adjust to), but in saying that I feel like I've stayed in really good shape, kept myself really fit," he said.

"I touched base with the weights coach and running coach here, so prior to pre-season training starting I was going for about three months. I feel like I'm in as good as shape as I’ve ever been in."

Jones is back at the Western Bulldogs, back in the No.19 and back to finish what he started as a teenager in 2008.