Draft, trade strategy paying dividends

In the space of five seasons, the Western Bulldogs’ list has undergone a significant transformation.

In the space of five seasons, the Western Bulldogs’ list has undergone a significant transformation.

Only 15 players remain from when the Bulldogs celebrated AFL and VFL premiership triumphs success in 2016 – including 10 players who featured in the drought-breaking AFL win.

Remarkably, two-thirds of the list has changed.

The Bulldogs missed the finals in 2017 and 2018, before suffering elimination final exits in 2019 and 2020.

With six rounds to play in 2021, the Bulldogs have their sights set on a top-four finish – which they last achieved more than a decade ago, in 2010.

Skipper Marcus Bontempelli and Caleb Daniel were just 20 when the Bulldogs won their premiership. Jack Macrae was 22. Tom Liberatore was 24. Josh Dunkley was only 19.

But they’re now hitting their prime – as are the Bulldogs.

List boss Sam Power has detailed the strategy the Bulldogs have taken to build back towards the top.

“In 2018, when I started in the role and given the list demographic and profile it was very much a draft focus,” Power, the Bulldogs’ general manager of list management and football projects, told AFL.com.au’s Road to the Draft podcast this week.

“One, due to how young we were, our list and the growth that the young talent on our list still had, and two, the strength of that 2018 draft that we were really keen to attack.”

The likes of Bailey Smith, Aaron Naughton and Tim English have been drafted as early picks since 2016.

But their addition has been complemented in recent years by experienced acquisitions from other clubs.

Alex Keath and Josh Bruce have become key pillars in defence and attack respectively, with Taylor Duryea becoming another mainstay down back.

Power said it had been important for the Bulldogs to balance the growth of existing players with bringing in high-end talent at the draft and experienced players to fulfil specific needs.

“(Our strategy) has changed over the last two years to a more balanced approach,” he said.

“We’ve still been really keen to bring in young, high-end talent but balance that with addressing specific needs through trade and free agency which we’ve had a bit more of a focus on the last two years.

“It definitely does change given the natural trajectory and an informed view of our playing group and when we think it will be playing its best football.”

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