AFL greats David King and Brad Johnson have gone head-to-head over the state of the Western Bulldogs post trade period, with King arguing there’s “no excuses” for the club to not make top four next season.
The Bulldogs’ 2016 premiership side was the third youngest team to win a grand final during the AFL era at an average age of 24 years and 144 days, with many predicting it was set to go on and consistently challenge for more flags in the years to follow.
But outside of their run to the 2021 Grand Final, the Dogs have fallen short of expectations despite boasting one of the most talented lists in the competition including a star-studded midfield featuring the likes of Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae and Tom Liberatore, while they’ve had issues at either end of the ground.
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It included a drop off this year as the Dogs just scraped into finals before bowing out in the first week of the post-season after a loss to Fremantle.
The Bulldogs were among the most active teams during the trade period, landing Liam Jones and Rory Lobb to bolster their key position stocks, but losing Dunkley, Lachie Hunter, Josh Schache and Zaine Cordy.
And Bulldogs games record holder Johnson was bullish about their 2023 prospects, saying he thinks they’ve improved their structure and now have more “flexibility” with Lobb in the side, while also confident the club has set itself up long term with the likes of Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Sam Darcy.
But King believes the Dogs have all the tools to contend next year and that they must maximise their current window of opportunity, leading to a square off between the two.
Read the full transcript below from Fox Footy’s Trading Day.
King: “You make a lot of excuses for the Dogs ‘Johnno’, you really do. They’ve got a superstar midfield and they have lacked key post type talent. They’ve got a Pick 1 Academy selection Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and father-son Pick 2 Sam Darcy, they’ve been given luxuries not every other club has had, but they’re star factor players. Now they’ve got Jones and Lobb, this is it. They want for nothing structurally.”
Johnson: “I’ve been big on, since winning the flag in 2016, how this club was going to become a top four team, which they haven’t achieved in that whole period. That’s still the question-”
King: “Why haven’t they?”
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Johnson: “I don’t know. I think 2016 was similar to Collingwood (this year), they got to the top, weren’t really ready as a group to then compete against the very best consistently after an unbelievable month. And then the they had some disappointing years, then they got to a grand final again, and then fall off and weren’t as competitive (this year). I think structurally it’ll help, I think Brendan Lade in terms of his experience in the coaches box and the support around ‘Bevo’ and Rohan Smith. There’s some elements now that are set up for this team to become a top four.”
Jon Ralph: “‘Kingy’ you think they’ve underachieved, don’t you? You said this time last year, ‘they want for nothing,’ you said it again, they should set themselves for multiple flags.”
Johnson: “I’m confident that will come at some point.”
King: “It doesn’t sound like you are.”
Johnson: “No I am. When you’ve got another three years into Jamarra and Darcy, these guys will be 23, 24 years of age. We’re talking about young men who are 19 and 20 years of age at the moment.”
King: “But Lobb and Jones are not 19 and 20 years old, those kids can play a lesser role. Bontempelli is 27, in the prime of his career. Macrae is 28, he’s almost a walk-up All-Australian contender every year. English is 25. You’ve got a whole host of those wingmen/half back that are in the peak of their powers. If it’s not now, you’re going then say in two to three years: ‘Oh now Bontempelli is 30, he’s past his peak.’ You can’t just keep kicking the can down the road as to when this team is actually going to become a top four lock from minute one to Round 23.”
Johnson: “So you’re saying ‘Bont’ will be no good at 30? Yes, there’s a window now – and I do get what you’re saying Kingy, these guys you’ve mentioned are the guns of the Bulldogs right now. But it hasn’t been enough. In 2016 that midfield mix won them the flag, but they had something different that the competition couldn’t stop.”
King: “There hasn’t been a coach have the luxury of this midfield for a five-year span like Luke Beveridge has had. You’ve made excuses that they haven’t had the key post forward and back to arm them totally, well now they’ve got them. For me, it’s the Dogs to charge and make top four. There are no excuses this year.”