The Bulldogs sat atop the AFL ladder at the end of round 20, but a disastrous finish to the season saw them lose their final three games and miss the top four. They rediscovered their form at the right time however, winning a hat-trick of finals to play off in the big dance.
And, despite a slow start to the game, things seemed to be on track for the Bulldogs midway through the third quarter. They led at half-time before Marcus Bontempelli slotted his third major - and looked set to become a Norm Smith Medallist - as their lead stretched to 19 points at the 12-minute mark.
Things went downhill - and fast - from there though, with the Dees kicking 16 of the next 17 goals to run away 74-point winners. While much of the narrative was about the Dees' blistering footy, the Dogs’ fadeout was diabolical and they’ll have some pride to restore in 2022.
In: Tim O’Brien, Sam Darcy, Arthur Jones, Luke Cleary, Charlie Parker, Robbie McComb, Cody Raak
Out: Patrick Lipinski, Lewis Young, Lin Jong, Ben Cavarra, Will Hayes, Easton Wood
Contested Possessions - 3rd
Clearances - 1st
Tackles Inside 50 - 3rd
Rebound 50s - 16th
Hit-outs - 16th
Star player: Marcus Bontempelli
The smooth-moving midfielder had a stellar 2021, registering 31 goals from 50 shots at goal and polling 33 votes in the Brownlow Medal. Had the Bulldogs not faded out as badly as they did in the grand final, he likely would’ve finished the game with a Norm Smith Medal too.
‘The Bont’ is not only one of the game’s best players, but he’s also one of the most likeable. Still only 26-years-old, he potentially still has further improvement ahead. The only headache he causes coach Luke Beveridge, is whether to leave him in the midfield or whether he’s needed in the forward 50.
One to watch: Jamarra Ugle-Haga
Few #1 draft picks have attracted as much attention as Ugle-Hagan, who the Bulldogs had access to - despite making the finals - because he came through the Next Generation Academy. Because he was trying to break into a top eight team, Ugle-Hagen managed just five games in his debut season - kicking seven goals.
If there’s a knock on the Bulldogs, it’s their lack of a genuine key forward - and while the 19-year-old is still only in his second season, Ugle-Hagen could be the man to fill that void. Having had a taste of AFL in 2021, he could be ready to take the next step in 2022.
Under pressure: Tim English
The 207cm ruckman has continued to be a polarising figure among Bulldogs supporters since debuting in 2017. Despite his size, English is mobile and uses the ball well - seemingly possessing all the attributes to be a dominant ruckman in the AFL.
And while he’s shown he can do this in spurts throughout his career, the gap between his best and his worst is far too great. At 24 years of age and coming into his sixth season, it’s time for English to consistently become the player he’s long promised to be.
The feeling over summer at VU Whitten Oval will undoubtedly be one of ‘what might have been?’ What if we didn’t lose our final three games and miss the top four, potentially costing us an extra week off throughout the finals? What if we didn’t capitulate in the final 40 minutes of the grand final, losing by 74 points after leading by 19?
This will have acted as a great source of motivation over summer, as the Bulldogs look to go a step further than 2021. Their best is very good - you don’t lead a grand final by 19 points at the 12 minute mark of the third quarter if not - but there are still concerns over the balance of their side, with a number of midfielders to squeeze in. If they can get this balance right however, they’ll be among the contenders again.
Five matches to watch
Round 1 vs. Melbourne, MCG, Wednesday March 16
Round 4 vs. Richmond, MCG, Saturday April 9
Round 8 vs. Port Adelaide, Adelaide Oval, Friday May 6
Round 13 vs. Greater Western Sydney, GIANTS Stadium, TBC
Round 18 vs. Melbourne, Marvel Stadium, TBC
All time games
- Brad Johnson - 364
- Chris Grant - 341
- Doug Hawkins - 329
- Scott West - 324
- Ted Whitten - 321
All time goals
- Simon Beasley - 575
- Brad Johnson - 558
- Chris Grant - 554
- Kelvin Templeton - 494
- Jack Collins - 385
MOST DISPOSALS: Jack Macrae - 880
MOST TACKLES: Tom Liberatore - 135
MOST CLEARANCES: Tom Liberatore - 189
MOST MARKS: Aaron Naughton - 153
MOST GOALS: Josh Bruce - 48