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  1. #1
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    How successful will Bruce be playing Back

    Back to the future for Bruce

    After returning from a knee reconstruction late last winter, Bruce sat down with Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge in his exit meeting last September and pitched an idea to ponder during the off-season.

    With the club set to land Fremantle star Rory Lobb during the trade period, and with former No.1 pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan taking a significant step forward in season two, Bruce suggested he return to where he started his AFL career.

    Before the Canberran kicked 50 goals for St Kilda in 2015 – the first of five seasons where Bruce has kicked at least 36 goals – and well before he was coming second in the Coleman Medal when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in round 21, 2021, Bruce started his career as a key defender at Greater Western Sydney.

    That was the role the Saints had in mind when they pinched him from the Giants at the end of 2013, the role he started in at Seaford before Alan Richardson threw him forward in 2015 and changed the trajectory of his career.

    But now after an impressive December and January in the bank, the 30-year-old is mounting a case to be selected in the Western Bulldogs' backline when they meet Melbourne on the first Saturday night of the season on March 18.

    "It was probably my idea towards the end of last year," Bruce told reporters at the Western Bulldogs' pre-season camp in Portsea on Tuesday afternoon.

    "Coming back from my knee injury, I certainly wasn't playing the way I was capable of and certainly didn't have the confidence in my body when I was coming back and playing forward.

    "I heard the rumour mill that Rory might be coming to the club and I just felt like I might get ahead of the curve. I had a chat at my exit meeting to the coaches about potentially doing some of pre-season down back and learning my craft down there. They were open to it and it's been a good summer so far."

    The Western Bulldogs have been stacked full of midfielders and light on in the key position posts during Beveridge's tenure at the club – the premiership coach has led the Dogs to six finals appearance in eight seasons, recording a club-record 104 wins to date – but the pendulum has swung.

    In the space of a trade period, the Western Bulldogs gained two proven stars at either end in unrestricted free agent Liam Jones and Lobb, but lost reigning Charles Sutton Medal winner Josh Dunkley and All-Australian wingman Lachie Hunter.

    Pressure for spots is fierce inside the Whitten Oval right now, especially down back. Lobb is set to partner Aaron Naughton and Ugle-Hagan in attack to start the season. But down back, the picture is far from clear. Bruce is one of five key defenders – Sam Darcy, Alex Keath, Ryan Gardner and Jones – fighting for two or three spots in defence.

    "All of a sudden we've got a plethora of talls; we've got so many tall forwards and a lot of key backs; there is good competition for spots; there is a lot of good guys playing in the twos team at training. Who knows what the make-up will look like come round one?" Bruce said.

    "We've got practice games to get through. The injuries always happen in footy at this time of year. It is healthy. You're never comfortable in your spot; I'm certainly not comfortable right now and I don't think I will be throughout the year."

    Bruce has worked closely with dual premiership defender Taylor Duryea and Jones since making the move at the start of pre-season. The trio are half of the six players currently north of 30 at the kennel – Tom Liberatore, Jason Johannisen and Keath are the others – and have ridden the rollercoaster of life in the AFL.

    Last year was a difficult one for Bruce. He returned from 12 months out of the game at a time when the Dogs were outside the eight and fighting to remain in the hunt for September. He struggled to get up to speed at that point of the year, found himself in and out of the team and conceded he was worn out by the time the Bulldogs' season ended in the first week of the finals.

    "It was difficult. It almost felt like I'd never played before. I came up against Steven May in my first game and he treated me like a kid. We came through the system together and that was a really weird feeling. But I got a lot of confidence in my body and my knee in particular. I'm really fit again, which is exciting," he said.

    "I really had to have a good spell from footy in general this off-season. I had a year in 2020 where I wasn't happy personally and we were in the hub. Then I had the really good year in 2021 and did my knee and I was straight into rehab.

    "I just felt the walls were closing in on me a bit in terms of the footy sense, so I just stepped away for probably four to six weeks to be honest. Then got some motivation through a PT and really honed in on my body and mobility and that kind of stuff, just trying to be a bit smarter with the way I’m training; quality over quantity aspect of it."
    FFC: Established 1883

    Premierships: AFL 1954, 2016 VFA - 1898,99,1900, 1908, 1913, 1919-20, 1923-24, VFL: 2014, 2016 . Champions of Victoria 1924. AFLW - 2018.

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  3. #2
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    Re: How successful will Bruce be playing Back

    Is this a risky move for Bruce's playing career?

    Does he need to play games in VFL before he is picked at CHB?
    Last edited by bornadog; 01-02-2023 at 06:22 PM. Reason: clarify
    FFC: Established 1883

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  4. #3
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    Re: How successful will Bruce be playing Back

    Quote Originally Posted by bornadog View Post
    Is this a risky move for Bruce? Does he need to play games in VFL before he is picked at CHB?
    Don't see much risk in it for him. He could clearly see with Lobb coming in he was likely to find himself out of the team as a first choice key forward. Bruce likely isn't in the team as a first choice KPD either but he gives himself a chance at both ends now when others inevitably have injury/form/other issues, potentially opening more opportunities for him during the season.

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  6. #4
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    Re: How successful will Bruce be playing Back

    Quote Originally Posted by bornadog View Post
    Is this a risky move for Bruce? Does he need to play games in VFL before he is picked at CHB?
    Not sure if it's risky because if he is seen by the MC to be better form than the likes of Jones, Keath and/or Gards to the point where he gets selected then it's a form based selection.
    What concerns me at the moment is his disposal skills under pressure and particularly with his right foot. He's super enthusiastic at training and in the games and has a great rapport on the field with Jones in the match sims so he gets a few ticks.
    I'm not sure if he is quite ready yet though based on what I've seen.
    Western Bulldogs Football Club "Where it's cool to drool"

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    Re: How successful will Bruce be playing Back

    I think he's opening up possibilities for himself so kudos for showing initiative. He should still be capable of playing forward if needed so we'll just see how form and injuries play out

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    Re: How successful will Bruce be playing Back

    Quote Originally Posted by hujsh View Post
    I think he's opening up possibilities for himself so kudos for showing initiative. He should still be capable of playing forward if needed so we'll just see how form and injuries play out
    It was a smart move and I can't fault him for the way he goes about his training and match sims. If it doesn't work it wont be due to a lack of effort.
    Western Bulldogs Football Club "Where it's cool to drool"

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  11. #7
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    Re: How successful will Bruce be playing Back

    Quote Originally Posted by hujsh View Post
    I think he's opening up possibilities for himself so kudos for showing initiative. He should still be capable of playing forward if needed so we'll just see how form and injuries play out
    When I said risk FOR him, that is what I meant - his playing career. However, he can still go forward, especially if a player goes down injured.
    FFC: Established 1883

    Premierships: AFL 1954, 2016 VFA - 1898,99,1900, 1908, 1913, 1919-20, 1923-24, VFL: 2014, 2016 . Champions of Victoria 1924. AFLW - 2018.

  12. #8
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    Re: How successful will Bruce be playing Back

    Quote Originally Posted by bornadog View Post
    When I said risk FOR him, that is what I meant - his playing career. However, he can still go forward, especially if a player goes down injured.
    He might also be used in the 2nd ruck role from time to time.
    Western Bulldogs Football Club "Where it's cool to drool"

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  14. #9
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    Re: How successful will Bruce be playing Back

    He is looking really fit hopefully he goes well in the backline and like Bornadog said if somebody is injured he can go still forward 👍

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    Re: How successful will Bruce be playing Back

    Like that it was Bruce himself who brought it up.

    I’m optimistic he can play a meaningful role this season, but I’m not sure he’s a first choice player - a great spare parts utility who will plug holes at both ends as they arise week to week.

  17. #11
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    Re: How successful will Bruce be playing Back

    I’m not confident. He’s no mug though and I hope he’ll do ok down back.

  18. #12
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    Re: How successful will Bruce be playing Back

    Not 100% that Bruce can get off the ground or keep up with any key forward to be honest but I think he could be a servicable 'big bodied' road block in a break glass scenario.

    Would love to see him have a good year though.

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  20. #13
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    Re: How successful will Bruce be playing Back

    I think I was the first to float the idea on the forum. I think he could be pretty handy on the right opponents.

    He’s an experienced player, of a good height and size, who can run all day, handy skills if not great of both feet. Motivated to continue his career in the role. Can play swing man when playing with Darcy, or pinch hit in the ruck in case of breaking glass.

    Jones was (May still be an interception king), Keath can be interception and shut down defender. But Bruce could play on a bigger/slower KPF or resting ruckman and I think do a reasonable job. If he can use his athleticism and fitness to provide some counter attack that might be a nice option too.

    I’m not going to bet the house on it, but I’m happy with the decision and it hasn’t sounded disastrous to date. So if we can get a ready made, mature KPD to add to Gardner, Jones & Keath - then the KPD stocks might be ok with support from Dale, Williams, Duryea etc. etc. So I’m still happy to see how it goes.
    Rocket Science: the epitaph for the Beveridge era - whenever it ends - reading 'Here lies a team that could beat anyone on its day, but seldom did when it mattered most'. 15/7/2023

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  22. #14
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    Re: How successful will Bruce be playing Back

    It’s a credit to him that he is prepared to risk his spot and take on a challenge in an area of need for us. Somewhat forced into it, by circumstance, but he could have just settled for getting edged out.

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  24. #15
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    Re: How successful will Bruce be playing Back

    Quote Originally Posted by SonofScray View Post
    It’s a credit to him that he is prepared to risk his spot and take on a challenge in an area of need for us. Somewhat forced into it, by circumstance, but he could have just settled for getting edged out.
    He is certainly incentivized to put in a good year given his contract expires. He will have a "whatever it takes" to his footy assignments this year.
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