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  1. #1
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    Bontempelli confident Bulldogs can soar in 2024 following disappointing season

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    Perhaps appropriately given the AFL club's name, it's a case of once bitten, twice shy when it comes to the football punditry's predictions for the Western Bulldogs in 2024.

    It's only three years ago that the Dogs led a grand final by three goals-plus late in the third quarter. They've had by consensus one of the competition's most talented lists for some time.

    But of no fewer than 40 sets of football media tips about AFL 2024 on show during the past week, less than half (just 19) of them fancied the Bulldogs to even reach the final eight, much less win a premiership.

    It's a dramatic fall from popular grace. But skipper Marcus Bontempelli is a little dubious about the claim the Bulldogs have been the AFL's most underperformed team over the past couple of seasons.

    "I think we could have been better for sure," he concedes to ESPN. "But to say we're the most underperformed might be a bit harsh considering there's still aspects of our game that have improved.

    "To reframe that, I hope we've got the largest scope to improve, so that's probably what our focus is, trying to tighten up the aspects of our game that weren't up to scratch and look to the guys who can help us with that. I think there was some pretty strong seasons from a number of boys last year. It's just about how we bridge the gap between those that really performed and then the depth in our group, and I think can still increase."

    Not that he can do much more individually. Bontempelli, now a five-time best and fairest winner, is almost universally these days recognised as the best player in the AFL. He's not without great midfield support either, in the shape of the likes of Tom Liberatore, Adam Treloar, Jack Macrae and Caleb Daniel, and now also former Demon James Harmes.

    But it's at either end of the ground where the Bulldogs are going to need much more than they got last season.

    This time a season ago, all the talk was about the Bulldogs' squad of tall forwards, their scoring potency expected to prove a big weapon. But the expected riches never eventuated. The Dogs finished only 10th for points scored in 2023, too much responsibility invested in their highly-rated midfield, and unfancied defence.

    Two beltings against Melbourne and St Kilda in the opening two rounds of 2023 left the Dogs chasing tail for much of the season, and their last four heartbreaking losses, by a total of just 17 points, sealed their non-finals fate.

    That, however, can also, in Bontempelli's words, be "reframed" to signal that there's actually not that much improvement required to take the Bulldogs significantly higher in 2024. Beyond those first two defeats, not one of the Dogs' other nine losses came by any more than 22 points

    It was a failure to halt opposition momentum as much as the actual damage inflicted on the scoreboard which was so costly, and the skipper, along with coach Luke Beveridge and a revamped coaching panel is well aware of it.

    "At times, we just allowed too many run-ons," he said. "I think it's about trying to stop those little momentum shifters.

    "I think we've got the capacity to create them ourselves, but definitely defensively, it's about how we stop those sooner. And it's been a bit of a theme for us. I think that's what we'd like to change the most, and then the improvement to evolve the scoring aspects of our game, too."

    That involves better conversion from the likes of Aaron Naughton and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, something at which the Dogs were particularly poor last season, the equal second-worst team in the competition for accuracy, and ranked a dismal 14th for goals scored per inside 50. But it's also about working harder defensively in the forward half.

    "Hopefully, our front half got a better ability to score clearly, but then also keep the ball there," says Bontempelli. "The trend over the last couple of years is how much you can keep that ball in your front half and get those repeat entries and scores, and I reckon we weren't as good at that last year.

    "So there's been a focus on how we keep that ball more often in our front third and give ourselves more opportunities to score. I think our greatest scope for improvement from a scoring perspective is to basically get more looks, and easier looks.

    "We've had a number of guys get a decent amount of shots at goal, but sometimes it's where you get them from, and the difficulty of the shot. They're aspects of our game we've targeted, so hopefully we can see an uptick in all those things."

    The results were certainly encouraging in the practice hitout against Hawthorn last weekend, after some early stutters in which the Bulldogs were at one stage an incredibly clumsy 2.12 before slamming on 15.5 to finish with 34 scores and a whopping 68 forward entries.

    Now the Dogs get to test it all for premiership points next weekend up against Melbourne, not only arguably the best defence in the AFL, but whom snuffed out the Doggies' flag hopes on grand final day three years ago, and got 2023 off to such a bad start for them as well.

    But Bontempelli says his Bulldogs will welcome the challenge. "I just think the general optimism at the minute is pretty high about hopefully getting a better start this year than we did last year," he says. Indeed, it's fair to say, both literally and metaphorically, there's some scores to settle.
    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: Bontempelli confident Bulldogs can soar in 2024 following disappointing season

    The inability of scribes to link good defences (particularly intercepting capability) with generation of scoring opportunities never ceases to amaze.

    Melbourne without at least one of May and Lever playing well would barely get the ball forward. Bont is right that we need to retain the football more effectively in the forward half, but a lot more fluidity in movement and often better scoring positions are generated from intercepts and quick movement out of defence.

    That's why continuity with Jones and Richards is such a massive thing for us this year.
    Nobody's looking for a puppeteer in today's wintry economic climate.

  4. #3
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    Re: Bontempelli confident Bulldogs can soar in 2024 following disappointing season

    Would agree we have the most scope for improvement compared to a lot of other sides ��

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