According to the Chinese Zodiac, we are supposed to be getting ready for the year of the tiger.
But the BetDeluxe crew has done its own crystal-balling into the future and it is filled with red, white and blue!
AFL Premiership Prediction
They came out snarling in the first half of the 2021 AFL Grand Final, but the Western Bulldogs were then left heart broken after a second-half capitulation against Melbourne.
Let’s not forget how tough the Doggies had to do it in that incredible finals series.
After losing gun forward and leading goal-kicker Josh Bruce to an ACL injury, the Dogs had to travel down south to Tasmania to beat Essendon, then up north to knock off Brisbane, then to South Australia to topple Port Adelaide and finally to Perth against Melbourne.
It is no wonder they ran out of steam in the last hour of the grand final given the scenic route they had to take on the way to Optus Stadium.
With the AFL season hopefully going to back some form of normality, it should spell fresher legs for this Bulldogs squad that seems to have the right mixture of youth and experience.
Even without Bruce roaming around inside forward 50, the Bulldogs still found ways to mount winning scores in clutch games during the finals and in the back end of the regular season.
The bookends look exciting for the Bulldogs coming in 2022.
Tim English and Aaron Naughton will both have to step up together in the absence of Bruce, but both are definitely capable of doing so.
Mitch Hannan, with his hardened body and experience, also proved a worthy goal-kicker in the back end of 2021.
Add in the forward-half pressure of young guns Cody Weightman and Laitham Vandermeer, and you have yourself a super dangerous forward line.
The defensive 50 area is going to need some patching up with the retirement of Easton Wood, but the Dogs have Zaine Cordy, Alex Keath and Ryan Gardner who can hold up the back half alongside aerialist Hayden Crozier.
New recruit Tim O’Brien has been training as a backman throughout the pre-season from all reports, so he could also be a viable option to plug a gap down back.
Sweeper Caleb Daniel has proved a revelation as the playmaker from behind the centre circle with his pin-point passing by foot and composure under pressure.
Daniel seemed really confident in what the group could do in 2022 when he recently spoke on the club’s official website.
“There’s a been a fair few guys who have impressed – Charlie Parker took out one of our running tests, and that’s always a great sign for a young kid in his first year coming out and doing that,” Daniel told westernbulldogs.com.au.
“All the young kids have great skills, and a couple of the guys we got in like Timmy O’Brien – he really showed some stuff throughout the backline.
“It’s been great to have them all train and have a fair few run around with us.”
Midfield is where the Bulldogs have an enormous advantage over the competition.
Marcus Bontempelli, Adam Treloar, Bailey Smith, Tom Liberatore, Jackson Macrae and Josh Dunkley are arguably the best midfield brigade in the competition.
There is still a stack improvement to come from Jamarra Ugle-Hagan who clearly has oodles of talent, capable of turning a game on its head.
It is scary to think the Bulldogs are open to getting better again in 2022 given we are yet to see the full development of some of their young footballers.
From a pure numbers point of view, the Bulldogs rank highly in a number of key statistics.
The Bulldogs ranked third for average goals scored per game, third for average tackles inside forward 50 and third for efficiency inside forward 50, which highlights how strong Luke Beveridge’s men are going forward of centre and locking the ball in their front half.
The midfield numbers from last season were also staggering.
The Bulldogs ranked fifth for average disposals, first for average clearances and fourth for centre clearances in the competition.
And even though they are in the upper echelon for the fancy stats that people pay a lot of attention to, the one that stood out like a sore thumb at the end of 2021 was the one percenters.
The one percenters are defined by the AFL as knock-ons, spoils, smothers, and shepherds.
The Bulldogs averaged 53.6 one percenters per game which is the second best in the league.
So, not only do the lads from the kennel produce all the fancy numbers that need to be ticked off in order to be a premiership fancy, but they do the ugly stuff as well.
The right mixture of both is what the best teams in the modern AFL era have had and the Bulldogs have it all in spades.