North Melbourne legend David King has praised the Western Bulldogs for having the ‘biggest premiership window’ in the competition, but criticised their inability to land an experienced ruckman during the trade period.
Despite an impressive run to the Grand Final, the Bulldogs’ ruck department was widely considered their biggest weakness in 2021.
Injuries restricted veteran recruit Stefan Martin to nine games, while Tim English showed he wasn’t ready to shoulder the load, with the club at times deploying defender Lewis Young as a makeshift ruck over him.
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The Dogs were reportedly in the market for a ruckman over the exchange period, but the likes of Jonathon Ceglar (traded from Hawthorn to Geelong) and Peter Ladhams (traded from Port Adelaide to Sydney) moved elsewhere.
Speaking on Fox Footy’s Trading Day, King questioned why the Dogs didn’t prioritise acquiring a gun big man.
“I really worry about the fact that they haven’t gone after a ruckman. They’ve got the midfield, they’ve got everything there. I just don’t know why they didn’t take the risk using a future pick if it had to be to get an established ruckman,” the dual premiership Kangaroo said.
“Someone like (Todd) Goldstein or can you pry a Brodie Grundy? You’re in there now and I know they’re going to be in this window for a long period of time. So I don’t think one or two draft picks over the next couple of years would seriously impact what this group is going to be able to do for I think six to eight years.”
Herald Sun reporter Jon Ralph highlighted that Ladhams’ management made contact with the Bulldogs, but the club’s need to retain draft points to match an early bid on father-son prodigy Sam Darcy limited its capacity to broker a trade.
King believes the Bulldogs have to maximise their window of opportunity with the current list and deliver more silverware.
“They’ve got the biggest window of anyone in the competition right now,” he said.
“If they don’t win two premierships in the next six years, it’s a blown opportunity. When you get the list build to correct like this, this is what it afford you, a sustained opportunity.
“If you asked all 18 coaches which group they’d love to get their hands on, I reckon the Dogs would come out favourably.”
St Kilda champion Leigh Montagna thinks the Bulldogs are backing in the natural improvement of English and Jordon Sweet to make them more competitive in the ruck.
“They were 19 points up in the third quarter of the Grand Final, you give Tim English and Jordon Sweet another 12 months and another pre-season to develop, give them a bit of faith and confidence to develop,” he said.
“I think they’ll be OK without that extra ruckman. When you do get in the window, history shows you do get the chance to play in multiple Grand Finals.”
The Bulldogs’ depth took a hit in the trade period through the departures of Young (Carlton) and Patrick Lipinski (Collingwood) to rival clubs.
But they were able to land former Hawk Tim O’Brien as an unrestricted free agent to give their defence a boost, having ranked 14th in the competition in intercept marks in 2021.
O’Brien showed the Dogs first hand how effective he can be in arguably a career-best performance against them in Round 22, gathering 24 disposals, 14 intercepts and six intercept marks with a 24.9 AFL Players Rating – all of which were rated elite by Champion Data.
“I love the Tim O’Brien addition, they really lack for an interceptor down back,” King said.
“If you look at the Grand Final when that ball came out of the middle, they really struggled to win it back.
“O’Brien gives you that versatility, it’s worth the risk at no cost.”