Last year on Bulldogs Centre, I wrote about who could win a match between last year's Western Bulldogs and the 2011 Western Bulldogs. Despite the '11 Bulldogs boasting more experience of every line, it was the much younger Western Bulldogs of last year who defied all the odds and won the Premiership that had eluded them all these years.
Today, I thought, to celebrate the release of the new AFL video game - AFL Evolution - hitting the shelves in stores all across Australia, I thought I'd write up a new Western Bulldogs dream showdown, comparing some of the great Bulldogs to have donned the red, white and blue from the 2000s against the Bulldogs of today.
The 2000s were a bit of an indifferent decade of footy for the Bulldogs. The decades saw the Sons of the West hit disappointing lows, finishing in the bottom four thrice, including a wooden spoon in 2003 and had scintillating top-four finishes that would result in disappointment at the final hurdle before the Grand Final.
But their were still some of the best names to pull on the Bulldogs jumper. Johnson, West, Grant and Darcy were just a few. How could they have done in their prime against players who could be mentioned in amongst that group when their careers finish? I'm talking about the likes of Bontempelli, Dahlhaus, Stringer, Macrae among many others.
Funnily enough, the idea of this came about as I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom, playing some of the old-school AFL video games on the Playstation that I had acquired over the years. It really did get me thinking of questions like: Could Brad Johnson kick goals against a defensive unit that takes pride in intercept marks and bursting out of the defensive 50? Could the 2000s brigade of midfielders overcome such an young, yet exuberant and talented midfield? and Could the defenders of the 2000s contain such a powerful, yet exciting forward line?
So without further ado, let's start rolling through both teams. Could the Western Bulldogs of 2000s match it with the Bulldogs of the 2010s?
2000s Western Bulldogs
Coach: Rodney Eade
Captain: Brad Johnson
B: Steven Kretiuk, Matthew Croft, Ryan Hargrave
HB: Lindsay Gilbee, Brian Lake, Jordan McMahon
C: Nathan Eagleton, Scott West, Rohan Smith
HF: Shaun Higgins, Chris Grant, Daniel Giansiracusa
F: Scott Welsh, Brad Johnson, Jason Akermanis
FOL: Luke Darcy, Daniel Cross, Adam Cooney
INT: Nathan Brown, Ben Hudson, Matthew Robbins, Mitch Hahn
First and foremost, I'll address a few notable omissions in the team - that being Robert Murphy, Dale Morris Matthew Boyd. I've left them out because simply I think their best football was in amongst the 2010s, despite Murphy playing virtually all of the 2000s, Boyd coming into the team in 2003 and Morris coming into the side in 2005. I'll explain more of the two when I get to the team of the 2010s.
The back six I think is a perfect combination of lock-down players and men that can give you run and drive out of the defensive 50. Brian Lake is a two-time All-Australian and a one-time Charlie Sutton Medallist and forms a mean key-defensive duo with Matthew Croft who played 186 games from 1991-2004. Steven Kretiuk was that dour back-pocket player capable of shutting down opposition small forwards from 1992-2003 and Ryan Hargrave is the modern-day mid-sized defender, capable of playing on both tall and small players, while the run and drive will provided by the likes of Jordan McMahon and Lindsay Gilbee in the flanks. Mitch Hahn's tough as nails approach to the footy will provide as the rotation for the defenders, but he has also shown that he can push forward and bag you a couple of goals.
Down at the other end, is a smaller-sized forward line than what we're accustomed to, but that was how the Rodney Eade-operated Bulldogs went about it in the late 2000s. They looked to a 182cm tall Brad Johnson as the spearhead of the Bulldogs' forward line, and the strange thing is that it worked. Johnson led the Bulldogs in goals kicked from 2005-08 with season tallies of 42, 74, 59 and 50. 'The Smiling Assassin' also led the Bulldogs in goals in 2001 when he bagged 48. A six-time All-Australian and a three-time Charlie Sutton Medallist, Johnson was one of those players who could give you a good haul of goals, whilst still averaging over 20 possessions a game, which in today's AFL would be seen as an extraordinary feat. The forward line boasts some incredible talent. Alongside Johnson are names like Grant, Akermanis, Giansiracusa and Brown. Players who would give you 30-40 goals a season no worries.
I don't think anyone can deny how much of a champion Chris Grant is. 341 games of experience and 554 career goals. Although the 2000s were his final years, he would've still given you 30-40 goals a season when he was fit. Former Lion and Brownlow medallist Akermanis came to the club at the end of the 2006 after a controversial exit from Brisbane, but played a starring role for the Bulldogs during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, where he bagged over 40 goals in each season, before facing a similar exit at the Whitten Oval, but his class with the ball was first-rate. Scott Welsh was another player that could've given you 30-40 goals a season, and even though he only played two seasons at the Bulldogs, he was a handy acquisition as the Dogs went back up the ladder in 2008.
Shaun Higgins and Daniel Giansiracusa occupy the flanks, both men can give 20 disposals and one or two goals per game, and having Nathan Brown and Matthew Robbins coming off the bench would give the Dogs some flexibility. Brown's best years were before he left the Western Bulldogs in 2002-03 when he would kick 57 goals in 02 and 56 goals in 03 - years when the Bulldogs struggled to put wins on the board and Robbins' best footy was as a forward pocket in the Rodney Eade days, and kicked 105 goals in 62 games between 2004-06.
A midfield starting with Scott West, Daniel Cross and Adam Cooney is a very potent midfield. West is amongs one of the club's all time great possession winners and is not only a seven-time club best and fairest, but a five-time All-Australian. Cross is amongst one of the most courageous players to ever pull on the red, white and blue, his ferocity towards the ball and his complete disregard to his safety when the game was in the balance made him one of the Bulldogs' fan favourites, and what can I say about Adam Cooney? In his prime, he was electric anytime he had the ball in his hand and his ability to burst from a stoppage was a thing of beauty. Anybody who says he didn't deserve his Brownlow in 2008 is talking complete nonsense.
You can also fling in there Brad Johnson, Jason Akermanis, Shaun Higgins, Nathan Eagleton and Rohan Smith in there and you have a midfield with a fair amount of depth and blessed with so much talent. Then you've got the 2002 AFLPA MVP and a former Charlie Sutton medallist in Luke Darcy in the Ruck. In his prime he was difficult to stop, whether he played forward or in the ruck, and he could win the team a fair amount of the ball, and with Ben Hudson playing as the back-up ruckman would allow Darcy to go forward and play that full-forward option. Eagleton and Smith have always been running players so having them occupy the wings was a no-brainer.
2010s Western Bulldogs
Coach: Luke Beveridge
Captain: Robert Murphy
B: Matthew Boyd, Joel Hamling, Dale Morris
HB: Jason Johannisen, Easton Wood, Robert Murphy
C: Lachie Hunter, Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae
HF: Luke Dahlhaus, Tom Boyd, Stewart Crameri
F: Tory Dickson, Barry Hall, Jake Stringer
FOL: Will Minson, Ryan Griffen, Tom Liberatore
INT: Jordan Roughead, Mitch Wallis, Callan Ward, Liam Picken
Is it any surprise that the Western Bulldogs' team of the 2010s feature 16 premiership players? If you answered yes, then you're wrong - it shouldn't. 15 of them came from last year's historic premiership team, which shows the talent that was on offer when it came to selecting this team. Former Swan Barry Hall was the other player to have played in a premiership, back in 2005. For those wondering why Bazza is in this team and not the 2000s, it was because he did come along to the Bulldogs in 2010 and kicked 135 goals in 39 games for the Bulldogs from 2010-11.
The Western Bulldogs' back six is blessed with incredible talent, led by the 'Big Three' veterans of Matthew Boyd, Dale Morris and Robert Murphy - all three of them could've been in the team of the 2000s, but I feel all three men have played their best footy in 2010s. Boyd was a two-time All-Australian between 2010-now, having moved from one of the game's elite ball-winners to one of the game's best ball-winning defenders. Morris' ability to play on both tall forwards and small forwards haven't wavered the moment he made his debut back in 2005, actually I think he has gotten better since returning from a broken leg in 2013, and then there's Bob, who's football coming off half-back has been like watching a fine wine - only getting better with age. Murphy was only an All-Australian captain only a couple of years ago, and he is still playing consistently solid footy has he returned from a knee injury last year. Combine the trio with last year's Norm Smith Medallist Jason Johannisen, 2015 All-Australian Easton Wood and premiership defender Joel Hamling, and it's a really good defensive unit.
But my intrigue would lie in who's midfield is better? Griffen and Minson could've also have been in the 2000s team, but I've felt that their best footy was in the 2010s. Both men were in the 2013 All-Australian team, with Minson starting ahead of Jordan Roughead due to his experience, Griffen was a two-time Charlie Sutton Medal winner, before his defection to Greater Western Sydney, but deserved his spot in the midfield all the same. Watching Griffen combine with fellow club best and fairest winners Marcus Bontempelli and Tom Liberatore would've something I would've loved to see. Libba's game has shades of his father and Brownlow Medallist Tony all over him and I can see Bontempelli's name in amongst the same group as Johnson, Grant and West when his career is over - legendary one-club players
Then we have possession accumulators Lachie Hunter and Jack Macrae named on the wings, despite the fact that Macrae can work as an inside midfielder as well as an outside player. Mitch Wallis and Callan Ward will be the midfield rotations, Ward made his debut in 2008, but I felt his best footy was in 2011, before he left the Bulldogs to go play at GWS as well, in which he has blossomed as a star for that franchise. I've named Luke Dahlhaus at half-forward because he can give you a goal or two as well as earn himself 20-25 possessions a night, but he is able to spend a lot of minutes in the midfield. Jake Stringer and Stewart Crameri are also capable of spending time in the guts, but they are also down forward because they can give you goals. Liam Picken is on the bench but can either play forward or in the middle.
There is a lot of flair in the Bulldogs' lineup, I'm keen to see if Tom Boyd and Barry Hall can co-exist in the forward line will be the most interesting thing to watch down forward. One was an established key forward who has snagged over 700 goals in his career. The other is only 21 and has probably been underwhelming since arriving at Whitten Oval, but he has still yet to hit his prime. With Tory Dickson in one pocket, you know you're more than likely going to get a clinic in front of goals as he is notorious for being accurate in front of the big sticks. Stringer can also put on a show, as he loves to take players on and kick big goals and his partner in crime Stewart Crameri can also give you 30 goals a season - he's done that the past five seasons he's played.
There is also Liam Picken coming off the bench, who is capable for taking leaps and is a very dangerous asset to have around the goals, especially during the Bulldogs' 2016 finals campaign, both ruckmen can provide a tall target down forward if they wanted to rest Hall or play Tom Boyd in the ruck as well. Lachie Hunter can push forward and provide goals, Marcus Bontempelli can be another option down forward, so their is not only a lot of flair down forward, but there is flexibility, and that's what Luke Beveridge looks for in a footy team.
Which Team Do You Think Is The Better One?