We are just over a fortnight removed from the Western Bulldogs' last game of the 2017 season, but it already looks as if the player movement is in full swing, as it was reported on Wednesday night through various sources, it looks as if season 2017 could very well be Jake Stringer's last season in the red, white and blue.
A tweet from highly-respected journalist and a huge Western Bulldogs supporter in Mark Stevens stated that:
"Murmurs turning into thunder tonight re Jake Stringer leaving the Bulldogs in trade period. Big currency, big chance."
This is unquestionably another massive development in the Western Bulldogs' disasterous 2017 season, which saw last year's premiers miss the Finals altogether this year, finishing in 10th place with a record of 11 wins and 11 losses, and since the news broke of Stringer reportedly being unhappy with how things are turning out, social media has gone bananas, with some saying that he should leave and others wanting the Bulldogs to hang onto him and do whatever it takes to ensure that Stringer stays beyond 2018 - which is when his current contract expires.
Things haven't been exactly going to the script that both Jake Stringer and the Western Bulldogs would've wanted, after Stringer was rewarded for an outstanding 2015 season with a spot in the All-Australian team. Stringer booted 56 goals in just 22 games - sitting him sixth in the league's leading goal-kickers that year. This would include a career-best six goals against Adelaide, two bags of five goals and five bags of four goals.
Despite all the awards and recognition, I believe it might just be this one night in 2015 that could've spelt the beginning of what I now consider the massive downward spiral of Jake Stringer. Round 12 of the 2015 AFL season saw the Western Bulldogs play the lowly Brisbane Lions in a game that the Bulldogs were expected to win, given that the Dogs won four of their first five to begin the year, and they delivered a 72-point win over the Lions at Etihad.
But it was the commentary from one Brian Taylor that started the whole "Package" phenomenon, when he yelled out that he would be declared as 'The Package' due to the fact that he had everything you could have in a player. A player that possesses brute strength, yet have the agility and pace to be either a lead-up, strong marking forward or a player that crumbs the ball at ground level. He also managed to slot goals from pockets and from his opposite foot, and once you watched his performance then and there, it wasn't hard to see why 'BT' would label him as such.
It was a good nickname and one that would be sure to stick, however, my huge concern was that sort of stuff can bring a level of big-headedness to a player as young as Stringer - he was 21 at the time - and that can certainly play a huge factor going forward. But it didn't seem to faze him too much as he kept on kicking goals as the Dogs marched towards September. In the Elimination Final against Adelaide, Stringer would kick a massive goal in the fourth quarter to up the margin to seven points midway through the term, and even though it wasn't Stringer's best performance that evening, the seeds were planted in what should be a storied career.
However it hasn't turned out the way any of us would've thought. Despite a strong start to the year, booting five goals on Fremantle in the opening round of the 2016 season, Stringer's 2016 was plagued with inconsistencies. He would have good performances followed up games in which he was hardly seen. A shoulder injury against the Gold Coast late in the year saw him miss the following week, but upon his return, it looked apparent that he was very down on confidence and after a poor effort against Collingwood in which he only kicked a goal from 11 disposals, Luke Beveridge dropped him down to VFL level in a move that reportedly didn't sit well with Stringer.
But he got the call back just in time for the Finals, and despite an inspiring three-goal game against the Hawks in the semi-final, Stringer's Finals Series was anything but impressive, in the Grand Final, he kicked a crucial goal in the fourth quarter to take his side seven points ahead 10 minutes into the final quarter. It was the first of four goals the Dogs kicked in the quarter en route to their first premiership in 62 years. Despite all the inconsistencies, Stringer still kicked 42 goals for the year.
It's hard enough to be a 21/22-year old young man and have the a massive amount of expectation on the field, but then comes the matters off the field.
Stringer separated from his long-time partner Abby Gilmore midway through the 2016 season, but managed to keep it under wraps until the beginning of the 2017 season. The pair have two little girls. Now as to why they separated is none of my business and something I really can't say, but some have gone out and raised theories and rumours about the pair.
But both Gilmore and Stringer took to social media to squash these rumours. Stringer in particular was very angry about these rumours and took to Instagram quoting:
"Abby is the best mum to my little girls and has not done one thing WRONG EVER."
And goes further, quoting that:
"Jason is a brother to ME...It's all bulls**t"!!"
Whether or not people choose to believe it or not is a different story, but this was in amidst all the rumours that there was infighting at the footy club, because the Western Bulldogs that went out on the field in 2017 wasn't the same team that won the premiership in 2016 - a rumour which I must say has cooled off a fair amount as the season progressed.
But Stringer's 2017 campaign was just as hampered with injury as it was with inconsistency. Stringer played 16 games in 2017, he missed two games with a knee injury he sustained in the round seven win against Richmond and then suffered a hamstring injury on two occasions late in the year - once against Carlton in round 17, causing him to miss three weeks and then against Port Adelaide in round 22, causing him to miss the last game against Hawthorn.
He still managed to lead the Bulldogs' goal kicking by the end of the season, tying with Liam Picken with 24 goals, with a five-goal match-winning performance against St. Kilda in round 10 the only massive highlight in this year. But there were times all throughout the 2017 season which saw Stringer lack the work ethic required to be the star he should be. I think back to the Adelaide game in round 16, after an impressive first half, I caught him lagging behind many of Adelaide's defenders as they brought the ball out of their defensive half.
He's better than that, I know it, the club knows it, he knows it and hopefully you loyal Bulldog supporters reading this know it.
So with the club not playing finals this year, the Western Bulldog players all go and have their exit interviews before the players go away for a short holiday.
SEN's David Schwarz believes that when Stringer arrived for his meeting, he was expecting things to go alright because what had been a difficult year, instead he was dealt with a lot of home truths about the way he prepared for a game, the way he trained and his rehabilitation from his injuries and things broke down midway through the meeting and he stormed out visibly upset.
Stringer's team mate Mitch Wallis didn't say that the relationship between the Stringer and the Western Bulldogs was fractured or estranged, but it was implied that the club needed Stringer to 'fully commit' to the club and that Stringer wanted to stay a Bulldog, but as of this moment it's all still up in the air, despite the fact that Stringer is contracted until the end of 2018.
Say that he does want out and the relationship with Luke Beveridge and the football club is beyond repair - Where does he go? What will the club take in as compensation? As of this moment, North Melbourne, Essendon, St. Kilda, Port Adelaide and Geelong have all expressed interest in the All-Australian forward with several trade ideas and scenarios already being tossed up, but if the Dogs do decide to trade him away before his contract expires, they would have to get something pretty good in return, as heavy as the baggage he's carrying, he's still 23, a former top-five draft pick and has proven to be a match-winner.
The ones I've heard the most is an exchange with North Melbourne that will see the Bulldogs acquire the fourth overall pick from North Melbourne and possibly a later exchange of picks, but the bottom line is that the Bulldogs could have two picks in the top 10 - one at pick four and the other at pick nine and with the draft supposedly full of talent once again this season, it would be an interesting scenario for the Western Bulldogs if it came to this.
Geelong may be prepared to give up one or both of Daniel Menzel and Steven Motlop in some sort of package deal - personally I don't really want Motlop as he's proven to be as inconsistent, if not worse than Stringer, but Menzel I wouldn't mind, despite his history of knee injuries. Menzel has been fantastic since returning from his fourth knee reconstruction. Menzel kicked 32 goals in 18 games last year and backed it up with a very accurate 38.14 this year in just 17 games and at 25 years of age, his best footy is yet to come.
Port Adelaide have also heavily enquired about Stringer, and with the Dogs heavily linked to Power swingman Jackson Trengove, perhaps can work out some sort of deal there, however, it looks likely that Stringer will want to stay on Victorian ground for his two kids, which is incredibly understandable, but it makes things just that little bit harder for the Bulldogs to facilitate a trade.
Whether or not Stringer's decision to leave will impact the club negatively, Wallis said it best when he told SEN on Thursday morning that time will tell whether or not Stringer wants out. He has the talent to be a monster in the AFL, that is undeniable, but if Jake Stringer cannot 110 percent commit to this club in the long term and be a part of a potential AFL dynasty, then the Western Bulldogs must deal him away this off-season.
I know it sounds harsh and it does hurt me to say it, because I loved watching this man develop himself into a star in 2015, and this may come with a bit of backlash, but there are still around 40 men, both young and old, on this Western Bulldogs list that would give it all they have. Having guys like Stringer who don't do the work to be a bona fide superstar kind of starts making you seriously question about whether there is problems internally at the club or not.
Jake Stringer, the decision is in your hands now - Will you stay or will you go?