Table-topping Dogs may be breed apart

Western Bulldogs skipper Robert Murphy keeps getting better with age. Photo: Getty Images.
Western Bulldogs skipper Robert Murphy keeps getting better with age. Photo: Getty Images. Robert Cianflone

WE'RE only two rounds into the season and already the challengers to Hawthorn's three-year reign are either being crossed off the list or have a very big question mark next to them.

Fremantle started the year on the third line of betting to win the premiership with most bookmakers at $9 alongside Geelong, followed by Port Adelaide ($11), Sydney ($12) and Richmond ($14).

However, after two ordinary displays from both the rapidly declining Dockers and the sapped Power, their odds have blown out to as much as $23. The toothless Tigers, too, have drifted from a starting price of $14 to $23.

Although West Coast remains firm at $5.50 behind Hawthorn ($4.50), the Eagles still don't appear flag material after again being left in a flap at the MCG by their 2015 grand final conquerors.

On the flip side, while Sydney and Geelong are genuine threats, in the Western Bulldogs, the competition may have found its new top dog as far as contenders go.

The Year of the Dog isn't due until 2018 (if you follow the Chinese calendar), but the boys from Whitten Oval appear ready to pounce in 2016.

After going from snatching a finals berth last season to leading the ladder following comprehensive wins over Freo and St Kilda, they have jumped from the pack, from $18 to $8 to sit among the Cats and Swans.

Like a dog with a bone, they have been absolutely burying their opposition.

They are perfecting "keepings off", having racked up 238 marks and 980 disposals in two rounds, 482 - the fifth-most ever recorded in a game - coming against the Dockers.

In particular, recently re-signed revelation Lachie Hunter (averaging 33 disposals), Jack Macrae (30) and Tom Liberatore (25) have had the ball on a string around the middle.

The Bulldogs' offensive game, which first made the competition sit up and take notice last season, has maintained the rage even without Tory Dickson (injured) and Stewart Crameri (suspended) available.

And they most certainly now have their defensive structure in place, conceding just 74 points so far.

While the side is constantly referred to as the "young Bulldogs", that backline has as much experience as any in the league, built around defensive stalwart Dale Morris, and fellow veterans captain Robert Murphy and former skipper Matthew Boyd.

And with that trio 33, their time is now, not in two years.

The defence has been coach Luke Beveridge's masterpiece, shifting long-time half-forward Murphy and inside-midfielder Boyd - yes, old dogs, new tricks and all that - bringing in Shane Biggs from Sydney, Matt Suckling from Hawthorn and relative unknown Marcus Adams from the WAFL and getting the very best out of All Australian Easton Wood and All Australian-to-be Jason Johannisen.

No one would begrudge the Bulldogs a flag due to the way they take the game on, but also because of their history - it has been 62 years since they won their one and only.

The test of their premiership credentials will come this Sunday against the team that's won the past three.

Whichever way it goes, these Dogs won't be rolling over easily.



Performances so far in 2016

Scott Thompson (ADEL) 33 Club No.1 for disposals (29.5 ave)

Kade Simpson (CARL) 30 Club No.1 for disposals (28 ave)

Corey Enright (GEEL) 34 Club No.2 for disposals (22.5 ave)

Gary Ablett (GC) 31 Club No.2 for disposals (28.5 ave)

Sam Mitchell (HAW) 33 League No.1 disposals (36.5 ave)

Josh Gibson (HAW) 32 Club No.2 disposals (34ave)

Jarrad Waite (NM) 33 Club No.1 for goals (8 total)

Nick Riewoldt (SK) 33 Club No.1 for marks (19 total)

Leigh Montagna (SK) 32 Club No.2 for disposals (30 ave)

Robert Murphy (WB) 33 (left) Club No.4 for disposals (29.5 ave)

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