Ed Richards And The Western Bulldogs Are Stuck In First Gear

Last Saturday night, and as the Western Bulldogs slumped to their third straight loss, Stats Insider’s Chief Data Analyst sent out a tweet that was pertinent for those invested in the Dog’s fortunes, and footy fans in general.

For the Doggies, season 2020 has been a familiar ride on board the erratic express.

Since their 2016 premiership, the club’s form has fluctuated drastically by the week, delivering a hefty mix of good, bad and indifferent output, often all served up within a single quarter of football.  

Watching the dogs over the last few seasons has been a frustrating exercise in studying a collection of very good, though fragile set of footballers, whom are shuffled maniacally around both at selection and within games, and who seem to fall to pieces when the initial game-plan is exposed.

If there’s a living, breathing embodiment of the contemporary Doggies, it’s indeed Ed Richards, and it’s why we need to talk about him.

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Taken number 16 overall in the 2017 draft, this young dog has all the talent to be doing a lot more, yet has laboured to a rather innocuous first 51 games at AFL level, with his flashes of talent often obscured by a disinterest in two-way football, and a proclivity for turnovers. 

Since Richards entered the league it’s as though he’s been stuck at 50 within a 60kmph zone, which, while not enough to be stripped of his licence, is cause for serious consternation among fellow drivers.

In three seasons, Richards hasn’t once had a 25-touch game. He’s slotted multiple goals on just three occasions, while his 2.3 tackles per game is indicative of a player not overly prepared to get his hands dirty. 

Yet, most concerning is Richard’s sloppiness when he does have the footy. His 40.7% kicking efficiency places him 35 of 37 at the Bulldogs, while his overall 61.8% disposal efficiency is a number only Billy Gowers (57.1%) and rookie Cody Weighman (55.1%) are performing worse in.

Like the Bulldogs, much was expected of Richards in season 2020. 

His team rampaged home last year to grab an improbable Finals spot, while the former Oakleigh Charger enjoyed his most consistent output for the club, averaging 3.6 score involvements and 3.3 tackles over his last eight games. 

And while the Dogs were ultimately belted by the Giants in their Elimination Final, a strong air of optimism pervaded the Bulldog’s off-season, considered a strong premiership hopeful among the bookies, with their squad enhanced by the additions of Josh Bruce and Alex Keath, and with Aaron Naughton and Tim English expected to take a leap- along with Richards.

If only the games themselves were played on paper, and if only premiership points were awarded for potential. 

This isn’t a team without serious talent. Marcus Bontempelli is a Brownlow medal waiting to happen. Jack Macrae is an elite midfielder, while Josh Dunkley is approaching that territory. Caleb Daniel might find himself in the All-Australian team this year, while both English and Naughton are two of the league’s best young talents at their positions. 

Yet at 5-6, the Dogs are floundering. Their percentage is dismal, while only the winless Adelaide Crows are conceding more points per game. 

Indeed it’s defence which is the most troubling aspect for the Dogs at the moment. Simply put, when they don’t have the ball in their hands, they become a dreadful team. 

Richmond, the definitive masters of the counter attack, have already produced wins this season when losing the disposal count. That’s as many wins the Dogs have mustered in 4 years in the same situation. 

When the Dogs have the ball they look good, and they win matches. They’re 16-6 over the last couple of seasons when they’ve amassed more touches than their opponents. When they don’t, they seemingly don’t have an appetite for the contest, nor the tactical sophistication to conjure up a battle plan when things aren't going their way. 

When the Bulldogs won the flag they were a clearance and contested ball beast, ranked first in both areas, with a +6.5 clearance differential and +16.5 contested disposal differential speaking to a maniacal ‘see ball, get ball’ mentality perhaps best embodied by the likes of the now-retried trio of Liam Picken, Dale Morris and Clay Smith.

The Dogs appetite, like their 2016 flag, is now the stuff of a beautiful memory.

They've slumped towards the bottom in these key areas, while their 48.5 tackles per game is the 5th worst mark in the league.

If you squint hard enough at the Dogs, and Ed Richards, you can make out a seriously good team, and player, however when your eyes relax, they're left with an image of a club and player just ambling along, and one fast being overtaken by much more ambitious outfits.

As its stands, the Dogs seem destined to finish between 6th and 13th for a sixth straight season, which is indeed the very definition of mediocrity, and which is why we needed to have this talk.

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James Rosewarne

James is a writer and Managing Editor at Stats Insider. He likes fiction and music. He is a stingray attack survivor. 

Email- james@thehypometer.com for story ideas or opportunities.

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