Can Luke Beveridge Become The Undisputed King Of The Western Suburbs?
When Liam Picken slammed home the sealer with 3 minutes to go on Grand Final day 2016, few knew if this soon-to-be minted Western Bulldogs premiership outfit was a flash in the pan or the real deal.
The Dogs didn’t make the finals in the subsequent two seasons and even when they did return in 2019 and 2020 they were immediately ousted in Elimination finals.
However in 2021, something has changed to the extent that these Bulldogs have been exceptionally hard to muzzle.
They spent 20 of the league’s 23 rounds in the top-4 missing out on their first double-chance in 11 years owing to a late season capitulation that ran the risk of derailing an overly brilliant campaign.
Instead of wilting the Dogs have dug deep, first stifling Essendon in Launceston before downing the Lions at the Gabba by a solitary point. Their progression to a second Grand Final in five years was sealed with a 71-point evisceration of Port Adelaide.
While all manner of change has taken place over the last five years at the Whitten Oval the one constant has been Luke Beveridge who this Saturday night has the chance to cement his name as the greatest figure in the Bulldogs’ 144-year history.
Why Does Everyone Love Bevo?
To answer that question you need to look at both the way he conducts himself and the way he instructs his team to play.
Looking at the former, ‘Bevo’ is the typical ‘man’s manager’ and one that can issue out tough love while also promoting a relatable, progressive vibe that's so essential among a young playing group. There’s that wicked sense of humour and heart on the sleeve emotion while there’s also that magnificent mane of hair which at 51 is as buoyant and striking as ever.
In 2021 his team was one of the league’s most attractive sides to watch employing a free-flowing brand of attacking football whilst maintaining plenty of inside grit and toughness.
In the home and away season only Brisbane kicked more total points than the Dogs, while this attack has withstood the loss of Josh Bruce staggeringly well posting 117 points in their preliminary final which was the most Port had surrendered all season.
The midfield of Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae, Josh Dunkley, Tom Liberatore, Bailey Smith and Adam Treloar led the league with a +5.9 clearance differential, leaping from it’s 10th rank last season while only Melbourne (+8.5) produced a better inside-50 differential.
This year’s Dogs are incredibly balanced and play with the kind of freedom and joy which has been a joy to watch and which has been a key pillar of Beveridge's teams.
Is there a difference between Beveridge in 2016 and 2021?
In the five years since the Dogs were last on the big stage the Bulldog's coach has tweaked his system and rationale.
In 2016, Beveridge embraced their underdog status by first knocking out the Eagles in Perth before ousting a Hawthorn side searching for a 4th-straight flag. They booked their first grand final appearance in 55 years by beating the Giants in Western Sydney and were one of just two teams since 2007 to do so with a three-quarter time deficit.
A second club premiership was confirmed a week later when the Dogs beat Sydney on the MCG and which was their 4th-straight win as outsiders.
The 2021 Bulldogs have themselves been hunted throughout the year spending 19-straight weeks in either first or second spot between round's 3 and 20. Throughout the Finals they’ve played with the confidence of a club that’s been here before and knows what’s needed to advance.
This 2021 team is also packing a lot more talent than the one who made their famous breakthrough five years ago.
That 2016 version didn’t have a true lynchpin key forward while it’s contemporary midfield maestros in Bontempelli and Macrae were only in seasons 3 and 4 of their epic footballing journeys.
That side was built on manic pressure all around the ground and backed by a stout defence led by one of the greatest bulldogs of all time in Dale Morris.
That 2016 team led the league in both contested possession and clearance differential while they ranked 2nd in both total tackles and tackles inside 50.
Whilst this level of pressure wasn’t as prevalent in 2021, a different kind of dominance has shone through.
This Bulldogs team is a significantly more skilled one than the 2016 edition which ranked just 9th for disposal efficiency and 12th for points scored and which are in sharp contrast to being ranked 4th and 2nd in those categories this time round.
What’s also helped massively with the 2021 team is a far sharper presence inside-50 and which has been led by Aaron Naughton but has also enjoyed the services of Josh Bruce for large parts of the season. The Bulldogs 12.8 marks inside-50 per game was the league’s strongest figure this year whereas in 2016 they ranked just 14th in that realm averaging 11.3 per game.
Luke Beveridge is 120 minutes away from history.
Should he lead this Bulldog side to a second flag in five years he would perhaps become the greatest single individual bulldog figure in history.
Just like in 2016 his chargers will be up against the minor premiers and enter their Grand Final showdown as outsiders.
With that said, few would bet against a team that's continually shown its ability to step up in the biggest moments and particularly when their backs are against the wall.
And particularly one coached by Luke Beveridge.
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