Season review: Western Bulldogs

IT WAS A season of transition for the Western Bulldogs.

With former coach Paul Groves, skipper Katie Brennan and best and fairest winner Monique Conti all moving on, it was always going to be a tough ask to make finals in 2020.

Coach: Nathan Burke

Leadership group: Ellie Blackburn (captain), Izzy Huntington, Kirsty Lamb, Hannah Scott, Lauren Spark

2020 finishing position: Sixth in Conference B, one win, five losses, 72.8 per cent.

Best win: Western Bulldogs 6.3 (39) defeated St Kilda 2.2 (14)
The Bulldogs' best performance was arguably against Fremantle, in the competition's highest-scoring match, but their only win came off the back of a first-quarter onslaught against the Saints. Bonnie Toogood starred up forward, while Ellie Blackburn and Kirsty Lamb were strong in the middle.

AFLW Match Highlights: St Kilda v Western Bulldogs

04:40 Feb 9. 2020. 5:16 PM

The Saints and Bulldogs clash in Round 1 of the AFLW

Best individual performance: Ellie Blackburn's round one performance was the only Dog's game to be awarded best afield honours in the AFLCA votes this season. The skipper was at her very best, racking up 17 disposals, four marks and four inside-50s.

Club best and fairest candidates: Ellie Blackburn, Izzy Huntington, Kirsty Lamb

NAB AFLW Rising Star nominations: Gabby Newton (round four), Izzy Huntington (round six)

Debutants: Elisabeth Georgostathis, Britney Gutknecht, Katy Herron, Gemma Lagioia, Danielle Marshall, Nell Morris-Dalton, Hannah Munyard, Gabby Newton, Amelia Van Oosterwijck

Retirees: Nicole Callinan

Most improved: Irishwoman Aisling McCarthy made the jump from the forward line to the midfield in her second season of footy, and it was a good move by Nathan Burke. McCarthy thrived among the chaos of stoppages and was one of her side's best this season. Honourable mention to Kirsten McLeod.

Star recruit: Danielle Marshall became the first American to play in the AFLW, and the first American to play at the top level after starting to play the game in her native country. The versatile Marshall did her best work up forward and slotted into the line-up with ease.

Blackburn brilliantly burns off Saints then hollers for a Marshall

00:39 Feb 9. 2020. 3:37 PM

Ellie Blackburn brilliantly sidesteps her opponent to set up American debutante Danielle Marshall to kick her first goal with her first kick in AFLW

Unsung hero: Ruck Kim Rennie flies under the radar among the talls in the competition, but stood up well in the absence of Celine Moody (ankle). She recorded career-best stats of 15.7 hitouts and 7.7 disposals this year, her third season.

What worked:

- Turning forward Izzy Huntington into a centre half-back was one of the positional moves of the season. The highly talented key was able to employ her strong marking and game sense to great effect, and after three years ruined by injury, finally got some continuity in her game.

- The Dogs are undergoing a generational shift, and as the season progressed, the youngsters started to find their feet in their first season. Elisabeth Georgostathis and Gemma Lagioia bring elite speed to the backline and attack respectively, while Gabby Newton was a strong presence in the middle.

Newton stands up in the tackle

00:26 Feb 22. 2020. 4:40 PM

Dogs' top selection Gabby Newton was crunched but got a handball away in this Special K Strong Play

What needs improvement:

- We saw the Western Bulldogs' best footy in round six, in what turned out to be the side's final game. The Dogs, usually a proponent of a short-kicking game, played on often and used more handballing against Fremantle. It resulted in their highest score for the season, and hopefully we see it more often in 2021.

- The midfield was a bit hit-and-miss for the Bulldogs in 2020. Occasionally it all clicked, but more often than not, Ellie Blackburn and Kirsty Lamb were left with the heavy lifting. The Dogs had the second-lowest average disposal count in the competition.

Season in a song: The Kids are Coming (Tones and I). The Bulldogs brought in eight 18-year-olds in the 2019 NAB AFLW Draft, and all except Issy Grant (toe) made their debuts. They're well set up for the future.

Early call for 2021: It could be another year of maintenance for the Dogs, who would be hoping to increase their number of wins from one to three.

Season rating: 4.5/10