Leading into the trade period the Western Bulldogs were making headlines for all the wrong reasons with the controversy surrounding Jake Stringer. After he nominated Essendon as his preferred club of choice, they took a firm stance in demanding Essendon’s first-round pick in the upcoming draft (pick 11) be part of the deal. They then rejected a deal from the Bombers that included pick 11 and were forced to sit idly by and watch that coveted pick shipped off to GWS in a deal for Devon Smith.
A few more days of negotiations ultimately led to nothing and as the clock was striking midnight, the Dogs looked every bit like turning into a pumpkin. At 12 pm last Thursday, this was going to be a very scathing review to say the least. Their relationship with Stringer was irreparable and their resolute demand for a first round pick seemed to be their demise as Essendon had none left to give them. By the time the trade deadline arrived at 2pm, some outside-the-box thinking and astute dealing saw them send Stringer to the Bombers, get that first round pick they were after and bring in a young promising forward in Josh Schache to fill the void.
What they’re gaining
The Bulldogs made the first move of the trade period signing Jackson Trengove from Port Adelaide as a free agent. Securing his services and giving up nothing in return was a great result for the club and he’ll fill the void at centre-half back, freeing up Easton Wood to play a floating third defender role and Jordan Roughead to play solely in the ruck. Trengove at his best was a key defensive force in the Port Adelaide system, but a string of injuries and solid play from youngsters Jack Hombsch and Tom Clurey meant he could not get back into their best 22. At only 27 years of age he still has a few years of good football left in him.
An under-the-radar acquisition for the Dogs, they traded for Hayden Crozier and a 2018 fourth round pick from Fremantle for pick 40 and 82 in the 2017 draft. I liken this move to them trading for Shane Biggs back in 2014. They sent pick 37 to Sydney for Biggs and pick 39 dropping in the draft two spots to get him. Biggs was a fringe player starved for opportunities at Sydney and not relatively well-known in the Melbourne football bubble. He slotted into the Bulldogs half-back flank and became a solid member of their 2016 premiership side. I expect similar results from Crozier. Bringing him in for relatively cheap and with him being not particularly well-known in Melbourne, he’ll slot in on the opposite half-back flank and be a solid role player in their side.
The Josh Schache pickup was their best move of the trade period. They gave up pick 25 and pick 40 to sign the 2015 No.2 overall pick. Only 20 years old, Schache is full of unrealised potential and years in front of him to turn it into a great career. From a limited sample-size Schache has shown glimpses of being a dominant forward, however he appeared to play like someone unhappy with their situation. Hopefully, being back home with a strong support network of family and friends at his side can help him play his best footy for the Bulldogs. What makes this deal so great is that they didn’t give up a lot to get him so the risk isn’t as significant. If he fulfils his potential, he’ll be their star key forward for the next decade. If it doesn’t pan out, they only gave up two mid-tier picks and their future list development is still well intact.
What they’re losing
Once a beloved premiership star, a combination of off-field issues and allegedly poor training habits saw Jake Stringer fall out of favour with the club and put on the trade table. Rumours swirled surrounding his character flaws, personal standards and commitment levels as the Bulldogs’ reasoning for him to seek a new home. This combined with reports from his ex-wife Abbey Gilmore accusing him of infidelity and a gambling addiction culminated in a spectacular fall from grace for the 2015 All-Australian and 2016 premiership player.
As Stringer walks out the door, so too does their X-factor. Every great club needs that kind of special player who can create a moment of magic and turn a game on its head. Geelong had Stevie J; Hawthorn has Cyril Rioli. Stringer was that man for the Bulldogs. Looking at their list, it’s hard to see where that will come from now he’s been shown the door.
Trade period performance
The Jake Stringer saga was handled by the Western Bulldogs as poorly as any player exit we’ve ever seen. You’d expect that their decision to seek a trade for him would see them be accommodating in making a deal. That could not have been further from the truth as they demanded a first-round pick from Essendon and stubbornly stuck to it. Even when Essendon packaged a deal of pick 11 and pick 46 for Stringer and pick 28, they sent them back to the drawing board. They were in no position to strong-arm the Bombers and it backfired massively. The karma bus hit them with full force on its way through as they watched Essendon give them the proverbial finger and send their first-round pick to GWS. To add salt to the wound they sent a future second-round pick to gold Coast for Adam Saad. The Dogs made an absolute mess of the situation and were left scrambling to make a deal at the deadline, eventually accepting a package of pick 25 and pick 30 from the Bombers.
They could’ve easily walked away with their tail between their legs, but to their credit they picked up the phone and got creative to get that first-round pick they were after. They struck a deal with Carlton sending them picks 28 and 30 in exchange for picks 16 and 40. Again not resting on their laurels they got on the phone to Brisbane to enquire about Josh Schache and kept their newly acquired first-round pick out of the deal to secure his services. This was a great turnaround for the club and the only danger now going forward is they may have stolen Essendon’s reputation as a club impossible to deal with. Hopefully, this isn’t the case. Coming out of the trade period with two first-round picks in what is tipped to be a shallow draft pool is a great result given the circumstances, They enter the 2017 NAB AFL Draft with picks 9, 16, 82 and 101.
The question looms whether 2017 was just an outlier or the norm for the Bulldogs. The reality is that their premiership run from 7th on the ladder in 2016 was just a solid season capped off by a magical month of football. The highest they’ve finished a regular season since 2010 is 6th, and their list hasn’t dramatically improved since then. Clubs like Essendon and Port Adelaide are moving past them with major list improvements. They can take solace in their success of 2016 and the openness of the competition, but their only hope of success in 2018 is to scrape into the finals and put together another miraculous September. Realistically I see their ceiling as a 5th or 6th finish and a possible preliminary final. Their floor could be as low as 14th on the ladder and a serious look at a list overhaul. Most likely outcome will see them locked in a battle for a spot in the 8 that goes down to the wire and a first-round finals exit should they make it.
Overall trade period rating: B-
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