Sam Hargreaves and Bob Murphy discussing the VU Data Lab findings on the Finals Countdown

The VU Data Lab look’s into the performance of players using the AFL Player Rating, thanks to Victoria University and Western Bulldog’s PhD Candidate Sam McIntosh, PhD.

Last weekend’s Semi-Final saw the Western Bulldogs continue with their Elimination Final form. In particular, two players stood out in the tight, one-point win.

Bailey Smith affirmed himself as a big game player, with his two finals matches being two of his three best games so far this season. While his two final quarter goals were the obvious highlight, and had a large part to play in this week’s overall rating, he has also had a noticeable improvement in his link up play and defensive actions.

The figure below outlines Bailey’s top 10 most impactful quarters this season, in which his first and fourth quarters from each of the two previous weeks (Elimination and Semi-Final) register.

Baily Smith Best Rated quarters graph, semi final Q4 is top, then round 1 & 7 Q2, semi final Q1, Elim final Q4,

The other stand out was Jack Macrae, who picked up where he left off last week in regards to winning possession of the ball. His past two performances in finals have been by far his best this season for this particular aspect of his game, and have boosted his season average enough to move him into the top ten midfielders in this statistical category for 2021.

The figure below outlines the range of averages for these top ten midfielders, and overlays Jack’s individual performances across the season to outline just how noteworthy these finals performances have been.

 range of averages for these top ten midfielders, and overlays Jack’s individual performances across the season to outline just how noteworthy these finals performances have been.


Pressure when it counts

One of the main takeaways after the Elimination Final against Essendon was the season high ratings from pressure throughout the second half of the match. While they didn’t go on to eclipse this against Brisbane, it rated as a very close second.

If we take a look at the figure below which outlines the second half pressure ratings for Western Bulldogs across the season, there is something in common with all of the five highest-rated games. All were matches that went down to the wire (margin was below 10 points within the final quarter), and Bulldogs went on to win. Some of the major improvers in the Bulldogs’ back-to-back season high performances are highlighted in the second figure below.

Western Bulldogs second half ratings from pressure graph, highest rating vs Brisbane, Essendon, Melbourne, Fremantle, Port Adelaide


Western Bulldogs Finals Vs Season average shows A. McNaughtan, B. Dale. J Mcrae, & T English have the greatest improvement

A look at this week’s preliminary final

Both Western Bulldogs and Port Adelaide come into the Preliminary Final with a fairly similar accumulation of rating points in most areas. The same can be said for the two previous matches they’ve had against one another this season, with very little separating the two and each team coming away with one win a piece. If anything could be highlighted from these two matches, it’s that the team which ended up winning was the team most influential with their ball use, particularly by hand.

For the Bulldogs, getting first hands on the ball at stoppages has proved pivotal over the past two weeks. While the Western Bulldogs have by far the largest clearance differential of any team this season, their differential in scoring from those clearances is well below that of each of our final’s opponents (Essendon, Brisbane, and now Port Adelaide). However, over the past two weeks the Bulldogs have been able to eclipse both Essendon and Brisbane in not only total clearances, but at scoring from those clearances also.

The figure below outlines the percentage in which each of the 2021 final’s teams have outscored their opponent from clearances. This gives a fairly good indication of just how damaging Port Adelaide (as well as Essendon and Brisbane) are if they’re able to win the clearance battle. As such, continuing on with their ball winning dominance at stoppages will once again be pivotal in order to overcome Port Adelaide this week.

Graph, scoring from clearance vs opponents, shows Bulldogs 3rd lowest of 8

Tune in for the VU Data Lab on Saturday 11 September

Fans will be able to tune into a special online pre-game show, The Finals Countdown, hosted by Sam Hargreaves and former Bulldogs Captain Bob Murphy from 5pm Saturday before the game at 7:20pm.

Hosts will share more insight from the VU Data Lab and how the team might approach the Preliminary Final.

Please visit the Western Bulldogs website to catch the Preliminary Final edition of the Western Bulldogs Finals Countdown show featuring the VU Data Lab.

Good luck this weekend Doggies!