AFL grand final: Western Bulldogs have nine premiership players already, Melbourne have none

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Nearly half the Western Bulldogs players know what to expect on AFL grand final day, but only one Melbourne player does.

Even the smallest of advantages need to be seized on when it comes to winning a grand final, and the Western Bulldogs have a decent one as they prepare to take on Melbourne next Saturday.

The similarities to the Bulldogs’ 2016 premiership campaign in 2021 start and end with the team finishing outside the top four and having to win three cutthroat finals to get to the decider.

But this time the Bulldogs are no rank outsiders, having been in the top two on the AFL ladder for all bar the final two weeks of the season, not coming from seventh as they did in 2016 to end a 62-year flag drought.

That’s in their favour, no pressure to win a first flag in decades, which is the expectation the Demons are carrying as they look to end a 57-year premiership drought.

But another tick in the Bulldogs box is the nine players who have already tasted everything that grand final day brings; the nerves, the pressure. And they won.

The Demons are minor premiers and sentimental favourites for this year‘s flag, riding a wave of support similar to that enjoyed by the Bulldogs in 2016.

But Bulldogs midfielder Josh Dunkley, who was one of nine players from that premiership team who will run out against the Demons, said that experience could be invaluable.

Only Melbourne defender Jake Lever has played in a grand final, which he did with Adelaide in 2017.

The Bulldogs have Dunkley, captain Marcus Bontempelli, former captain Easton Wood, star midfielders Jack Macrae, Tom Liberatore, Caleb Daniel, Lachie Hunter, defender Zaine Cordy and Norm Smith medallist Jason Johannisen.

Adam Treloar also played in a grand final with Collingwood in 2018.

“I thought about that, sitting by myself, the way the build-up was for us in 2016, being a 65-year drought,” Dunkley, who was a first-year player in 2016, said.

“To have guys there and know what (Melbourne) are going through in a first grand final, I think, is really important, for sure, because you know what to expect from them.

“They’re going to come out with a full head of steam like we did in 2016 and it’s going to be an arm wrestle.

“They’re a great side, they’ve been one of the better sides all year, and we’ve had some great contests with them, so it’s going to be a great game.

“We know what to expect from them and they’re going to put their best foot forward.”

Dunkley said the build-up for the Bulldogs this time around, with two weeks between the preliminary final and the grand final, wasn’t as “crazy’ as the 2016 whirlwind with four straight weeks of games.

His own presence as a more experienced player too will be vital in helping “get around” those young Bulldogs players who, like the Demons, are looking for a grand final breakthrough.

“The build-up is a little bit different this time and being a little bit older and more experienced, helping the younger guys who haven’t seen finals footy before, it’s important we get around them,” Dunkley said.

“It was a crazy build-up in 2016, the way it happened, it all happened quickly. This week off allows us to enjoy it a little bit more.

“We had a lot of older guys then, and being one of the mature guys in the group now it’s important for me to do some of the things those guys did in 2016.”

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