Western Bulldogs dasher Jason Johannisen has conceded the club's leadership group has not performed to on-field expectations, in a year when the Dogs appear almost certain to again miss the finals.
Memories of the breakthrough premiership in 2016 have quickly dissipated, prompting even coach Luke Beveridge to question whether that success had come too early in the team's growth cycle.
The Dogs had hoped to rebound this year and rekindle the manic pressure which underpined their premiership but form issues, a battle to kick goals, and injuries have contributed to a sub-par campaign, leaving them in 14th spot heading into Saturday's clash against North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium.
Johannisen, the Norm Smith Medallist in that stunning win over the Swans, said the leadership group this year had not provided the on-field drive required. This group comprises skipper Easton Wood, vice-captain Marcus Bontempelli, Lachie Hunter, Jack Redpath, Jordan Roughead and Johannisen.
"As a leadership group, we have probably let the team down a bit. We haven't been consistent with our performances," Johannisen said on Tuesday.
"We have to step up ourselves but, in saying that, the young players, like Ed Richards, and Aaron Naughton has been in the team, and Josh Schache, they have shown some promising signs and they have played some good footy. It's exciting to see. We just have to keep the attitude at training and try and get everyone going and try and improve."
The Dogs attempted to turn Wood into a forward this year but that plan was abandoned after he struggled. He may now not play again this season, having ripped his hamstring in the heavy loss to Port Adelaide.
Bontempelli, averaging 22 touches per game, remains a match-winner but is not having the impact he once had, Hunter has had a strong season, averaging 28 possessions, behind only Jack Macrae (32), Redpath has been restricted to only two senior matches because of suspension and injury, while Roughead's career is at the crossroads, with even Beveridge publicly questioning his form.
Johannisen, often used as a half-forward, has had a modest season, averaging 19 touches but he had only 13 against the Power and 14 against Collingwood in round 10.
The Dogs have lost their past four matches by 37 points (Adelaide), 35 (Collingwood), 49 (Melbourne) and 57 (Port Adelaide) and are dealing with a series of injuries heading into the clash against the Roos.
Bontempelli will need to pass a fitness test on his hyper-extended knee, having fallen awkwardly against the Power. Midfielder Lukas Webb will miss three weeks because of a broken thumb, Macrae, having enjoyed All-Australian form and rated a Brownlow Medal chance, is nursing a strained hamstring, Toby McLean has a shoulder issue, while ruckman-forward Tom Boyd has a compound dislocation of his finger.
"I have been in this position before – when your back is against the wall, the team really gels well together," Johannisen said.
"The attitude is the boys want to get better and they want to improve. We just have to work hard and do that."
Jon Pierik is a sports writer with The Age, focusing primarily on AFL football, cricket and basketball. He has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.
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