AFL: Luke Beveridge adamant Western Bulldogs are not rebuilding

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Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge says his bid to create more selection pressure for his senior players should not be confused with an attempt at a rebuild.

Beveridge said he did not intend to send “mixed” messages with his coaching during the Bulldogs’ 2-3 start to the season and rebuilding was no longer possible in the AFL.

The coach said the club had “no regrets” over its handling of Tom Liberatore’s on-field collapse following a head knock during Friday night’s loss to Essendon that was now believed to have been a “concussive episode”.

In his post-match press conference Beveridge had initially repeated Liberatore’s claim that his fall was due to an ankle tweak, but it is understood the coach had not seen the camera angle that suggested the incident was medical-related.

“We’re ultra conservative … the interesting thing about Tom’s situation, to come in and pass the concussion test, totally lucid – everything was saying that he was OK, but ultimately there was an episode,” Beveridge said on Tuesday.

“If we missed it, (the AFL) would alert us to it. Thankfully, he seems like he’s OK, but we’re ultra conservative and our medical staff will make sure we put him through the ringer to ensure other than the head side of things that everything else is in working order.”

Beveridge linked Liberatore’s absence against St Kilda on Thursday to his aim to create more midfield depth and ease the burden on the veteran and captain Marcus Bontempelli.

“We can’t expect Tom to do what he does week-in, week-out, and leverage totally off his influence in the game. Our better performances this year have been really even,” he said.

“We didn’t anticipate that Bailey Smith would miss a year with injury, Josh Dunkley moved to Brisbane a couple of years ago, we lost Paddy Lipinski to Collingwood, so the depth of our inside mid brigade has changed.

“Part of the evolution of our team this year is searching for contributions to our midfield area.”

Beveridge’s assessment of his side’s midfield depth was contrary to what he said when senior on-baller Jack Macrae was left out of the side in the opening rounds, but he said his messaging “wasn’t intended to be mixed”.

He said there was no rebuild under way at Whitten Oval despite significant changes to personnel, including Caleb Daniel’s omission two weeks ago, Bailey Dale’s relegation to the sub role and Rory Lobb’s extended stint in the VFL.

“I’ve never been a coach who has tried to leverage for time – I’ve always been a coach for the now, and I believe in our group and trying to make every post a winner,” he said.

“Each week, trying to win the game is absolutely important and critical. The ‘rebuilding’ term is a myth – you cannot rebuild in our code and our competition with the constraints that exist with the draft and the salary cap.

“Rebuilding infers that you’re knocking something down and it’s coming from the ground up from a new origin … you just can’t do that.

“What you’re seeing with us at the moment is two experienced players here and there, not getting a game due to form or there’s a preference that some guys who are pushing for selection deserve a game in front of them.

“That puts pressure on some of those experienced players to find their best … and it creates opportunity for guys who are going to be important for our future.”

Beveridge said he would continue to tinker with roles for players, particularly in the high half-forward and halfback roles that he called “the utility positions”.

But he again categorically ruled out a move to defence for out-of-sorts key forward Aaron Naughton, who he said remained critical to the Bulldogs’ attack.

“You see some players playing subtly different roles or maybe completely different roles, because that’s one of the things we’ve done well over the journey,” he said.

“Even the speculation around whether Aaron (Naughton) plays back or not, I mean Buku (Khamis) is playing well, James (O’Donnell) has come back, (Liam) Jones is playing well, there’s no need for us to even think about that and look at it.”

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