‘All on the same page’: Burke confident he has support despite horror start to the season

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Western Bulldogs coach Nathan Burke is confident he can turn things around as pressure mounts after his side recorded their worst-ever start to an AFLW season with six straight losses.

The latest defeat came on Friday night to Carlton by 19 points at Whitten Oval. Yet, the head coach remains positive he hasn’t lost the support of the club or the playing group after he signed a two-year contract extension in 2022 and moved from a part- to full-time role.

Nathan Burke, coach of the Western Bulldogs.Credit: Getty

“If I wasn’t talking really closely to my leadership group, talking to the emerging leaders’ group and talking to every player, I’d naturally be thinking that [my message wasn’t resonating any more],” he said after the loss.

“I’d be second guessing myself, but I’m confident in the relationship that I’ve got with these players, in that they’re telling me the truth.”

He also confirmed four out of the five in the Dogs’ leadership group had come down with gastro during the week, including Kirsty Lamb, who he said hadn’t eaten a full meal in four days.

The loss to the Blues follows heavy losses to Geelong (48 points) and Melbourne (42 points), as well as to lower ladder teams Hawthorn and St Kilda.

Nathan Burke and Ellie Blackburn of the Bulldogs during their round three game against the Demons at Casey Fields on September 16.Credit: Getty

However, Burke said the club and the board were still behind him.

“That’s part of being a connected club. So really connected with Chris Grant, who’s the head of footy, and Kylie [Watson-Wheeler, club president], Jerril [Rechter], Belinda [Duarte], and all the board members that are down here in the rooms now, having a good chat with them, and Ameet [Bains, CEO] is in our meetings before the game and after the game,” he said.

“So they have a really, really good understanding and so I’m confident that, as a club, we’re all on the same page.”

The Bulldogs kicked just one goal a quarter in the opening half and none in the third quarter against Carlton. They registered just one to 14 inside 50s in the first term, where their only major came from a 50-metre penalty from a Carlton player not giving the ball back after being caught holding the ball.

The Bulldogs’ standards came in for criticism last week, instigated by Burke, who said missing an ice bath or not eating well enough wouldn’t cut it in the competition any more. However, following the loss to the Blues, he shifted blame onto the tier system of the AFLW.

“It’s very easy to just go ‘Hey, they sort of haven’t been following the standard’ but part of it comes down to this league is in a real transition period,” said Burke.

While one or two players might make enough to dedicate a significant portion of their time to footy, but the majority still work other jobs, which made it hard to compete at a high level, he said.

“Something gives for those bottom ones, it has to. You can’t be the full-on professional like the ones who are getting paid more and so I reckon we’ve probably got more on that bottom end, who are still trying to make a living, earn a wage … and to [also] compete in this league, you can’t.”

He said the only way to improve was through game experience, which meant the young group under him would take time to build and become competitive. In addition, he said pre-season injuries meant a large number of his squad could not play in the VFLW or train well enough before the season started.

A new CBA, which will see players get paid more money for the full year, would help, he said.

“The stuff that’s killing us is the stuff that if I’m a half-decent coach, I should be able to fix,” he said, giving the example of not allowing opposition players to take easy marks in range of goal late in quarters.

“That’s not a talent thing. That’s something that comes with experience, knowing how to handle the situation, knowing how to keep making good decisions when you get tired, when the pressure comes on and that’s probably what’s been letting us down.”

In a desperate attempt to find a spark while managing injuries, Burke moved some magnets around, including sending Gabby Newtown down back, skipper Ellie Backburn higher up the ground and last season’s All Australian fullback Katie Lynch to full forward to help manage a leg issue that was making it hard for her to accelerate and decelerate.

“And this is not an excuse either, but I reckon we were one of the unluckiest teams that I’ve ever seen tonight,” he added, referencing wayward bounces.

“We had no luck at all tonight. I think we’re due for a little bit of luck as well. Fingers crossed it’s next week.”

The Bulldogs next play three-time premiers Adelaide, who entered this weekend’s round undefeated and in the top two below Melbourne.

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