Western Bulldogs like what they see from Tom Liberatore

The Western Bulldogs like what they are seeing from Tom Liberatore as club and player set out to prove last year was an aberration.

Liberatore was far from the only culprit as the Bulldogs’ premiership defence went south and they dropped out of the top eight.

But his form dip clearly hurt their chances.

The Bulldogs dropped the midfielder for a month mid-season and notably, he finished outside the top 10 in their best-and-fairest count.

Liberatore was best-and-fairest runner-up in 2013, won the Charles Sutton Medal the following year, missed 2015 with a knee reconstruction, and was fourth in their premiership season.

Assistant coach Daniel Giansiracusa, who will be in charge of the Bulldogs for Saturday’s opening pre-season match against Hawthorn in Ballarat, works closely with Liberatore as their stoppages specialist.

“He seems like he has focus. We know he is one of the best stoppage and clearance players in the competition,” Giansiracusa said.

“Him at his best means that we are going to be a better side.”

It is a pivotal year in his career, given he becomes a free agent at the end of this season.

Liberatore will play on Saturday and the Dogs have also named their three key recruits – key forward Josh Schache (Brisbane Lions), key defender Jackson Trengove (Port Adelaide) and utility Hayden Crozier (Fremantle).

Hawthorn have named a strong squad, led by captain Jarryd Roughead and star onballers Jaeger O’Meara and Tom Mitchell.

The Bulldogs named Tom Boyd as an emergency and did not include Mitch Wallis or Clay Smith, while Dale Morris is recovering from a serious knee injury.

Cyril Rioli, Grant Birchall and James Frawley are the biggest names missing from the Hawks squad for Ballarat.

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