Departing veteran Easton Wood has backed the Western Bulldogs' defensive unit to play a key role in keeping the AFL club firmly in flag contention next year.
Wood announced his retirement on Friday, leaving a significant hole in a back line that was repeatedly questioned by critics - including coaching legend Mick Malthouse - throughout 2021.
The criticism prompted stinging rebukes from Dogs mentor Luke Beveridge, who was somewhat vindicated as his side navigated a path to the grand final.
The Bulldogs' stacked midfield and dangerous forward line garner most of the external attention but Wood is equally enamoured with the defensive group.
The 2016 premiership captain likes what he sees in a back line led by key duo Alex Keath and Zaine Cordy, with Ryan Gardner and remodelled former forward Josh Schache available as tall support.
Wood said the arrival of free agency recruit Tim O'Brien and return of Hayden Crozier, who was concussed late last season and missed a finals spot, would hold the defence in good stead.
All Australian pair Bailey Dale and Caleb Daniel add class at half-back and Taylor Duryea is a valuable small lockdown option.
"The stocks look fine," Wood said.
"Hayden Crozier is one hell of a player and he wasn't in the team for that finals run.
"He'll slot straight back in and we picked up Tim O'Brien recently from Hawthorn as well."
O'Brien starred when Hawthorn upset the Bulldogs in round 22, claiming 14 intercept possessions and three contested marks.
"He absolutely chopped us ... he was intercepting everything," Wood said.
"He could slot nicely into my shoes, by the looks."
Wood had one season left to run on his contract but conceded in recent weeks that injuries and a decline in his physical capabilities meant he was no longer up to the rigours of AFL football.
The 32-year-old admitted the thought of persevering in pursuit of another premiership had crossed his mind, with the Bulldogs seemingly primed for another crack.
"It's hard to leave at all but obviously really hard to leave when the team's in such a formidably strong position and we look really primed for a sustained crack at the pointy end for years to come," Wood said.
"But having been part of building that foundation, I'm really proud to leave the club in a strong position knowing that they'll be fine without me.
"That probably made it easier to make the decision (rather) than harder."
Australian Associated Press