Vandermeer gives Bulldogs forward half a point of difference
By Lance Jenkinson
Hands up if you were a sceptic when Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge sent Laitham Vandermeer forward of centre in his rookie season in 2020.
Coming out of underage football, Vandermeer had the makings of a successor to Jason Johannisen on the half back flank.
He is lightning quick, a strong overlap runner, booming kick and has enough fight in him to detonate opposition small forward.
It seemed like a no brainer that Vandermeer would have a fruitful career rebounding out of defence.
Beveridge and his coaching staff had other ideas.
Vandermeer was used in a more attacking role in the forward half of the ground last year and has not looked back.Embed from Getty Images
Laitham Vandermeer celebrates a goal in the Western Bulldogs win over West Coast.
The 22-year-old’s form has been transformational for a Bulldogs team crying out for a pressure forward.
There may be times when Vandermeer is swung back or used through the midfield, but it appears as though he has found a home delivering into the forward line, as opposed to releasing the pressure out of the back half.
Vandermeer is not a high possession winner yet, but he is impactful with the stats that he gets.
Off the ball, the Mooroopna product has the speed and nous to create separation from a defender.
In a Bulldogs side that regularly has a high volume of handballs, a player like Vandermeer can be released on the outside, break the lines with his foot speed and hit up a forward with a penetrating kick.
What may give Vandermeer the edge over teammates in the push for a spot on the half forward flank is his ferocity at the contest and defensive capabilities.
Even though he only stands at 180cm and weighs in at 77 kilograms, he knows only one way into a contest and that is at full steam.Embed from Getty Images
Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge.
Vandermeer is only 14 games into his career, but it seems like he feels at home at the level.
He served a decent apprenticeship exploring his capabilities with Footscray in the VFL, so that aided his transition to the big league.
If what Vandermeer produced in the pressure moments in the win over the West Coast Eagles on Sunday becomes the norm, he is going to make it hard for Beveridge to dislodge him from the starting team.
Let’s not forget, the Bulldogs suddenly have a plethora of small to medium forwards that can be called upon.
Toby McLean was the default go-to and had been playing the role to perfection before injury struck last season.
Mitch Hannan was recruited from Melbourne for that mid-sized forward spot.
Bailey Dale operated there before a shock move to defence this season.
Second year player Cody Weightman is raw, but has showed glimpses last year.
Father-son Rhylee West is knocking on the door, along with late bloomer Ben Cavarra, who is showing strong VFL form.
Vandermeer’s spot in the line-up is his to lose right now, and there should be no debate at the selection table.