Behind the scenes for the Bulldogs' back-to-back AFLW quest

If any of their rivals were hoping the Western Bulldogs would be resting on their laurels after their 2018 AFLW premiership triumph, then the daughters of the west have got some bad news: they're hungrier than ever, as ESPN discovered after attending a demanding training session with the Doggies.

It's a scorching Saturday morning at the Whitten Oval, and nearly two hours before a match simulation training session is set to take place, the "young pups" -- as they've been dubbed by the more senior members of the squad -- are on the ground kicking footballs and discussing tactics.

One of those senior players, Hannah Scott has been with the Dogs since their inaugural season, and tells ESPN that if there wasn't a shiny big trophy in the cabinet in the Whitten Oval's foyer, you wouldn't have known the Bulldogs won last year's flag, such is the attitude at 'The Kennel' in 2019.

"We had our time to really enjoy the win and celebrate, and we've really wiped the slate clean and have come into a fresh season. [The premiership win] hasn't been talked about since," Scott tells ESPN.

"And we can't really look beyond Round 1 because each round of the AFLW is so vital. If you drop Round 1, all that pressure just keeps building. We've made sure talk of the premiership hasn't filtered into 2019."

The Dogs are one team that knows first-hand how quickly things can change in the fledgling competition. After finishing sixth in the inaugural season with just two wins, the Bulldogs were the standout side in 2018, topping the ladder with five wins and two losses with a league-leading percentage of 142.5 percent.

As well as winning the premiership, forward Brooke Lochland led the league for most goals and Emma Kearney won the competition's best and fairest.

Kearney is now the captain of one of the league's newest teams, North Melbourne, while Lochland will miss the entire season with a broken leg suffered in the weeks leading up to the season.

Just like when Tayla Harris made the switch from Brisbane to Carlton ahead of the 2018 season, it illustrates just how quickly AFLW lists can turn over quality players.

"We've had quite a bit of player turnover and have quite a few new players from different backgrounds. We call them the 'young pups' as we've really got a lot of youth into the club," Scott explains.

She says there are so many variables that make it hard to predict how each team is going to perform in 2019, and that's before taking into account the two new teams, Geelong and North, and the new conference system which is set to make its debut.

"I think it also shows that we have get used to being uncomfortable," the 2018 All-Australian said of the tendency of the AFL to change the rules each year.

"I think there are so many players coming in that every game is going to have that 'new game' feel because you've never played that exact squad before.

"In the men's comp, there are maybe a couple of players who move around, but in the women's comp, there are large numbers [of those who move]."

Bulldogs coach Paul Groves tells ESPN after that first season, in which there were so many unknowns, teams were able to knuckle down and emulate the men from an off-field perspective as well as on-field.

"You're always learning," he says. "I think the first season, we learned how important the fundamentals are, and we're just trying to take that to the next level now.

"Once season one was done, we then had stats we could bounce off and explore ahead of the second season, and now with the third year approaching we have even more data available and can create a game style we're really proud of."

Groves, like Scott, understands there's no room for complacency in a league which is rapidly becoming more professional.

"We finished sixth (out of eight) the first year, then we won the flag the next, so you know there's going to be a team that's going to make a similar jump because they'll have revised their program. It's a moving landscape," he says.

Meanwhile Scott says the step-up in the quality of training -- not only from the players on the field, but in terms of the preparation from the coaching and conditioning staff -- has motivated the group to want to continue to get better.

"In the first year there was so much unknown, and the programs were basically a lot of 'let's try that and see how it goes'," she says.

"Since then we've really refined training and just how we operate and you can see the amount the players have put in.

"The players get here early, they do all the extras in the areas they want to improve, and you can definitely see the improvements. You can see it all paying off."

And there's also the Katie Brennan factor. Recently named a co-captain alongside young star Ellie Blackburn, marquee player Brennan was controversially barred from last year's Grand Final as a result of the AFLW's suspension rules; the league prefers to hand out bans instead of fines considering the league's relatively low pay rates.

The sling tackle which resulted in the suspension was Brennan's second low-level offence -- something which would have netted her a $3000 fine in the AFL. Instead, it led to a one-match suspension, and the rest is history.

Groves, now into his third year as coach of the Bulldogs, tells ESPN that Brennan -- as well as the rest of the young list -- is eager to become the league's first back-to-back flag winners.

"It's really exciting to bring all the girls back [for preseason]. We're going really well and we're happy with the progress the playing group made over the VFL season."