The Western Bulldogs are charging to September, locking in their top eight spot after pummelling Adelaide, and they’re a side the other seven clubs will want to avoid.
Who let the dogs out?
After Round 11, Western Bulldogs were 14th on the ladder, had just copped a 61-point belting at the hands of West Coast and had only four wins to show for their efforts in the first half of the season.
In what seemed unfathomable at the time, 11 games later the Bulldogs are now finals bound.
And they enter their first September campaign since their premiership season of 2016 with some serious momentum behind them as, arguably, one of the three form teams of the competition alongside Richmond and Brisbane.
The Bulldogs demolished a stunned Adelaide by 34 points in Ballarat — after leading by as much as 59 points in the final term — to finish seventh on the ladder and set up an elimination final against Greater Western Sydney.
It is the same position they finished in 2016 — and like that season, there is no sense that the Bulldogs are making up the numbers.
Luke Beveridge’s side has now won eight of its past 11 games, has scored over 100 points in four of its past five games and has an average winning margin over the past three weeks of 66 points.
The Bulldogs are playing an exciting, fast, high-scoring brand of football and their slick ball movement is sure to worry any September opponents.
The Bulldogs famously beat GWS in a preliminary final thriller in 2016 and scored a 61-point win when the two sides met in Round 22.
However, their elimination final will look a little different.
Star Giants’ forward and Coleman Medal winner Jeremy Cameron missed the Round 22 clash through injury, while midfielder Stephen Coniglio is also in the mix to return.
Still, the Bulldogs are sure to start favourites.
OPENING TERM ASSAULT
Hawthorn’s upset win over West Coast on Saturday night effectively ended Adelaide’s finals hopes entering their last game, and the Crows looked every bit of a team with nothing to play for in the opening quarter.
Bulldogs forward Bailey Dale had two goals to his name before Adelaide had logged three kicks as a team.
By the 24-minute-mark, the scoreboard read 40-0 and the fat lady was singing.
The Crows did not look like scoring until Chayce Jones goaled with 1min 5sec left on the clock, followed by a late gift for Taylor Walker.
It was a woeful quarter from the Crows with a capital ‘W’.
DALE ON THE RISE
Whether by design or not, the fact Bailey Dale remains out of contract is doing his chances of a plump new deal no harm.
The mid-sized forward told the Herald Sun last month he wanted to stay a Dog and was in “constant chats” about a new contract which he hoped would be rectified in “coming weeks or months”.
Dale kicked the opening two goals of the game against the Crows yesterday and had four majors by halftime.
The 23-year-old finished with five majors and now has 20 goals from his past six games, proving a key to the Bulldogs’ lifting their scoring in the second half of the season.
FIRST RISING STAR?
Adelaide hasn’t had a Rising Star nominee yet this season, but Chayce Jones put himself in the frame for Round 23.
In his eighth AFL game, the 19-year-old small forward, who also spent time through the midfield, was one of the shining lights on another dark day for the Crows.
Before the match, Jones had kicked just one goal in his short AFL career but had two majors by halftime — and hit the post from a third shot.
He finished with 18 disposals and two goals — and even crashed a pack in defence to make a huge spoil in the third quarter.
BEVO: WE’LL BE HARD TO BEAT
Coach Luke Beveridge says the Western Bulldogs are hitting September with a “head of steam” and are ready to unleash some “deadly venom” on Greater Western Sydney in their elimination final next week.
The remarkable finals berth comes after the Bulldogs held a 4-7 record at the bye, Beveridge revealing he had joked with club football boss Chris Maple at the time that the side would win eight of its last 11 games and make finals to relieve the pressure.
That exact scenario played out.
“You’re always under pressure internally and externally as a coach when you can beat a side like Richmond and then you can drop a game against a side that’s a bit further down the ladder and people think, ‘Why?’,” Beveridge said of the first half of the year.
“Mapes and I sort of joked…we just win eight of the last 11 and we play finals and everything will be sorted out.
“We just had a bit of a chuckle about how there’s a bit of Nostradamus in us.
“It’s just a monumental achievement just to make it.
“We’re not limping into this finals series. We’re going in with a head of steam with a brand of footy and a new identity and I think we’re going to be hard to beat.”
Beveridge dismissed comparisons to the Bulldogs’ 2016 premiership season, when they also finished seventh but won 15 games as opposed to 12 this year.
The coach said he expected to face a “very different” GWS side to the one the Bulldogs beat by 61 points in Sydney in Round 22.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 6.5 9.8 14.11 18.13 (121)
ADELAIDE 2.0 5.4 8.6 13.9 (87)
Western Bulldogs: Dale 5, Lipinski 2, Lloyd 2, McLean 2, Schache 2, West, Bontempelli, English, Naughton, Macrae
Adelaide: Walker 5, Jones 2, Lynch 2, Knight 2, M.Crouch, Smith
Western Bulldogs: Bontempelli, Macrae, Dale, Dunkley, Suckling, Hunter, Johannisen
Adelaide: M.Crouch, Laird, Seedsman, Jones, Walker, Sloane
Western Bulldogs: Nil
Umpires: Fisher, Nicholls, Williamson
Official crowd: 9560 at Mars Stadium
CHRIS CAVANAGH’S VOTES
3 — Marcus Bontempelli (WB)
2 — Matt Crouch (Ade)
1 — Jack Macrae (WB)