One of the early favourites for the flag, the Giants have been locked down since the season resumed and unless they open up soon they will not have a favourable position on the grid come October. Four rounds in, Friday night’s clash against Collingwood already shapes as a season-defining game.
The Giants showed a sense of theatre by sending Nick Haynes to toss the coin with the man who fractured his larynx, Marcus Bontempelli, but when the curtain was drawn the Dogs’ play had more substance.
The league’s youngest club made no secret of their ambitions for 2020 but they are well short of the mark right now. Their first half score of 1.4 (10) was their worst half-time effort since their inaugural season in 2012 – and their third worst overall.
Any number of horror plays could characterise a night their fans would rather forget. If Sam Taylor wanted the earth to swallow him after he grassed an uncontested mark before half-time, then Heath Shaw would have jumped in with him after he handballed directly to Ed Richards to cough up another goal.
Sure they were down on man power, having lost Toby Greene to injury, Josh Kelly as a late withdrawal then Lachie Whitfield to concussion after the first quarter, but there can be no acceptable explanation for the attitude they showed.
Aside from Haynes and the much-improved Harry Perryman, there were few Giants who could be remotely satisfied with their performance.
This was a much-needed win for the Bulldogs, who stormed into the finals last year only to be steamrolled by a fierce orange army, and one which can jolt their campaign to life.
The most disappointing side of the first two rounds, the Bulldogs rediscovered the aggression which was a feature of their play late last year.
Liberatore’s return helped, the son of a gun important in setting the tone inside the packs. Back in the guts, Jack Macrae found more of the ball than any player of the ground, his 25 disposals accompanied by a game-high seven tackles.
Alex Keath was the safe pair of hands in defence he was recruited to be, aided by the Dogs’ willingness to roll their sleeves up and get their hands dirty.
The desperation shown by Lin Jong and Toby McLean, both on the fringe of their best 22, characterised the hunger shown by Luke Beveridge’s men.
The fuse was lit before the first bounce when Bontempelli, the hunted in last year’s final, sparked a scuffle by landing a pre-emptive strike on the man sent to prey on him, Matt de Boer.
Within 90 seconds, it was clear the Bont had got inside the Giants’ heads when he was felled by skipper Stephen Coniglio , conceding a 50-metre penalty which resulted in a goal to Josh Dunkley.
The Dogs dominated the opening quarter but their 13-6 inside 50 advantage was translated to just a nine-point lead. They could well have had the game won if Tim English, Jason Johannisen and Josh Bruce had converted relatively straightforward shots.
Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Sydney Morning Herald