He had 12 first-quarter touches, was subdued slightly in the middle of the game, and then burst again in the final term to pull his teammates across the line under the Eagles’ onslaught, which included a devastating ruck performance from Nic Naitanui.
Ground Dogs v Eagle Air
The game pitted the Bulldogs’ run and gun, handball-heavy style against the patient and precise kick-mark game of the Eagles. One trades off a deep midfield and versatile medium-sized players, the other builds on the base of the league’s best aerial players.
So it was that the Bulldogs’ undersized defence went up against the tall timber of West Coast’s forwards in Josh Kennedy, Oscar Allen and Jack Darling.
The Bulldogs dominated inside midfield early but the Eagles remained in touch on the scoreboard because of the quality of their defence once the ball hit the outside.
They pressed high onto the Bulldogs ball carriers and forced them to kick inside 50 under pressure fairly regularly, their defenders then cutting the ball off. The Dogs could not slice them up like they did Collingwood.
In this respect the Bulldogs’ first-half lead was predicated very heavily on midfield dominance, and how frequently they had general possession. As soon as the Eagles evened things up in the engine room – not even when they got ascendancy in the midfield – they were able to score goals.
That’s because the Dogs had so much trouble defending Ryan, Allen, Darling and Kennedy, all of whom found it way too easy to control the skies.
It all balanced out in the end and there was a fair bit of grit to go with the polish which saw them outlast West Coast.
Western Bulldogs: Bontempelli, Macrae, Bruce, Hunter, Dunkley, Naughton
West Coast: Kennedy, Ryan, Naitanui, Kelly, Barass, Kelly, Hurn
Marcus Bontempelli (Bulldogs) 8
Jackson Macrae (Bulldogs) 8
Josh Bruce (Bulldogs) 7
Aaron Naughton (Bulldogs) 7
Nic Naitanui (West Coast) 7
Anthony is a sports reporter at The Age.