Early on the Bulldogs were winning the ball when it hit the ground and creating enough handball chains to feel they could break the Lions with Macrae’s penetrating left foot on the end of too many.
But the Lions maximised their chances to score with three goals from centre clearances in the first quarter when their ruckman Oscar McInerney impersonated John Nicholls for five minutes to put the ball into the dangerous space Charlie Cameron lurks.
That was a concern for the Bulldogs as their inability to control the opposition ruck had cost them the 2020 elimination final, also at the Gabba.
Sensing the moment, Lewis Young and English rotated in an attempt to stem the flow and the Bulldogs midfielders paid more respect to the defensive side of stoppages to even up the centre clearance battle.
With that part of the ground neutralised the battle front went further and wider where midfielders roam without close company. Out there the game swung like a pendulum.
Jarryd Lyons led the charge for the Lions, quelling Tom Liberatore, who kicked the Bulldogs’ first two goals, while bringing his teammates into the match. The cast-off from two clubs has been a revelation with his name not misplaced sitting alongside Dayne Zorko, Lachie Neale and Hugh McCluggage.
They matched Marcus Bontempelli and Macrae with great mates Adam Treloar and Josh Dunkley quiet.
Then the tide turned as the Bulldogs began winning stoppages but without a reliable avenue to goal they could not gain an edge, the loss of Josh Bruce just as debilitating to the ragged band from Whitten Oval as the loss of Eric Hipwood and Dan McStay had proved for the Lions.
They would have to rely on the deepest midfield of all to get them over the line and it did with Smith and Lachie Hunter racing up and down the wings to create the space the team needed to pull back a 10-point deficit at the final break.
The deepest midfield inflicted on the Lions the deepest cut of all putting them out in straight sets for the second time in three years, the Bulldogs’ one-point win accurately reflecting the tug of war occurring in the middle of the ground.
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