WESTERN Bulldogs midfielder Koby Stevens has returned to senior footy in style, starring in his side's 31-point win over Greater Western Sydney in their NAB Challenge clash in Canberra on Thursday night.
The midfielder didn't play after round 15 last season thanks to a stress fracture in his foot that required a post-season operation, but showed he'll be an important player in 2016 with 29 possessions, 12 of those contested, and a goal against the Giants.
Stevens was part of a hard-running Bulldogs outfit that showed they will once again be one of the competition's most exciting teams this season.
Jake Stringer was the best forward on the ground but inaccurate with 3.4 in the 1.13.17 (104) to 0.11.7 (73) victory.
Hulking 18-year-old draftee Kieran Collins was impressive on debut, keeping Jonathon Patton scoreless in an absorbing duel.
Jason Johannisen, Caleb Daniel, Marcus Bontempelli and former Hawk Matt Suckling were other key contributors for the Dogs, while big man Tom Campbell booted two goals, as well as the game's only supergoal.
Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said he was delighted to have Stevens back in the side.
"I thought Koby was very good, we missed him when he went out of the side last year," he said.
"He was playing probably the best footy of his career.
"He's got a pretty (well) rounded game Koby, he's good in the air, he's good at ground level, he's quite versatile and can play most of the lines, so he adds to our mix and our ability to adapt during games.
"Hopefully we can have some fortune with him and he can string them (some games) together."
It was a tough night for the Giants who were without co-captains Callan Ward and Phil Davis, plus other senior players including Heath Shaw, Ryan Griffen, Shane Mumford, Steve Johnson and Jeremy Cameron.
The home side's endeavour was there, but they were continually let down by their foot skills and paid the price against the slick Dogs.
GWS coach Leon Cameron said he side struggled to cope with the fast-starting Bulldogs.
"You wait three months to play and I think a few of our young lads were just shell-shocked," Cameron said.
"They probably didn't do the things that I know they can do and they (the Bulldogs) got their confidence up.
"They're a good side, a finals side from last year. and we need to get to that level.
"Probably for two and a half quarters we were, but for a quarter and a bit we weren't."
Athletic forward Rory Lobb was a constant target for GWS and finished the match with two goals from his five contested marks.
Stand-in captain Stephen Coniglio, Jack Steele, Rhys Palmer and speedy defender Nathan Wilson were some of the Giants' other better contributors.
WHAT WE LEARNED
Greater Western Sydney: The Giants have improved their stoppage work, and even without number one ruckman Shane Mumford and hard nut Callan Ward, held their own against a star-studded Bulldogs' midfield. The clearances and stoppages were dead even for the match, so credit must go to Dawson Simpson and the GWS onball division who battled manfully against the odds.
Western Bulldogs: Last year's draft added considerable size to the club's key position stocks, and Marcus Adams and Kieran Collins are two extremely exciting prospects. At 22, Adams came to the club with plenty of WAFL experience and looks at home at either end of the ground, while 18 year-old Collins is an aggressive defender. Both players tip the scales at just under 100kg and give the Dogs great depth in an area they've struggled with in recent times.
Greater Western Sydney: Academy draftees Jacob Hopper and Matthew Kennedy struggled to make a massive impact, but Hopper's clearance work from centre bounces was solid.Small forward Jarrod Pickett showed he's got some tricks, while Jeremy Finlayson did some nice things in defence. Simpson made a good contest in the ruck against Will Minson and Tom Campbell and should be better for the run, as should young utility Pat McKenna,who battled to find the footy.
Western Bulldogs: Former Hawthorn premiership defender Matt Suckling wasted little time showing off his deadly left foot in Bulldogs colours with a quality showing playing on the wing. Adams spent the first term on the bench but had a physical impact in defence, while Collins had his hands full with the hard-leading Adam Tomlinson early, but grew in confidence as the game went on.
The Giants head back to Sydney where they'll meet cross-town rivals the Swans at Drummoyne Oval in the city's inner west next Friday, while the Bulldogs get an extra two days to recover for their match against Melbourne at Craigieburn.
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 0.2.0 0.3.3 0.5.4 0.11.7 (73)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 0.2.7 0.5.10 0.8.14 1.13.17 (104)
Greater Western Sydney: Nil
Western Bulldogs: Campbell
Greater Western Sydney: Lobb 2, Stewart 2, Coniglio 2, Hoskin-Elliott 2, Scully, Tomlinson, Hopper
Western Bulldogs: Stringer 3, Campbell 2, Stevens, Macrae, Hrovat, Suckling, Daniel, Picken, Wallis, Roughead
Greater Western Sydney: Steele, Scully, Lobb, Coniglio, Wilson, Palmer
Western Bulldogs: Stevens, Stringer, Johannisen, Daniel, Macrae, Campbell
Greater Western Sydney: Nil
Western Bulldogs: Nil
Umpires: Jordan Bannister, Matt Stevic, Andrew Stephens, Brendan Hosking
Official crowd: 5472 at Startrack Oval, Canberra