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Match report: Hawks hang on in dramatic finish with Dogs

Highlights: Western Bulldogs v Hawthorn The Bulldogs and Hawks clash in round 3
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 10: James Sicily of the Hawks celebrates during the 2016 AFL Round 03 match between the Western Bulldogs and the Hawthorn Hawks at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne on April 10, 2016. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media)
James Sicily celebrates kicking the match-winning goal on Sunday

YOUNG Hawthorn forward James Sicily was the hero with three last-quarter goals as the reigning premier overcame the Western Bulldogs by three points in a dramatic contest at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

In what was dubbed a clash between the challengers and the champions, Hawthorn showed why it has been the competition's benchmark for the past three seasons with a brilliant comeback win.

WATCH: The dramatic final two minutes

Sicily was the star in a see-sawing final term that started with the Bulldogs leading by 19 points, with the six-gamer's three goals vital to the victory. His last came with a minute left on the clock as he cooly slotted a set-shot from 50m out to push the Hawks ahead for the final time.

Five talking points: Western Bulldogs v Hawthorn

The 14.9 (93) to 13.12 (90) triumph ended the Dogs' unbeaten start to the season and once again proved Hawthorn's status as the team to beat as it strives for a fourth-straight premiership.

The loss will devastate the Dogs, who fought back from an early deficit, dominated play, hit the front and appeared ready to clinch an important victory when Jake Stringer kicked a goal with less than two minutes left to place them three points ahead.

The defeat also come at a cost, with captain Robert Murphy injuring his knee in the final marking contest that Sicily won to boot the match-winning goal. Murphy grabbed at his left knee in pain and was helped from the field by trainers in the final moments of the match.

Stringer's late impact aside, his opponent Ben Stratton was one of the Hawks' best in limiting the Dogs' match-winner's say on the game, while Isaac Smith (24 disposals), Grant Birchall (23 touches), Billy Hartung (19) and Sam Mitchell (30) were important.

Cyril Rioli also booted three goals, while Luke Breust, Ben McEvoy and Jack Gunston chipped in with two each as the Hawks shared the goalkicking load without injured star Jarryd Roughead.

Watch Luke Beveridge's post-match press conference

For the Dogs, it was a case of a missed opportunity, but progress was made. Caleb Daniel played the best game of his young career with 29 disposals and a goal, while Luke Dahlhaus was terrific with 32 touches and two majors. Toby McLean also showed his poise with some classy and clever moments.

The Hawks had the early running with their ability to contain the Bulldogs' rebounding back half. The Bulldogs were restricted to their first goalless opening term since round 16, 2014, as Hawthorn converted its chances to hold a 14-point lead at the first change.

Just as the reigning premiers had clearly done their homework on shutting down the Bulldogs' exhilarating game, the Dogs also came with a plan. Coach Luke Beveridge used forward Liam Picken in a negating role on Hawks backman Josh Gibson, who racked up a career-high 44 disposals last week against West Coast.

A string of goals from Hawthorn to start the second term, including some mastery from the pocket and in the air from Rioli, saw the Hawks jump to a 32-point lead.

Good sides find a way, says Clarkson

But the Bulldogs just needed a settler. That came in the form of a steady shot for goal from McLean, who slotted the Dogs' first 10 minutes into the second quarter.

Sparked by the diminutive yet dangerous Daniel, the Dogs kicked the next three unanswered, and finished the first half trailing by just six points.

As perhaps the most anticipated game of the season so far, the first half was rich in modern footy elements.

Defensively both teams were organised and difficult to penetrate, but there was room for individual brilliance. Ball movement was crisp, but turnovers were pounced upon and led to goals. It was tough, tight and quick.

And it became too quick for the Hawks. The Bulldogs' speed through the midfield and ball movement through attack begun to cut through Hawthorn's defence in the third term, with the Dogs slamming on six goals to two to take a 19-point lead at the final change.

It was built on a domination at the stoppages, with the Dogs winning 10 more clearances and 31 more contested possessions than the Hawks during the third quarter.

But surely we all knew the Hawks had another punch to throw in this fight. They always do. Their seven-goal last term was enough to grab a hard-fought and deserved win.

MEDICAL ROOM
Western Bulldogs: The Bulldogs lost All Australian defender Easton Wood to a hamstring niggle before the game, and will be hoping he can return as quickly as possible. They will be more nervous about Robert Murphy, however, after his late knee injury forced him from the field.

Hawthorn: The Hawks appeared to finish the game without any major fitness issues.

NEXT UP
The Bulldogs will meet Carlton next Saturday night at Etihad Stadium and will be expected to return to the winners' list, while the Hawks face St Kilda in Tasmania.

WESTERN BULLDOGS   0.2  4.5   10.8   13.12  (90)
HAWTHORN                  2.4   5.5     7.7   14.9   (93)

GOALS
Western Bulldogs: McLean 2, Biggs 2, Dahlhaus 2, Roughead, Bontempelli, Daniel, Suckling, Wallis, Boyd, Stringer
Hawthorn: Rioli 3, Sicily 3, Gunston 2, McEvoy 2, Bruest 2, Schoenmakers, Ceglar

BEST
Western Bulldogs: Daniel, Dahlhaus, Murphy, Adams, Boyd
Hawthorn: Birchall, Stratton, Smith, Hartung, Mitchell, Rioli, Burgoyne, Sicily

INJURIES
Western Bulldogs: Easton Wood (hamstring tightness) replaced in the side by Joel Hamling, Bob Murphy (knee)
Hawthorn: Nil

Reports: Nil

Umpires: Donlon, Chamberlain, Wallace

Official crowd: 46,808 at Etihad Stadium