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'Tenacious' Dog returns to play critical role

Highlights: Western Bulldogs v Essendon The Bulldogs and Bombers clash in round three
I had an interrupted pre-season and it was pretty bad timing and I went through some stuff. I lost my Pop in February, which was pretty hard on the family and for myself – I was really close with him. So it was great to win for him and I'm so proud of that.
Mitch Wallis

IF MARCUS Bontempelli is going to spend more time as a permanent forward in 2018, the Western Bulldogs' midfielders must get on top of their counterparts as they did in a dominant effort against Essendon on Sunday.

Luke Dahlhaus (31 disposals), Toby McLean (25), Lachie Hunter (35) and Jack Macrae (30) were central to the Bulldogs' first victory of the season, while the inside presence and leadership of fan favourite Mitch Wallis was also critical in the club turning around its fortunes after hefty back-to-back losses to start the year. 

Playing his first game of the season, Wallis gathered 22 disposals and kicked a vitally important goal in the second term as the Bulldogs got the momentum rolling with five goals on the trot. 

"I'm really pleased for Mitch," Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said after the match. 

"With Marcus playing a different role, it was critical that he showed leadership in there and he played a strong game. 

"He was composed with the ball and he won us some ball in close, so he was his usual tenacious and hard inside self that he prides himself on."

WATCH: Wallis finishes off a great team goal
 

With Wallis coming into the side to replace good mate Tom Liberatore's ball-winning ability (the latter is out for the rest of the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in round one), the Bulldogs were able to station Bontempelli as their deepest forward.

The payoff of having Bontempellli playing in attack was pronounced, with the superstar Dog booting three goals from 16 disposals, including a pearler from the boundary in the third term.  

There were more than a few eyebrows raised when Wallis, the son of Bulldog great Steve, was left out of the team for the first two rounds of the year.

However, a back injury suffered at an inopportune time that ruled him out of the JLT Community Series and the loss of his grandfather made it difficult for Wallis to find his best form before the home and away season got underway.

"It's fantastic to be back," Wallis told AFL.com.au. 

"I had an interrupted pre-season and it was pretty bad timing and I went through some stuff. I lost my Pop in February, which was pretty hard on the family and for myself – I was really close with him. 

"So it was a great to win for him and I'm so proud of that."

Wallis, set to become a restricted free agent at season's end, gathered 29 disposals and booted four goals in a VFL practice match against Essendon last weekend to force his way back into the side. 

His patience was rewarded on Sunday. 

"I had some pretty good form in the VFL but I needed to get minutes into my legs before I could come back in," Wallis said.

The Bulldogs midfielder said the club would use the win over the Bombers as a springboard into the season, with a tough assignment against Sydney at Etihad Stadium on Saturday next on the agenda.

"It would have been a nerve-racking time looking at the rest of the season at 0-3 so now that we're 1-2, we can really load from here," Wallis said.