Lance Franklin and Joel Amartey celebrate victory after the R18 match between Sydney and the Western Bulldogs at the SCG on July 13, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

FOUR goals to birthday boy Tom Papley has led Sydney to a dramatic two-point victory over the Western Bulldogs on Thursday night. 

The Swans still have a finals pulse after the hard-fought 11.12 (78) to 11.10 (76) win at the SCG. 

SWANS v BULLDOGS Full match coverage and stats

It was worrying signs for the Swans early as Bulldogs powerhouse Tom Liberatore (30 disposals, 11 clearances, one goal) won five disposals and kicked a goal within the opening minute of the game.  


The Bulldogs' quick, aggressive handball game sliced through the Swans and put plenty of pressure on the Swans' backs. Often isolated in one-on-ones, the Dogs' forwards registered six marks inside 50 in the opening term for their five goals. 

Aaron Naughton (three goals, seven marks) and Marcus Bontempelli (31 disposals, eight tackles, two goals) caused the Swans endless headaches throughout the night. 


When the Dogs weren't winning it in the air, their representation at ground level was causing plenty of issues for the Swans. Not only did the visitors exert control at stoppages, winning the clearances 52-34, but their ability to win the groundball was impressive. 

Without Chad Warner and Angus Sheldrick available, Sydney's issues at stoppage were exacerbated. Added to this, John Longmire opted to go without a recognised ruck for the battle against Tim English and while Hayden McLean, Logan McDonald and Joel Amartey worked admirably, the Bulldog finished with 60 hitouts and 10 clearances in an outstanding performance. 


Important for the Swans, however, were Errol Gulden (30 disposals, 773m gained) whose pinpoint kicking repeatedly set up teammates in attack, and Luke Parker (23 disposals, four clearances) who continued his reliable presence around the footy. 

There was a significant shift in the second quarter, as the Swans began to focus on getting the ball forward however possible. In doing so, they added speed and unpredictability to their transition from the back half and removed the Dogs' ability to park extra numbers behind the play. 


Instead of being able to sit three or four defenders on Lance Franklin, exposing Sydney's blinkered forward entries, the Dogs had to separate and become accountable to several Swans. 

That Bulldogs' defence was also hurt when emerging rookie James O'Donnell was subbed out after a heavy knock to the side of the head. O'Donnell had started the game beautifully, intercepting everything coming his way. 


Added to this, Sydney's forward pressure was impressive, led by Isaac Heeney, Amartey and Franklin, resulting in 22 tackles inside 50 to the Dogs' nine. The defensive efforts from the Swans' forwards forced poor, hurried attempts to exit defence from the Dogs and contributed to the home side's four-goal second term.  


Setting the tone 
In an immediately ominous sign for Sydney, Tom Liberatore had one of the best quarters we've seen from an individual this year. Gathering 12 disposals, six clearances and kicking a goal in the opening term, Liberatore highlighted just where the Dogs could best exploit the weakness of the Swans. In the opening minute alone Liberatore had won five disposals and kicked his goal, which set the tone for his, and the Bulldogs', midfield dominance.  


Talk about elite skills 
In a game where Sydney's forward entries were too messy and Buddy-centric, Errol Gulden's star rose once again. One of the best field kicks in the game, Gulden changed momentum in the match with his neat kicking. First with his linking disposal from the back half, and then as he lowered his eyes going inside 50, putting the ball on a platter for his teammates. 


Plenty to celebrate 
Not only was it leading goalkicker Tom Papley's 27th birthday, but coach John Longmire notched up his 300th game in the top job. Longmire, the longest serving coach in Swans history, became just the 25th person to coach 300 AFL games, and just the ninth to do so at one club. In that time he has won a premiership and reached four Grand Finals, making finals in all but two seasons. 

Sydney coach John Longmire celebrates with his team after his 300th match as coach and victory in the R18 match against the Western Bulldogs at the SCG on July 13, 2023. Picture: Getty Images


SYDNEY                         2.3     6.7     8.9     11.12 (78)
WESTERN BULLDOGS    5.4     6.4     9.6     11.10 (76)

: Papley 4, Franklin 2, Florent 2, Rowbottom, Amartey, Heeney,  
Western Bulldogs: Naughton 3, Bontempelli 2, Liberatore, Vandermeer, Poulter, Weightman, Scott, Ugle-Hagan 

: Gulden, Rowbottom, Parker, Florent, Papley 
Western Bulldogs: English, Liberatore, Bontempelli, Naughton, Richards, Treloar 

Sydney: Melican (hamstring) 
Western Bulldogs: O'Donnell (concussion), Darcy (corked quad) 

Ryan Clarke (replaced Lewis Melican in the third quarter)
Western Bulldogs:
Riley Garcia (replaced James O'Donnell in the second quarter)

Crowd: 26,221 at the SCG