THE WESTERN BULLDOGS have their first AFLW win of 2023, holding on after a desperate West Coast fightback to produce an emotion-charged eight-point victory at Mineral Resources Park on Saturday.
Facing the prospect of a winless season if they couldn't overcome the Eagles or North Melbourne in their final two matches, the Bulldogs lifted on Saturday and led from start to finish to prevail 6.8 (44) to 5.6 (36) in an entertaining clash.
EAGLES v BULLDOGS Full match coverage and stats
It wasn't easy against a more attacking West Coast team that was given freedom under new coach Rohan McHugh, with the Eagles mounting a spirited comeback after falling 25-points down during the third quarter.
The injury-hit visitors conceded the final three goals of the game but were able to hang tough in a fierce final 10 minutes to get the emotional circuit-breaker needed after a disappointing season.
Captain Ellie Blackburn was sensational in a match-winning performance from the midfield, finishing with 32 disposals, four clearances, and a game-high 665m gained, willing her team to the finish line before emotions spilled over after the siren.
Efficiency in attack was the difference in the game, with the Bulldogs taking their chances early to set up a crucial lead before the Eagles fought hard to get back in the contest through the latter stages of the third term.
Like Blackburn for the Bulldogs, West Coast leader Emma Swanson was relentless for the home team and finished with 28 disposals and seven tackles, while young star Ella Roberts turned the match when she went into the midfield and racked up 27 disposals and six clearances.
Charlie Thomas was a rock in defence before McHugh swung her forward to kick the only goal of the final quarter, cutting the margin to eight points and setting up a nail-biting last 10 minutes.
Midfielder's big milestone
All-Australian onballer Kirsty Lamb became just the second player in the Western Bulldogs' history to register 1000 AFLW disposals, joining Ellie Blackburn in the exclusive club. Lamb needed six touches on Saturday to hit the mark, and she got there late in the third term after marking in the middle of the ground and kicking inside 50. It will her 999th that stands out, however, after earning a free kick in attack for a high tackle and kicking the goal that gave the Bulldogs a game-high 25-point lead.
New coach makes mark
Interim West Coast coach Rohan McHugh took the reins on Wednesday and had three days to set the Eagles up to play with more freedom and attack. The approach was evident early as the team looked to bounce out of the backline and took more risks than they have this season. Emma Swanson and Belinda Smith led the way to provide running options and more handball chains led to more forward entries. It was a more enjoyable style to watch and it will be interesting to see how the team builds on it in the final round.
The Eagles remain at home for the final round of the season but face one of the biggest challenges of their campaign when they take on Adelaide at Mineral Resources Park on Saturday afternoon, with the team yet to register a win against the Crows from two attempts. It will be a challenging Saturday for the Bulldogs as well, with North Melbourne waiting at VU Whitten Oval. The Kangaroos are 3-0 against the Dogs.
WEST COAST 1.1 2.2 4.4 5.6 (36)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 2.1 4.3 6.7 6.8 (44)
West Coast: Gibson 2, Bartlett, Lewis, Thomas
Western Bulldogs: Edmonds, Hartwig, Hunt, Lamb, Pritchard, Woodley
West Coast: Swanson, Thomas, Roberts, Smith, Lewis, Gooch
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn, Edmonds, Newton, Bateman, Carruthers
West Coast: Nil
Western Bulldogs: Pritchard (knee), Woodley (ankle)
Crowd: 1,447 at Mineral Resources Park