MUCH OF the pre-match talk centred on whether the resurgent Western Bulldogs would take a decisive step towards repeating their magical 2016 effort of winning the premiership from seventh spot.
The Dogs had entered the finals with serious momentum while their elimination final opponent Greater Western Sydney had seemingly gone backwards; and Luke Beveridge's men were bullish about replicating their 2016 preliminary final heroics against GWS at Giants Stadium, particularly after hammering a weakened Giants combination there just three weeks ago.
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There is to be no fairytale this time, at least not where the Dogs are concerned, after they were eliminated from the flag race in emphatic style courtesy of a 58-point drubbing at the hands of a ferocious GWS on Saturday.
Exacerbating matters for the Bulldogs, emerging star forward Aaron Naughton suffered a potentially serious injury to his left knee in the third quarter, while Giants veteran Brett Deledio, who is in his last season, was emotional after the siren after suffering yet another calf injury.
Lean Cameron's team, meanwhile, played the kind of uncompromising football that will have it believing its first premiership is possible this year after winning a niggly contest in windy conditions, 16.17 (113) to 8.7 (55).
The Giants dominated to lead by four goals in the second term before the Dogs bit back to get within three points, only for the hosts to pile on the next eight goals.
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The Giants were superbly served by playmakers Lachie Whitfield (30 possessions and a goal), Tim Taranto (28 and seven clearances) and Jacob Hopper (30 and seven clearances), feisty genius Toby Greene (20 and 3.1) and Jeremy Finlayson (18 and 3.3) led the way in attack, stopper Matt de Boer restricted Bulldogs superstar Marcus Bontempelli to just 13 touches, and veteran Heath Shaw (25) provided great rebound run.
For the Dogs, Jack Macrae (a game-high 32 disposals) continued to win his share of possession but virtually played a lone hand given Bontempelli and Josh Dunkley (20) were well below their best. Matt Suckling and Lachie Hunter tried hard to fill the breach and Easton Wood battled hard against the odds in defence.
The Giants next week face a cutthroat semi-final against the loser of Saturday night's qualifying final between Brisbane and Richmond at the Gabba.
The day began with great expectations for the Dogs, whose belief receive an immediate boost in their first final in three years when Suckling received a Dunkley handball on the defensive side of the centre, took two bounces and goaled from outside 50 in the opening 20 seconds.
It was to be one of just two scoring shots from the Dogs in the opening quarter-and a half as the Giants monopolised play in their forward half with swarming ball hunting, ferocious tackling and territory gains.
The home side first hit the scoreboard courtesy of a masterful conversion from the boundary from long range by Whitfield, followed by two from Greene.
Midway through the second term the Giants broke away to a 24-point lead, which could easily have been 40-plus given they were winning the inside-50 count 26-6.
The orange wave grew in intensity and threatened to engulf the Dogs, who'd been reduced to a shadow of the cohesive unit that had won so many admirers over the previous two months.
If the status quo remained the contest might well have been over by half-time, but with their season on the line the Bulldogs finally burst to life with six scoring shots in as many minutes, including three goals, to slash the margin to just three points.
The Giants again established a three-goal lead in the third term with Josh Kelly slotting a magnificent boundary goal after receiving a free kick in an incident in which Suckling was reported for making high contact.
Dogs youngster Ed Richards kept his team in the contest with a terrific running goal and the margin was a manageable 11 points.
Just when it appeared a grandstand finish would eventuate, GWS turned up the heat most decisively to both shellshock the visitors and give their send something of a shockwave – an orange one – through their fellow flag contenders.
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GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 3.5 6.9 12.11 16.17 (113)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 2.0 5.5 7.6 8.7 (55)
Greater Western Sydney: Finlayson 3, Greene 3, Kelly 3, Lloyd 2, Himmelberg 2, Cameron 2, Whitfield
Western Bulldogs: Naughton 2, Suckling, McLean, English, Schache, Richards, Lloyd
Greater Western Sydney: Whitfield, Taranto, Hopper, Greene, de Boer, Shaw, Finlayson
Western Bulldogs: Macrae, Wood, Suckling, Hunter, Lipinski
Greater Western Sydney: Deledio (calf)
Western Bulldogs: Naughton (knee)
Reports: Matt Suckling reported for rough conduct on Josh Kelly
Umpires: Foot, Williamson, Ryan
Official crowd: 19,218 at Giants Stadium