THE WESTERN Bulldogs' bark is officially back.
The Dogs' pre-season sparkle dulled with consecutive hidings to begin the year, but they've responded with three straight victories – the latest a 49-point defeat of North Melbourne.
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They did it with a devastating, five-goal burst in the third quarter that blew the margin out to 44 points, before cantering to a 13.9 (87) to 5.8 (38) triumph.
On the flipside, the Kangaroos' season has gone into a tailspin ahead of a relocation north to the Gold Coast, with their bright 2-0 start spoiled by three defeats on the trot.
Just as satisfying for Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge was recruit Josh Bruce's big night out.
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The ex-Saint managed only two goals in his first four matches at his new club – after arriving on a hefty contract – but booted six in authoritative fashion against North to be the best player afield.
Bruce helped himself to the same number at the Roos' expense last year. He promises to be a major factor in whether the Dogs can be a premiership threat in 2020.
Emerging ruckman Tim English also impressed in matching the AFL's clearance king Todd Goldstein (two goals) and helping the Bulldogs narrowly take the honours in the clinches.
Tom Liberatore (23 disposals) and Jack Macrae (24) won five clearances each in starring roles, while Easton Wood and English continually repelled North's forward-50 entries.
Jy Simpkin was good again for North Melbourne but had little support in the centre, particularly with a sore Ben Cunnington unable to impact the contest as he usually would.
Cunnington hobbled around in attack for only seven possessions before sitting out for good by the third quarter, after Dog Bailey Smith and Roo Tarryn Thomas left the contest by half-time.
North trailed all night and was left to rue haphazard ball movement that the Bulldogs dined upon.
Terrific Tim passes Goldy test
The Western Bulldogs have placed their ruck fortunes in Tim English's hands and he continues to show great promise, at least when he isn't facing Brodie Grundy. Saturday night's match-up with red-hot Roo Todd Goldstein was a significant test but English proved he was up to it from the get-go. They've done their damage in different ways this season. Goldstein entered the night leading the AFL with 8.5 clearances per game this year, while English was among the competition's best intercept markers with 3.3. Goldstein kicked a couple of goals – both from the goalsquare – but English arguably took the points, although both had their moments.
What to do with Cunnington?
The Kangaroos have a Ben Cunnington problem. The dual Syd Barker medallist woke with a sore back a few weeks ago and managed to make it to the start line on Saturday night after twice being a late withdrawal. However, Cunnington never looked right, moved gingerly and required treatment on his right groin within the first quarter. With Jack Ziebell (hamstring) also out and Shaun Higgins starting forward, Rhyce Shaw tried various players through the middle without much success. Jy Simpkin was a strong performer and Jed Anderson and Trent Dumont did their bit, but they were carved up away from the contest. North needs a fit and firing Cunnington if it wants to make an impact in season 2020.
Young stars dazed
Bailey Smith and Tarryn Thomas were the respective seventh and eighth draft picks of the 2018 NAB AFL Draft, and have shown enough to suggest they have bright futures. They shared something else in common on Saturday night, with both undergoing concussion tests in the opening half. Smith's head crashed into the Marvel Stadium surface after being caught unawares by North's Shaun Atley – and he was done for the night by the second term. Thomas' incident was more spectacular, with the 20-year-old leaping unsuccessfully over a pack of Bulldogs for a mark. The bigger problem was Thomas' landing, with his right shoulder and head crashing hard into the ground. He didn't move for a while, and was surrounded by trainers, before walking unaided to the bench. Thomas underwent a concussion test at half-time and was ruled out early in the third quarter.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 2.2 5.5 10.6 13.9 (87)
NORTH MELBOURNE 1.2 2.3 3.5 5.8 (38)
Western Bulldogs: Bruce 6, Wallis 2, Schache 2, Dale, Vandermeer, Richards
North Melbourne: Goldstein 2, Taylor 2, Zurhaar
Western Bulldogs: Bruce, Liberatore, English, Macrae, Wood, McLean, Daniel
North Melbourne: Simpkin, Tarrant, McDonald, Anderson, Dumont, Goldstein
Western Bulldogs: Smith (concussion), Vandermeer (concussion)
North Melbourne: Thomas (concussion), Cunnington (back)