IT WASN'T pretty for the most part but the Western Bulldogs have kept their unbeaten start to the season alive, the ladder leaders shaking off a brave Greater Western Sydney late to skip away to a 39-point win at Manuka Oval on Friday night.
The Bulldogs led by three points at three-quarter time on a cold night in Canberra, but slammed home nine goals in the final term to seal the 15.14 (104) to 9.11 (65) win that improved their record to 6-0.
GIANTS v BULLDOGS Full match coverage and stats
Jack Macrae starred for the Dogs with 40 possessions and a goal, with Marcus Bontempelli (26 disposals and a goal), Adam Treloar (35 and a goal) and Josh Dunkley (29) all important.
However, the win came at a cost for Luke Beveridge's side, with Dunkley (shoulder dislocation), Tim English (head knock) and Lin Jong (hamstring) failing to see out the game.
Dogs fans salivating at the prospect of their high-flying team feasting on the injury-depleted and inexperienced Giants were left disappointed as Leon Cameron's men took the fight to their arch-rivals for three quarters.
Toby Greene (19 possessions and four goals) was instrumental as GWS denied the Bulldogs time and space to get their vaunted fast-paced game up and running.
Both sides activated their medical substitutes in the first quarter, with injury-plagued Bulldog Jong and important Giant Nick Haynes (hamstring) leaving the game.
A late Josh Bruce goal gave the Dogs an eight-point lead at the first break, but Greene's second major, following a brief scuffle with old sparring partner Bontempelli, put the Giants back in front early in the second term.
With Macrae leading the way, the ladder leaders had seven of the top eight possession winners on the ground at half-time but still led by just eight points.
The inaccurate Dogs peppered the goals after the restart, but still couldn't shake the Giants, youngster Conor Stone kicking his first major at the elite level.
Aaron Naughton kicked his side's only goal for the quarter and when Bobby Hill fed Greene for his third, the plucky Giants trailed by three points at three-quarter time.
But as brave as they had been, GWS couldn't contain the Bulldogs any longer.
Dogs bring out the best in Greene
Toby Greene is as known in this match-up for a raised boot drawing blood from the face of Luke Dahlhaus in 2017 and bullying Marcus Bontempelli in the brutal 2019 elimination final as he is for the damage he does on the scoreboard. The stand-in skipper entered the game with more goals against the Bulldogs (24) than against any other opponent, including 20 in seven matches from 2016 when the rivalry really started to kick off. Greene added another four goals and was involved in the Giants’ best moments, but couldn’t quite carry his team across the line.
Return goes wrong for Jong, pain for Haynes
Nick Haynes and Lin Jong were both drafted at the end of 2011, Haynes at No.7 in the NAB AFL Draft and Jong as a rookie, but their careers have followed very different paths. Haynes has reached 150 games, and claimed a Giants best and fairest and All-Australian nod last year. Multiple injuries have restricted Jong to 65 games, but he returned on Friday night for his first game of the season and only his fourth since 2018. The key defender and midfielder started the game standing next to each other on a wing, Jong looking brighter with four early touches. But as he tried to chase down Callan Ward, his right leg collapsed and he quickly grasped his hamstring. Jong looked a forlorn figure as he was helped from the field then subbed out before quarter-time. Haynes’ exit moments later was less dramatic, but a slab of ice strapped to his hamstring sealed his fate and will be a costlier loss for his team.
Rivalry sizzles but fails to explode
It was billed all week as the biggest rivalry in the game, and rightly so after a series of spiteful clashes, but the game didn’t quite explode as it has in the past. Old foes Toby Greene and Marcus Bontempelli came close to heating up the contest with some niggle on the wing in the second quarter that resulted in a soft free kick to the Bont, but ended with a goal to Greene soon after. A relatively low free kick count of 16 to 15, in the Dogs’ favour, compared to the large number of free kicks (the equivalent of 35 to 21 allowing for normal game time) and hefty 15 fines dished out last year, showed that this was a contest where each side showed almost too much respect for the other.
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 1.1 4.5 6.8 9.11 (65)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 2.3 5.7 6.11 15.14 (104)
Greater Western Sydney: Greene 4, Taranto, Himmelberg, Stone, Hopper, Ward
Western Bulldogs: Bruce 2, McNeil 2, Liberatore 2, Dale 2, Naughton 2, Hunter, Johannisen, Bontempelli, Treloar, Macrae
Greater Western Sydney: Greene, Ash, Taranto, Hopper, Cumming, Taylor
Western Bulldogs: Macrae, Bontempelli, Liberatore, Treloar, Dunkley, Dale
Greater Western Sydney: Haynes (hamstring), O'Halloran (shoulder)
Western Bulldogs: Jong (hamstring), English (concussion), Dunkley (shoulder)
Greater Western Sydney: Tanner Bruhn (replaced Haynes)
Western Bulldogs: Lachlan McNeil (replaced Jong)