NOW THAT is a thrashing.
It was only twelve games ago for St Kilda that the Saints beat the Western Bulldogs in an elimination final. But the enormous – and growing – gulf between the clubs could not have been any more stark than Saturday night, as the Dogs demolished the Saints by a record 111 points at Marvel Stadium.
BULLDOGS v SAINTS Full match coverage and stats
Since that knockout final last year, the Western Bulldogs have become the team to beat in the competition, rising to top the AFL ladder after round 10 and sitting as one of the flag favourites.
The Saints, meanwhile, have confirmed themselves as also-rans, a side that has gone backwards since its first finals win in 10 years and one that could finish the round in the bottom five after another embarrassing capitulation.
The Dogs' 21.18 (144) to 5.3 (33) obliteration was done with ease, with the only spoiler to their party an ankle injury for gun recruit Adam Treloar, which is set to see him miss next week's mouth-watering top-of-the-ladder clash with Melbourne. The former Magpie and Giant watched the second half with his right leg in a moonboot.
The statistics told some of the story of this KO: the Dogs led the possessions (399 to 351), centre clearances (19 to nine) and inside-50s (69 to 41), but also the tackles (72 to 48). But even they don't represent the gulf between the teams that has grown with every game since that sunny afternoon at the Gabba last October.
The Bulldogs' biggest ever win over the Saints was spearheaded by superstar skipper Marcus Bontempelli, who booted an equal career-best four goals from 26 disposals.
Jack Macrae continued his unbeaten run of 30 or more disposals every game this season with another 41 touches while Tom Liberatore was immense with eight clearances and 31 disposals. Bailey Dale's ascent to possible All Australian also gathered steam with 33 disposals and two goals.
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The Saints' struggles in front of goal continued from last week, with a series of misses in the first term seeing the Bulldogs break out to an 11-point gap at quarter time.
Jack Billings' spectacular goal from the pocket after intercepting a handball close to the boundary line was a rare highlight for the Saints in a term that saw the Dogs capitalise on their turnovers and register eight scoring shots.
Then came the rush. It started with a Cody Weightman goal, then a brilliant Bontempelli running shot before Josh Bruce kicked back-to-back goals. By the time Roarke Smith caught Hunter Clark holding the ball and converted his free kick midway through the second term, the Dogs had jumped to a 43-point lead.
From there it was a Bulldogs bulldoze: Jordon Sweet held his own in the ruck battle with Paddy Ryder, Bailey Smith's hands at ground level were brilliant and Lachie Hunter, back from his hand surgery, had a huge say.
The Dogs were in the mood for a drubbing and kept the foot on the pedal in the second half, kicking 11 goals to two, with Aaron Naughton joining in the fun with five after the main break to hand the Saints their fourth loss of more than 50 points this season. For a club that has recruited for a tilt at the top now, this pounding highlighted how far away the Saints really are.
Not this time, Saints
St Kilda co-captain Jarryn Geary returned from his pre-season leg injury to play his first game of the season against the Dogs. And he resumed the same role he held in last year's elimination final in playing as a defensive forward on Bulldogs gun Caleb Daniel. Unlike last time, when Geary kicked two goals and limited Daniel's offensive weapons, this time the All-Australian Bulldog won the battle. Daniel had 14 disposals by half-time and with the Dogs up by 51 points at the main break, St Kilda aborted the plan and sent Geary to defence after the main break.
Weightman's stocks rise
Cody Weightman's first game of the season – last week's three-goal effort against Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval – wasn't enough to get him a NAB AFL Rising Star nomination but his ability to back it up with another exciting game against the Saints could do the trick. The pocket-rocket small forward was everywhere in the first half against the Saints, particularly in a vibrant second term that saw him kick a goal, have another two shots, create some chances and lay a good smother. The Dogs' first pick from the 2019 NAB AFL Draft will be in the mix to be the club's first Rising Star nominee since 2019, having finished with two goals from 14 disposals and six marks.
Saints' shots still off
The Saints picked up where they left off in front of goal. After last week's inaccuracy – they booted 5.17 in the loss to the Cats – they missed some opportunities in the first quarter that could have started a different story. Tim Membrey missed one early, and then Shaun McKernan produced a woeful set shot that nearly came off his knee from a gettable position. Later, youngster Ryan Byrnes' long shot went wayward. Overall the Saints' scoreline read far better than last week, but several kicks that could have helped them early failed to cross the line.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 3.5 10.10 15.13 21.18 (144)
ST KILDA 2.0 3.1 4.2 5.3 (33)
Western Bulldogs: Naughton 5, Bontempelli 4, Bruce 3, Dale 2, Weightman 2, Hannan, Hunter, Johannisen, Liberatore, R.Smith
St Kilda: Membrey 2, Billings, Butler, McKernan
Western Bulldogs: Bontempelli, Macrae, Dale, Liberatore, Smith, Daniel, Naughton
St Kilda: Sinclair, Byrnes, Steele, Membrey
Western Bulldogs: Treloar (ankle), Scott (head knock)
St Kilda: Nil
Western Bulldogs: Young (replaced Treloar in the second quarter)
St Kilda: Highmore (unused)