THE BATTLE of the best teams of 2021 so far stands at one-all. A decider surely awaits us at some point of September's finals series.
After Melbourne claimed the scalp of the Western Bulldogs in round 11 in a top-of-the-ladder clash, the Bulldogs returned serve on Saturday night, powering to an impressive 20-point win at a wet MCG.
DEES v DOGS Full match coverage and stats
The result sees the Dogs jump into first position on the table, with the Dees potentially falling to third if Geelong wins on Sunday. In tough, hard conditions it was a tough, hard performance from Luke Beveridge's team, who had a vaster array of contributors and were far more dangerous in attack in their 13.7 (85) to 9.11 (65) win.
The Dogs' first half gave them a buffer they were able to protect thereafter despite a last-quarter charge from the Demons, with injuries to Alex Keath (hamstring) and Ed Richards (concussion) the sore points from an otherwise excellent outing.
'NOT WORRIED ONE BIT' Goodwin upbeat on Dees scoring woes
Marcus Bontempelli was again brilliant. He kicked two goals from 31 disposals and a game-high 10 clearances to lead his side, while Jack Macrae (38 disposals) and Caleb Daniel (34) were also significant.
The Bulldogs had the better of it early, taking a 10-point lead into the first change. Bontempelli and Christian Petracca swapped skilful goals to kick off proceedings, but it was the Dogs who were more potent in attack.
Aaron Naughton's strong mark and straight conversion early in the second quarter was testament to that, lifting the Bulldogs to a 17-point advantage.
Melbourne struck back through Bayley Fritsch and looked set to have reduced the margin before half-time until former Demon Mitch Hannan nailed ex-teammate Angus Brayshaw in a strong tackle and won a free kick at the top of the goalsquare.
When Bailey Smith's on-the-run shot sailed through in the final minute of the half, the Dogs had established a 21-point break. Melbourne, which recorded its lowest first-half score of the season – 2.7 (19) – required a jolt.
It came in the form of back-to-back goals in the opening minute for the Dees, but the Dogs settled with Josh Bruce and Daniel hitting the scoreboard.
Kysaiah Pickett came into the game, bringing aggression and skill for Melbourne and helped the Demons jag back one goal and head into the final change trailing by 14 points.
They kept coming and got within four points before Bontempelli knew it was time to stop their run.
Not for the first time for the night, the superstar Dog swung on his left to snap a crucial goal. Seconds later, his classy kick found Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, who slotted the sealer.
'Flea' flies high
Cody Weightman has been threatening to take a huge mark for a couple of months now and he delivered against the Dees with one of the grabs of the season. The impressive young Bulldogs forward, who this week signed a two-year contract extension, flew over Melbourne skipper Max Gawn in the third term to haul in perhaps the Four'n Twenty Mark of the Year. Weightman sat on Gawn's 208cm shoulders and hung there to seal a massive mark on the wing before moments later kicking a goal. Weightman, nicknamed 'Flea' after former Tiger Dale Weightman (no relation), should be right in the running for the NAB AFL Rising Star after making his way into the Dogs' line-up in round nine.
Who gets the votes?
This game could shape as a key one in the battle for this year's Brownlow Medal with three genuine contenders (Bontempelli, Petracca and Clayton Oliver) in the mix and a fourth (Macrae) also not far off. Bontempelli's mega impact when it mattered should count for plenty in the eyes of the umpires and could see him get a step closer to a deserved Brownlow, but Oliver's 38-disposal (25 contested) and eight clearance performance was also terrific, especially in the first half. Petracca kicked a goal from 31 touches and was terrific, too, while Macrae will be in consideration. From outside those already mentioned, Daniel could also feature in the votes after a key contribution.
Schache selection reaps rewards
There was some surprise when Josh Schache was included in the side to tackle the Demons given the Dogs' set of tall forwards, but Beveridge swung a shock by playing the former Lion as a key defender. Schache started against Demons big man Luke Jackson but also spent time matched up against Ben Brown and Tom McDonald and played well across the night, finishing with 17 disposals and six marks. His inclusion was more valuable than the Dogs would have expected, though, given Keath's hamstring injury early in the first term left them a key defender down.
MELBOURNE 1.4 2.7 7.9 9.11 (65)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 3.2 6.4 10.5 13.7 (85)
Melbourne: Brown 2, Fritsch 2, Pickett 2, McDonald, Petracca, Viney
Western Bulldogs: Bontempelli 2, Bruce 2, Hannan 2, Naughton 2, Daniel, English, Smith, Ugle-Hagan, Weightman
Melbourne: Oliver, Petracca, Neal-Bullen, Lever, Gawn, Hunt
Western Bulldogs: Bontempelli, Daniel, Macrae, Smith, Hunter, Liberatore, Schache
Western Bulldogs: Keath (hamstring), Richards (concussion)
Melbourne: Sparrow (unused)
Western Bulldogs: Scott (replaced Keath in the first quarter)