GREATER Western Sydney has gone a step closer to shoring up its top-four position with a commanding win over the Western Bulldogs, which leaves the reigning premiers' finals hopes in the balance.
The Giants' 48-point victory at Etihad Stadium on Friday night sees them edge towards a home qualifying final with two rounds to play, and also serves as a blow to the Dogs, who started the round in seventh place.
But the 16.9 (105) to 7.15 (57) result has seen last year's premiers' percentage drop to 98.3 in a tight race for September as Essendon, West Coast, Melbourne and St Kilda also fight for a place in the lower rungs of the eight.
The Giants face a nervous few days, however, with star forward Toby Greene reported for rough conduct for his boot to the face of Luke Dahlhaus when receiving a handball in the third term. It was the All Australian's first game since returning from a two-week ban for striking Richmond's Alex Rance in round 18, which was his second suspension of the season.
Greene was still one of the Giants' most valuable players in the win over the Dogs with 16 disposals and two goals in a contest that didn't reach the engrossing heights of recent clashes between the clubs.
Dylan Shiel powered through the midfield with 30 touches, Stephen Coniglio demonstrated his importance with 25 disposals, Josh Kelly had another good night out with 25 disposals and two goals, and Jonathon Patton booted four goals.
Giants coach Leon Cameron praised his side for standing up on the big stage to produce a "terrific win".
"I'm really proud of the players because they haven't experienced much Friday night footy in Melbourne when the spotlight is on you and I thought when we really under the pump in the second quarter, that was a really pleasing," he said.
"Clearly the Dogs dominated the second quarter and probably should have hit the scoreboard more but for us to keep hanging in there, and hanging in there and finding ways that were working for us was great.
"Our turn came in the third and we really took advantage of that, that was why I was proud of the guys. As you know Friday night footy is pretty intense and everyone's watching."
Marcus Bontempelli was probably the Dogs' most influential player, although Lachie Hunter (26 disposals) and Toby McLean (23) also battled hard as the Dogs' four-game winning streak was broken.
"Their strike rate going inside-50 is off the charts and ours is the polar opposite. We played with reasonable method at times but skill and decision really hurt us, and they're a really talented side who get you on the counter and they got us," Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said after the loss.
Patton's presence loomed large at the start of the clash. Returning after missing last week's win over Melbourne with hamstring soreness, the powerful big man kicked three goals in the opening quarter and was unstoppable as the Giants bombed it to him long.
Just as Bomber Joe Daniher two weeks ago exposed the Dogs for a lack of experienced tall defenders, Patton again highlighted that issue with some imposing moments. GWS' 10-point advantage at the first change didn't quite reflect its say on the contest.
The Dogs turned the weight of momentum their way in the second quarter. Luke Beveridge's men were able to close down the Giants' run and space, but still trailed by four points at the main break after an incredibly wasteful display.
Beveridge's men registered 22 inside-50s for the quarter but could manage just 3.6 on the scoreboard. The Giants, just as remarkably, went inside their attacking forward arc just four times but kicked three goals.
If nothing else, the quarter was a reminder of the Dogs' capacity to hunt. They entered the clash on a four-game winning streak, but had not been in the type of form that rocketed them to their breakthrough flag last year. The second quarter was a step towards that.
Five talking points: Western Bulldogs v Greater Western Sydney
But the Giants flexed their muscles in the third term to establish what went on to be a match-winning lead.
Already being booed by Dogs fans for his strike on Bulldog midfielder Caleb Daniel in the clubs' match earlier this year, Greene didn't let the Dahlhaus incident bother him, and instead floated forward a minute afterwards to take a big mark and convert an important goal. His report will doubtless dominate discussion over the weekend.
As should the Giants' form. Their third quarter completely shut down the Dogs' hopes and showed the Giants to be irresistible when up and going. They kicked six goals to none for the term to take a 38-point advantage into the final term and weren't going to slow down from there.
Western Bulldogs: The Dogs appeared to get through the game without any major injury concerns.
Greater Western Sydney: Dylan Shiel continues to play through the pain of his dodgy shoulders, and he went down in pain grabbing at them again during Friday night's clash. But the important midfielder played out the game.
The Bulldogs host Port Adelaide next Saturday at Mars Stadium in Ballarat in a game that will shape their finals chances. The Giants host West Coast next Saturday at Spotless Stadium and could shore up their top-four spot.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 3.1 6.7 6.12 7.15 (57)
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 4.5 7.5 13.8 16.9 (105)
Western Bulldogs: Dickson 2, Dahlhaus, Redpath, Dale, Murphy, Cloke
Greater Western Sydney: Patton 4, De Boer 2, Kelly 2, Greene 2, Whitfield 2, Coniglio, Ward, Hopper, Lobb
Western Bulldogs: Bontempelli, Hunter, McLean, Suckling
Greater Western Sydney: Coniglio, Shiel, Williams, Kelly, Patton, Whitfield
Western Bulldogs: Luke Dahlhaus (face)
Greater Western Sydney: Zac Williams (cut above eye)
Reports: Toby Greene (rough conduct)
Umpires: Margetts, Schmitt, Mollison
Official crowd: 30,672 at Etihad Stadium