WESTERN Bulldogs coach Damien Keeping lauded the collective resolve of his players to withstand a spirited fightback from Western Australia in the AFL women's exhibition match at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
The Bulldogs saw a seemingly comfortable lead whittled back to just one point early in the last quarter, before they steadied to win by 13 points.
"It was amazing. For that group to put that sort of football on the park shows what's ahead, and it's exciting,'' Keeping said.
"The character stood out in the players and they stuck true even when challenged. That's a sign of maturity and how they're growing as a group and individually and that holds this women's competition in good stead.''
Keeping expected most of the 25 players from the Victorian academy, who represented the Dogs, to be drafted by clubs later this year for the inaugural season of AFL women's national competition.
"In 12 months time we'll look back at this group and they'll be big names in the competition. Yes, the (exhibition series) has identified one or two who are really strong at this point, but once the collective group gets the opportunity to perform, I think you'll find there are 25 potential stars here,'' he said.
"We've certainly gone into the program with (developing draft picks) in mind. We certainly wanted to win today and we (created) a program where the girls could be competitive and win.
"But we haven't lost sight that the end game is (having) this group playing (in the new AFL women's league) next year. It will be a reward to watch them pull on whatever jumper.''
The Bulldogs held on despite losing experienced defender Meg Hutchins to a knee injury for the entire second half.
Hutchins will have a scan after twisting her right knee on the turf and she said after the game that it was more precautionary that she didn't return to the field.
In her absence, former Australia soccer goalkeeper Brianna Davey was superb down back and thwarted many West Australian scoring attempts with her timely marking and intercepts.
"It's definitely a role I feel comfortable with from goalkeeping, being able to read the play and knowing when to go and stay and be in position for a kick-in,'' Davey said.
"It was a real team effort, particularly from a defensive point of view. We're a little team within a team down back and we worked well together, which helped push us over the line."
The Bulldogs enjoyed ample opportunities in the opening quarter, but couldn't convert. Four behinds was a poor return for their effort and the girls from the west edged ahead with a Kiara Bowers goal.
But the Dogs found more system in the forward half to dominate the second-quarter scoring. Moana Hope presented a viable target on the lead and booted two goals. And when Bianca Jakobsson and Ellyse Gamble joined her on the scoresheet, the Dogs had broken open the contest to take an 11-point lead into the half-time break.
The expected West Australian challenge in the second half threatened to overrun the Dogs in the last quarter. But the Bulldogs stayed tough with their disciplined defence, run-and-carry from Lauren Arnell through the midfield and more options up forward.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 0.4 4.4 5.4 8.5 (53)
WESTERN AUSTRALIA 1.2 2.5 3.9 5.10 (40)
Western Bulldogs: Hope 3, Cranston 2, Jakobsson, Gamble, E Kearney
Western Australia: Bowers 2, Frederick-Traub 2, Gibson
Western Bulldogs: Davey, Jakobsson, Arnell, Paxman, Lambert, Chiocci
Western Australia: Bowers, Donnellan, King, Forth, Filocamo, Frederick-Traub