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Hammer time: Inspired Dogs stave off Swans fightback

Highlights: Western Bulldogs v Sydney The Bulldogs and Swans clash in round one

WESTERN Bulldogs have marked their first game at Marvel Stadium by donning a Thor-inspired guernsey, and they certainly brought the thunder early on Saturday night before holding off a fast-finishing Sydney to prevail by 17 points.

Aussie actor and Bulldogs fan Chris Hemsworth – who has played Thor in several big-screen blockbusters – and his Hollywood pal Matt Damon cheered on the heroic home side, which stormed to a 40-point lead just after half-time and withstood a spirited Swans fightback that slashed the margin to just four points before steadying to claim a 11.16 (82) to 9.11 (65) victory.

The sluggish Swans went more than two quarters without a goal before piling on eight of the next 10 goals, but misses by superstar Lance Franklin and Zak Jones proved costly with the undermanned Dogs icing the game with goals to vice-captain Marcus Bontempelli and former Tiger Sam Lloyd.

The Bulldogs' impressive teenage swingman Aaron Naughton produced a game-breaking performance in attack, showing great maturity, smarts and presence, finishing with a game-high three goals.

DOGS UPSET SWANS Full match coverage and stats

In contrast, Franklin, who appeared underdone after a limited pre-season following groin surgery, managed just seven touches, five of them in the last quarter, and only one goal in a forgettable evening mostly opposed to Dogs skipper Easton Wood. Naughton moved onto Franklin late to quell the Dogs' greatest threat.

The victors were powered by a midfield that was dominant in the first half, featuring high-quality efforts from Jack Macrae (32 disposals), Bontempelli (29), the returning Tom Liberatore (28), Lachie Hunter (26) and Mitch Wallis (26), and a surprisingly dangerous and diverse attack.

The visitors started strongly with Isaac Heeney, the reigning mark of the year winner, submitting another contender just a minute in when he soared to take a classic screamer over Bailey Williams, before converting. Soon after, Heeney again marked strongly but missed everything.

The Bulldogs rattled on the next seven goals in impressive fashion and made the Swans look second-rate.

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At the long break the Dogs led the inside 50 count 33-17, and probably should have been further than 33 points in front. The Swans' half-time score of 1.5 (11) was their worst since the 2015 season.

With Swans co-captains Luke Parker and Josh Kennedy battling in the engine room, Sydney coach John Longmire swung the changes, including moving Callum Mills forward, George Hewitt into the middle and Heath Grundy (Naughton's previous opponent) forward, and the Swans responded with four goals in seven minutes and suddenly there was some tension in the contest.

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The Dogs still regrouped to lead by 32 points at the last change before being bombarded by the Swans, who added four consecutive goals in 10 minutes to be within a straight kick midway through the final term.

Just when it seemed the more experienced Sydney would run over the top, the Bulldogs found another gear and dominated the last five minutes.

The Swans' best were ruckman Callum Sinclair, who proved too astute for youngster Tim English, while defensive playmaker Jake Lloyd overcame a slow start to provide his usual run, Zak Jones provided some grunt and veteran Jarrad McVeigh was a cool head in a crisis.

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The result provides genuine hope for Dogs fans after their team missed the finals in the two seasons since their fairytale 2016 premiership, while the Swans' defeat will only strengthen the argument of those who have forecast a fall for the Swans after nine successive seasons of finals action.

Amplifying the change that has taken place at both clubs in recent times, the clash featured just 22 players from 2016 Grand Final (won by the Bulldogs) – 12 from the Swans and 10 from the Bulldogs.

MEDICAL ROOM
Western Bulldogs: Matt Suckling hurt his right ankle but played out the game.
Sydney:  The Swans escaped with a clean bill of health. 

NEXT UP
The Bulldogs face a revitalised Hawthorn at the MCG on Sunday while the Swans host the also winless Adelaide at the SCG on Friday night.

WESTERN BULLDOGS   4.5       6.8       9.14     11.16 (82)
SYDNEY                        1.2       1.5       5.6       9.11 (65)

GOALS
Western Bulldogs: Naughton 3, Gowers 2, Lloyd 2, Richards, Duryea, Schache, Bontempelli
Sydney: Reid 2, Heeney 2, Blakey, Hayward, Mills, Papley, Franklin

BEST
Western Bulldogs: Naughton, Bontempelli, Liberatore, Wallis, Macrae, Hunter
Sydney: Lloyd, Jones, McVeigh, Sinclair, Kennedy, Papley

INJURIES
Western Bulldogs: Suckling (right ankle)
Sydney: Nil

Reports: Nil

Umpires: Ryan, O'Gorman, Brown

Official crowd: 32,303 at Marvel Stadium