THE WESTERN Bulldogs have further strengthened their Grand Final claims with a surprisingly close eight-point win over bottom-placed Collingwood in Moe.
The Bulldogs now sit four points clear in first position, and with a very healthy percentage in hand, one win from their two remaining matches (against GWS and Melbourne) is likely to be enough to qualify.
It was a very fiery affair in Moe, with two reports in the first half alone. Collingwood captain Steph Chiocci could be facing some time on the sidelines after collecting Libby Birch high while the Bulldogs defender was attempting to gather the ball.
WATCH: Chiocci was reported for rough conduct on Birch
Collingwood coach Wayne Siekman was circumspect.
"She's had a great year and she's been doing some great things. I can't really say much. The incident's happened, the MRP will look at it and deal with it. The positive for her is the player came back on, so that's a great result," Siekman said.
Western Bulldogs coach Paul Groves said there was no replays available in the coach’s box, but Birch felt the effects of the hit.
"It looked pretty rough, and for Libby to go down, obviously there was something there. She was a bit groggy then, but for her to get bandaged up, there's no signs of concussions or anything like that. She did a few tests before she went back on, went through all the protocols and she's fine."
Birch herself will also come under the scrutiny of match review officer Michael Christian, striking Moana Hope in an attempt to spoil the ball in the second term.
WATCH: Birch in hot water for strike on Hope
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Emma Kearney battled with a strong tag from Brittany Bonnici, who was fresh off holding Daisy Pearce to just nine touches the week before.
Kearney, who is one of the favourites for the League best-and-fairest award, was instrumental in the midfield for the Dogs, with 13 disposals and three clearances.
Ably assisted by partners-in-crime Ellie Blackburn (17 and four clearances) and Kirsty Lamb (nine and five), the trio ran rings around the Collingwood midfield. They sharked nearly every tap from Magpie ruck Emma King, who along with Meg Hutchins dominated the hit-outs 43-16.
Collingwood struggled to transfer its strong Alice Springs form to the wide-open spaces of Ted Summerton Reserve in Moe. It was an unchanged side from the 34-point win over Melbourne, but the connection between the midfield and the forward line that was so impressive last week was missing for most of Sunday afternoon.
The Magpies did well to remain in touch for as long as they did, at one point kicking four goals from five inside-50s, all from free kicks.
But by the fourth quarter the sheer weight of inside-50s from the Bulldogs (30) overwhelmed a new-look Collingwood defence, featuring usual forwards Jess Duffin, Jasmine Garner and Chloe Molloy.
WATCH: Molloy's first AFLW goal
Two quick Collingwood goals in the dying minutes from Molloy and Christina Bernardi cut the final margin to eight points.
It was over when…
The margin stood at eight points with just 90 seconds left when Christina Bernardi, who had just kicked a goal, was set to take a shot from a free kick. But in a moment symbolic of Collingwood's season, the free kick was overturned due to a scuffle down the ground. Momentum was lost, and the Bulldogs successfully held on for their fourth win.
The young guns
It's a battle we expect to see for years to come, but draft picks three and four, Chloe Molloy and Monique Conti, came head-to-head on Sunday afternoon. The basketballers, who have both turned their backs on scholarships to colleges in the US, may be inexperienced in football but are both immensely talented. Conti possibly took the chocolates, but Molloy broke away late to slot her first goal for the season.
Did you see that?
The intriguing battle between Kearney and Bonnici held attention throughout the match, but tempers boiled over in the second term. The two are fair players but highly physical, and Bonnici was not going to let Kearney win the ball cleanly. She tackled her over the line into the Fox Footy boundary rider Sarah Olle and various cameramen, and when Kearney regained her equilibrium, she let Bonnici know she wasn't happy with the treatment, pushing her straight back into the white plastic chairs.
One to watch
The Bulldogs have the highest number of players eligible for the NAB Rising Star award (10), and have had four (Monique Conti, Aisling Utri, Bonnie Toogood and Libby Birch) already nominated. Rookie Naomi Ferres may join them before the season ends. The Western Spurs product has slotted in with ease across the backline and is more than capable of taking on tall and small opponents. She averages eight touches a match at an impressive 70 per cent disposal efficiency.
WATCH: Utri's clever snap
"We were having a shot on goal, 25 metres out directly in front with 90 seconds left to make it two points, and we give away a stupid free kick in the middle of the ground. That just kills you. Can't win a game of footy doing that." – Collingwood coach Wayne Siekman
"[It was great] to grind out a win and go into a different mode. Do a few different things around stoppages and control the footy and make it a bit of a scrap and to edge it out is a good thing to have going forward into the last two games of the season." – Western Bulldogs coach Paul Groves
The Western Bulldogs will be hoping to lock up a Grand Final spot when the team travels up to Canberra to take on a rejuvenated GWS. Collingwood plays its third-straight game out of Melbourne, lining up against the Brisbane Lions at Moreton Bay Central Sports Complex.
COLLINGWOOD 1.0 3.0 4.2 6.5 (41)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 3.4 4.6 6.7 7.7 (49)
Collingwood: Edwards 2, Hutchins, Barden, Molloy, Bernardi
Western Bulldogs: Lochland 2, Toogood, Utri, O'Connor, Blackburn, Callinan
Collingwood: Garner, D'Arcy, Edwards, King, McIntosh
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn, Conti, Kearney, Lamb, Ferres
Western Bulldogs: Nil
Reports: Chiocci (Collingwood) reported for high contact on Birch (Western Bulldogs) in the first quarter, Birch (Western Bulldogs reported for striking Hope (Collingwood) in the second quarter.
Umpires: Young, Curtis, Heffernan
Crowd: 2700 at Ted Summerton Reserve, Moe