THE BULLDOGS have their bite back.
If a winless start to the year heading into Friday night's bout with the Giants might have raised questions about the true potential of Luke Beveridge's side this season, their convincing 24-point victory at Marvel Stadium went some way to answering them.
The Bulldogs physically dominated a Giants side that had embarrassed them last September, building the foundations for their 8.9 (57) to 4.9 (33) win on the back of fierce, hard-nosed footy that at times lacked polish but was never without effort and intensity.
DOGS DOWN GIANTS Full match coverage and stats
It was the type of reaction Beveridge would have been demanding after last week's disappointing defeat to the Saints, as Jack Macrae (25 disposals, seven tackles) and Caleb Daniel (23 disposals, six marks) stood tall amid a frantic battle to lead the Dogs home.
If the soul-searching was brutal at the Bulldogs this week, the spotlight will turn just as sharply to Leon Cameron's side as last year's Grand Finalists were outworked and outfought for a second consecutive week after last Sunday's loss to the Kangaroos.
Despite missing Toby Greene and Josh Kelly through injury, and having lost Lachie Whitfield to concussion in the first quarter following a bruising blow from Aaron Naughton, there was no excuse for the brutal manner in which the visitors were dismantled.
Harry Perryman (23 disposals, two goals) and Stephen Coniglio (24 disposals) fought valiantly, but the damage was done early as the Bulldogs scrapped to a 20-point lead at half-time and retained that advantage comfortably throughout the second half.
The mind games start early at Marvel
There was a long walk, an awkward stare, and the toss of a coin. The Giants made a point of trying to get into the head of Marcus Bontempelli prior to Friday night's clash, sending Nick Haynes to toss the coin against the Western Bulldogs skipper even though Stephen Coniglio is the club's captain. The back story is a long one. Cast your mind back to round 22 last year, where Bontempelli fractured the larynx of Haynes during a confrontational clash at Giants Stadium. Bontempelli escaped suspension, in part due to a medical report not yet being available when the Match Review made its decision. The outcome left the Giants seething – publicly, but perhaps even more so privately as Haynes missed a fortnight due to the blow. It led to a just-as-physical elimination final between the two sides later in the year, as the Giants targeted Bontempelli – remember the Toby Greene incident? – in a big win. The Giants stressed afterwards that sending Haynes to toss the coin wasn't a psychologic ploy. Whether or not that was actually the case might be another story.
'IT WAS PECULIAR ... IT WAS STRANGE' Bevo bemused at controversial coin toss
Bullied Bont has the last laugh
After the drama of the coin toss, Marcus Bontempelli had a point to make. He wasn't going to be bullied again. The Dogs failed to match the aggression of the Giants during last year's elimination final, with Bontempelli in particular physically targeted. But when Matt de Boer met him prior to the first bounce at Marvel Stadium, Bontempelli immediately answered to his invite for some push and shove. It led to a fiery contest, particularly early where Stephen Coniglio decked Josh Dunkley off the ball – and gave away a 50m penalty that led to a goal – before Aaron Naughton cleaned up Lachie Whitfield with a bump that forced the Giants midfielder from the game due to a concussion. The rough stuff continued throughout the game, as Bontempelli gave away a down-field free kick for high contact against Zac Williams, before a three-quarter time melee erupted and Tom Liberatore kicked a goal after the siren. After a well-fought duel, 'Bont' got the last laugh when his clever goal off the ground early in the fourth quarter sealed victory for the Dogs.
The heart and soul of the Dogs is back
He might be the club's cult hero, but on-field he's much more than that. Making his first appearance since August last year – and just his 35th since his role in the club's 2016 premiership – Tom Liberatore was the man at the heart of the Bulldogs' rousing victory. Clean in the coal face and spirited on the rare occasion when the footy found its way into space, Liberatore was among the best upon his return from yet more knee issues. He finished with 18 disposals and four clearances, keeping his composure after the siren had sounded – and a melee had erupted – at three-quarter time to steer home a goal, and just about steer the Bulldogs to victory. With 'Libba' back, the club's onball division looks stronger, evidenced by the side's dominant display out of the middle on Friday night.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 2.5 4.6 7.8 8.9 (57)
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 1.2 1.4 3.5 4.9 (33)
Western Bulldogs: Dunkley, Smith, Keath, Wallis, Richards, Dale, Liberatore, Bontempelli
Greater Western Sydney: Perryman 2, Cameron, Finlayson
Western Bulldogs: Macrae, Daniel, Liberatore, Keath, English, McLean, Dunkley
Greater Western Sydney: Perryman, Coniglio, Haynes, Hately, Corr
Western Bulldogs: Nil
Greater Western Sydney: Kelly (calf) replaced in selected side by Hately, Whitfield (concussion)