GREATER Western Sydney and the Western Bulldogs will, on Friday night, continue what is unquestionably the best current on-field rivalry in the game.

Sunday's Collingwood-Essendon Anzac Day clash boasts a quarter-century of tradition but it's been one-sided for a long time, with the Pies winning 11 of the past 14.

Meanwhile, the hype around the Easter Monday match-up between Hawthorn and Geelong is on the slide as the epic finals clashes between the pair fade into history's rear-view mirror.

For pure animosity, aggression and dislike, nothing matches what GWS and Bulldogs have built.

06:07 Mins
Published on

When Dogs and Giants collide: The AFL's most explosive rivalry

These bitter rivals have contested in several fiery clashes since the 2016 preliminary final

Published on

Perhaps the rivalry could be traced back to the Giants' inception when they recruited Callan Ward, or maybe it took off with the blockbuster Ryan Griffen-Tom Boyd trade at the end of 2014?

"I don't even know how it started … but it has been awesome," Ward told this week.

"It's good in a way that it's unknown but we're still so excited by it.

"I think the last two or three years it has really ramped up to a new level.

"You hear the Dogs talk about us, and they love playing us as well, so it's one of those ones that we look forward to, so it'll be on, on Friday night."

Wherever the embers came from, the past five years has turned those sparks into a raging on-field inferno.

Let's have a look at how it's evolved.

2016: The preliminary final thriller

Still the contest with the most at stake and the one the Giants might look back on with the most regret. In the first two weeks of the finals, Luke Beveridge's team had put away West Coast in Perth and halted the Hawthorn dynasty at the MCG. Next on the list was a white-hot GWS at Giants Stadium. GWS led by 14 points early in the final term, but could not withstand the Bulldogs' irresistible finish, as Jack Macrae put his team ahead with three minutes remaining. Probably still the biggest 'what if' in the Giants' short history.

Jubilant Bulldogs celebrate their victory over GWS in the 2016 preliminary final. Picture: AFL Photos

2017: Toby's high studs

After losing a dramatic contest at Manuka Oval by two points earlier in the season, the Bulldogs needed to win this round 21 contest to remain in the top eight. What ensued was a nine-goals-to-one second half Orange Avalanche, but that wasn't the main story coming out of this game. Toby Greene, always at the centre of the action, leapt to take a handball early in the third term, and in the process of raising his boot, drew blood from the face of Luke Dahlhaus. Players rushed in from everywhere to remonstrate. While Greene avoided a suspension that time, a little over 12 months later the AFL would introduce a rule to outlaw such actions.

Giant Toby Greene is reported during his side's win over the Bulldogs in round 21, 2017. Picture: AFL Photos

2019: Bont's bump on Haynes

Following one lopsided clash to open the 2018 season (that GWS won), this was just the second time the teams had met since late 2017. And while the Dogs won comfortably – steamrolling the Giants in the second half – it was an incident just before the main break that dominated the news cycle for days to come. Marcus Bontempelli's bump on Nick Haynes left the Giants defender with a fractured larynx. However, with the full extent of the injury unknown until later in the week, Bontempelli was let off with a fine, while Haynes would miss one match. It upset the Giants and set the stage for more drama in a fortnight's time.

Bulldog Marcus Bontempelli gestures after his bump on Giant Nick Haynes in round 22, 2019. Picture: AFL Photos

2019: A brutal elimination final

With the Bontempelli-Haynes incident only three weeks – and two matches – old, it was fitting the clubs would meet in an elimination final. Haynes was back, the Bulldogs were on a roll, and the anticipation during the week was at fever pitch. GWS set the tone in the first quarter, with Matt de Boer shackling Bontempelli and the Giants playing a rugged, uncompromising brand of football. Again, Greene was at the centre of it, charged with misconduct after video footage showed his hands around the face of Bontempelli in an incident that left the star Dog bruised and bloodied. Greene escaped suspension as his team won and charged towards a Grand Final berth.

Giant Jeremy Finlayson gestures to the Bulldogs fans after kicking a goal in the 2019 elimination final. Picture: AFL Photos

2020: Giants' mind games

The most recent instalment of this rivalry had one of its most bizarre twists when GWS sent Haynes to toss the coin with Bontempelli rather than captain Stephen Coniglio. The 'mind games' – if that's what it was – did not stop there, as de Boer, Jacob Hopper and Coniglio all took turns to try and rough up the Bulldogs' skipper. It failed, as the Dogs ran out comfortable 24-point winners.

Giant Stephen Coniglio gets to grips with Bulldog Marcus Bontempelli in round 3, 2020. Picture: AFL Photos

Perhaps it's only fair the last word should go to Ward.

"There is always a lot of niggle, a lot of chatter out there," he said.

"More than that, the contest is always good. Everyone goes so hard, because they want to win. That's the best thing about playing them.

“Like a final, games against the Dogs will be 'on' from the first five minutes until the final minute. It’s just 'on' the whole time.

"It's good fun though. The more intense, the better it is, and it makes it feel even better when you go well and win."