THE WESTERN Bulldogs emerged from a week of hotel quarantine hungry and finely tuned, punishing a sloppy West Coast to win a crucial clash by 55 points at an empty Optus Stadium on Sunday.
Just hours after COVID-19 restrictions forced fans to be locked out of the sellout clash, the Bulldogs locked the Eagles out of the top four with a clinical 13.20 (98) to 6.7 (43) win.
In a clash of star-studded midfields, Marcus Bontempelli and Bailey Smith were a class above, dominating the Eagles' returning stars and piling on the pain with six straight goals in the final term.
The win kept Luke Beveridge's team one game clear in second spot, while sending the Eagles down to seventh after a home loss and percentage hit that will make a top-four finish mission impossible.
It was the Eagles' heaviest defeat at Optus Stadium and their lowest score, with just 13 scoring shots to the inaccurate Bulldogs' 33, with the game in the balance for much longer than it should have been.
EAGLES v BULLDOGS Full match coverage and stats
Bontempelli was immense from start to finish, winning 29 disposals, 10 clearances and booting three goals, including a magical snap running towards the boundary in the final term.
He led a midfield that dominated their opponents, winning the clearances 44-29 and delivering an inside 50 advantage of 60-38 that prevented the Eagles from ever getting their game going.
Smith was injected into a more inside role but still ran tirelessly all day, racking up 31 touches and kicking two goals, while Jack Macrae (32, seven clearances and a goal) was prominent.
Young star Aaron Naughton was the beneficiary of the Bulldogs' dominance, controlling the air with nine marks (five contested) and kicking a game-high four goals, with three coming in the final-quarter onslaught.
The Eagles made a tired start and were kept in the clash by the Bulldogs' wasteful kicking for goal, with the visitors managing 4.12 in the first half.
Adam Simpson's men never rebounded to get the game on their terms for long enough, moving the ball without their usual fluency and getting tied in knots on the wings.
Ruckman Nic Naitanui was a force at stoppages with 39 hitouts and eight clearances, but he couldn't do it alone.
That the Eagles' major ball-winners were all defenders told of their inability to break through the Bulldogs' disciplined defensive structure and the scale of their midfield loss.
Bontempelli builds on Brownlow case
Bulldogs superstar Marcus Bontempelli has made a habit of tormenting West Coast in recent seasons, kicking at least one goal in each of his past five clashes and most recently racking up 30 disposals and three goals in round two against Adam Simpson's team. He made a red-hot start with 10 disposals in the opening quarter and four clearances on Sunday, controlling the stoppages and then pushing forward dangerously, again finishing with three goals. The Eagles had no answer for the Brownlow Medal favourite, who added the finishing touches with an incredible snap from the boundary that should seal another three votes.
Flyin' Ryan in MRO trouble
West Coast star Liam Ryan chose to bump Jason Johannisen after the Bulldogs defender had received a handball 10 minutes into the second quarter, making high contact that forced the Norm Smith medallist from the ground. Fortunately for Ryan, Johannisen was able to return to play minutes later, which will work in his favour when the incident is assessed by the Match Review Officer. A grading of careless conduct, high contact and low impact would result in a fine. If the potential to cause serious impact is considered and the MRO decides medium impact is appropriate, Ryan will be offered a one-match suspension.
Full strength midfield on the back foot
West Coast finally had all of its big names together in the midfield after a raft of injuries, starting Tim Kelly, Luke Shuey and Elliot Yeo in the first centre bounce. But the star trio was out of sorts in the first quarter as the Eagles adjusted to the new mix. Beaten 8-16 in the clearances and 34-52 in contested ball for the first quarter, Yeo, Shuey and Kelly combining for just one clearance while Bulldogs pair Marcus Bontempelli and Tom Liberatore shared eight. It drove a 17-8 advantage in inside 50s for the Bulldogs and gave them a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
WEST COAST 1.1 2.4 5.6 6.7 (43)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 2.8 4.12 7.15 13.20 (98)
West Coast: Allen 2, Kennedy, Cripps, Petruccelle, Gaff
Western Bulldogs: Naughton 4, Bontempelli 3, Smith 2, Macrae, McLean, Garcia, Weightman
West Coast: Naitanui, Sheppard, Hurn, Redden
Western Bulldogs: Bontempelli, Smith, Naughton, Macrae, Hunter, Liberatore, Richards, Dale
West Coast: Nil
Western Bulldogs: Gardner (shoulder), English (eye)
West Coast: Nelson (unused)
Western Bulldogs: Wallis (replaced Gardner)
Crowd: No crowd permitted at Optus Stadium