A TOP-TWO finish was on the line when Western Bulldogs and Port Adelaide met at Marvel Stadium in the last round of the home and away season.

The two-point margin in a classic encounter changed the course of the first two weeks of finals, with the winner going on to salute again in a home qualifying final and the loser forced onto a long route through the finals to their return clash this week.

WHAT HAPPENED

When and where: Round 23, Friday, August 20 at Marvel Stadium
Final score: Western Bulldogs 10.4 (64) lost to Port Adelaide 9.12 (66) 

The Bulldogs started brightly with the first four goals of the match through captain Marcus Bontempelli, Aaron Naughton, Tim English and Josh Dunkley, until Connor Rozee got one back just before quarter-time.

The second term was a closer contest with the Dogs adding only one goal, while the Power missed several opportunities and kicked five behinds. 

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The visitors found their range after the main break with three quick goals from Robbie Gray, Peter Ladhams and Rozee to level the scores but the Bulldogs steadied with three of their own to take an 11-point lead into the final change. 

03:11 Mins
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Last two mins: Agony for Bulldogs after last-gasp shot falls short

Enjoy the thrilling final moments between the Dogs and Power at Marvel Stadium

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The margin rose to 15 points when Adam Treloar goaled at the 10-minute mark of the last quarter but a run of goals to star trio Ollie Wines, Travis Boak and Gray put the Power in front for the first time all night.

Dogs young gun Bailey Smith had a shot from outside 50m with 11 seconds remaining, but it fell agonisingly short and Power defenders rushed it through for a behind.

Power forward Mitch Georgiades was subbed out with a hamstring strain and the Bulldogs were left sweating over Naughton's in-game report for a dangerous tackle on Tom Jonas. 

Port Adelaide's Mitch Georgiades looks on after injuring his hamstring against Western Bulldogs in R23, 2021. Picture: Getty Images

WHO WAS MISSING

Port Adelaide

The Power lost Orazio Fantasia for the match with a hamstring issue and omitted Tom Clurey. Hamish Hartlett (knee) and Lachie Jones (ankle) continued to be sidelined at that time but are now available.

Ruckman Scott Lycett was managed through the week leading into the game after jarring a knee in the previous match but was declared fit to play. 

MEGA-PREVIEW Power v Bulldogs, stats that matter, who wins and why

Trent McKenzie was recalled after the veteran defender recovered from hamstring tightness and Steven Motlop was also added to the team. Sam Mayes was the medical sub.

Western Bulldogs

Key defender Ryan Gardner missed the game to complete his recovery from a shoulder issue. He returned the following week in the elimination final against Essendon.

Stefan Martin was still sidelined with ongoing groin struggles, while Josh Bruce and Toby McLean had already been ruled out for the season.

Roarke Smith was brought into the team in place of the omitted Riley Garcia. Josh Schache had just missed a week with knee soreness but replaced Anthony Scott as medical sub.

WHAT HAPPENED SINCE

Port Adelaide

With a top-two finish, the Power hosted a qualifying final against Geelong which they won by 43 points

Aliir Aliir dominated the first half, Ollie Wines (33 disposals) and Travis Boak (32) won the onball battle, and Orazio Fantasia kicked four goals before being subbed out with knee soreness.

Port Adelaide's Aliir Aliir flies for a mark against Geelong's Isaac Smith in the qualifying final on August 27, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Western Bulldogs

The Bulldogs' loss to the Power was followed the next day by Brisbane beating West Coast by a goal more than it needed to snatch an incredible top-four finish. 

It pushed the Dogs into an elimination final where they easily accounted for Essendon by 49 points. They then won a semi-final for the ages against the Lions by the barest of margins, with Jack Macrae (39 touches) impressing and Bailey Smith kicking three goals, including his team's last in the 30th minute of the final term. 

Caleb Daniel hugs Laitham Vandermeer after the Bulldogs' win over Brisbane in the semi-final on September 4, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

WHO WILL BE BACK

Port Adelaide

Orazio Fantasia missed round 23 but returned to kick four goals against Geelong in a qualifying final. He was subbed out of that match with knee soreness but is fit to face the Bulldogs this week.

Sam Powell-Pepper sat out the final two home and away rounds but returned as the medical sub for the qualifying final. He kicked two goals and had six disposals in less than a quarter to press his claims for a role in the starting 22.

Lingering doubts over Mitch Georgiades' hamstring ruled him out of contention for this weekend's clash. 

Port Adelaide's Orazio Fantasia celebrates a goal against Geelong in the qualifying final on August 27, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Western Bulldogs

Luke Beveridge has broken glass in case of emergency and recalled Stef Martin for his first game since round 12 after the Dogs were monstered by Scott Lycett in the round 23 clash. Makeshift ruckman Lewis Young has been dropped. 

Ryan Gardner returned in the Bulldogs' two finals and is set to have an important role minding one of Port's multiple tall forwards. Zaine Cordy is back for his first match since round 23 after a hamstring injury ruled Alex Keath out.

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Josh Schache has started both matches since being an unused sub against the Power in round 23. The 24-year-old spent time in defence late in the home and away season but has returned to the forward line to kick three goals in two finals.

Jason Johannisen, the medical sub the past two weeks, has been promoted to the starting 22 in place of Cody Weightman.

Josh Schache and Aaron Naughton celebrate a goal for the Bulldogs against Brisbane in a semi-final on September 4, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos