1. Dogs make the most of fast start - this time

The Western Bulldogs scored a combined 17.5 to Port Adelaide 5.5 in the opening terms of their three meetings this season. The Power were able to fight back both times in the home and away season, regaining the lead in the second term before the Bulldogs ran away again in round nine, then grinding down their opponents and kicking the last three goals of the match to complete a stirring victory in round 23. But the Bulldogs refused to let the Power - or the parochial crowd - back into the game this time and instead put the foot down to kick another five goals to two and stretch their lead to 58 points at the main break and effectively put the match out of reach.

POWER v BULLDOGS Full match coverage and stats

01:14 Mins
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Dogs end first with a flurry to cap off epic quarter

Bailey Smith and Mitch Hannan both kicked their second goals within a minute of each other to give their side a 37-point lead

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2. Aliir's aerial prowess grounded

Aliir Aliir was a revelation this season and earned a first Therabody AFL All-Australian blazer in part due to his ability to turn defence into attack. The 27-year-old's impact has been so great that opposition forwards now put as much time into nullifying the Power defender's threat as hitting the scoreboard themselves. Josh Schache had the crucial role to occupy Aliir this time and had early success by playing him from behind and subtly preventing the intercepting master from launching into aerial contests. After a slow start Aliir worked his way into the game and ended with 15 disposals with 11 of them intercepts but failed to end his stellar season on a high. 

A dejected Aliir Aliir after Port Adelaide's preliminary final defeat to Western Bulldogs on September 11, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

3. Liberatore let off the leash early

When Tom Liberatore gets plenty of the ball, the Bulldogs usually win and they are 11-2 when he has 25 disposals or more. Willem Drew kept Liberatore to just 17 touches when the Power beat the Dogs by two points in round 23, so it was a surprise the defensive midfielder started on the bench rather than setting the tone from the opening bounce. Liberatore, who averages more clearances than any other player (7.7), got the first ball forward then did the same at the next stoppage which led to a Dogs goal within the opening minute. The 29-year-old had five touches in eight minutes as the Bulldogs landed three early blows and finished with nine in the first term. Drew restricted Liberatore to three disposals in the second term and just seven in the second half but the damage was already done.

07:50 Mins
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Highlights: Port Adelaide v Western Bulldogs

The Power and Bulldogs clash in the Preliminary Finals

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4. Contested ball counts against the Power

The Power charged to second spot and a home preliminary final on the back of beating their opponents in contested ball 17 times this season and winning every one of those matches. They ended the season 1-6 when they lost that count, the exception being a one-point win over lowly Collingwood. The tone was set early when the Bulldogs won the contested ball 48-25 in the first term on their way to a six-goal lead, and ended the match ahead 136-166. Ollie Wines (game-high 15 contested disposals) battled hard but the Bulldogs' onball brigade showed the Power midfield needs to run deeper when the stakes rise.

5. Dogs know how to rise through finals

The Bulldogs are the only team to claim a premiership from as low as seventh place, when they won four finals including an upset over Sydney in the 2016 Grand Final. The Dogs are now a chance to match the next best rise through finals to a flag, after ending the home and away rounds in fifth, just as Adelaide did before becoming premiers in 1998. The Dogs will have to win four finals again but had nine players line up against the Power that have done it before as part of the 2016 premiership team. Doing it away from home and at the end of a journey that has taken in five states in three weeks and still has a week of quarantine to come will make it a different, but equally special, achievement to their drought-breaking flag five years ago.