PORT Adelaide's season suddenly has life, with Friday night's 17-point win over the Western Bulldogs its third victory on the trot.
After taking a four-point lead to half-time Port blew the game open in the third quarter, kicking five goals to two on the way to a 12.14 (86) to 10.9 (69) triumph.
The Bulldogs, already missing rested skipper Marcus Bontempelli, lost Tim O'Brien, Laitham Vandermeer and Cody Weightman to injury and looked out on their feet in the final term.
POWER v BULLDOGS Full match coverage and stats
Following a 0-5 start to the season, Port is now just a win (plus percentage) outside the top eight, with North Melbourne, Geelong and Essendon to face ahead of their mid-season bye.
Tall forwards Jeremy Finlayson and Todd Marshall proved too much to handle for a Bulldogs backline that lost O'Brien (calf) in the third quarter and played Zaine Cordy as a forward to support Aaron Naughton (four goals).
Finlayson kicked three goals and Marshall two, with the latter a prime mover in the match-turning third term with his clean hands inside 50.
All up, Port grabbed 21 marks inside 50 (from just 44 entries) to prove the difference on a night when the midfields largely nullified each other.
Evergreen Travis Boak (30 disposals and a goal) was magnificent for the victors, showing a cool head when others around him seemed rushed.
Connor Rozee (21) and Riley Bonner (22), who was having a fabulous night until he injured his ankle just before the final change, were also influential.
The Bulldogs battled hard, but with little to no support for Naughton in the forward line, and the tall defence outclassed, never looked like winning in the second half.
Stand-in skipper Jack Macrae (32) and Bailey Smith (24 and two goals) gave their all.
It was a contrast of styles early on that made for an entertaining contest.
After the Bulldogs kicked the first two goals of the game, Port hit back with the next four, rebounding from the back half with ease to make their opponents' defence look second rate.
Conversely the Dogs were relying on their superiority at centre bounce, led by Macrae, and tall forward Naughton.
Naughton kicked two goals in the first quarter on 2021 Therabody All-Australian Aliir Aliir, forcing Tom Clurey to be his new opponent after the first change.
The second quarter tightened up, but with Finlayson and Marshall kicking goals, the home team nudged its lead from two points to four points by the main change.
Port talls too good
The Bulldogs managed to generate more inside 50s (49-44), but it was Port's tall forwards that proved the difference. Finlayson kicked his three goals from 14 disposals and seven marks, while Marshall kicked his two from 14 touches and eight marks. Even Mitch Georgiades looked dangerous, but his wayward kicking (0.4) cost him a bigger influence. With Alex Keath (hamstring) already injured, the Dogs lost Tim O'Brien (hamstring) and it was often left to undersized Hayden Crozier and Ed Richards to battle bigger bodies.
Dogs' dirty night for injuries
As if the challenge wasn't hard enough already, O'Brien's departure in the third quarter made a big difference. He limped off with what appeared to be a calf injury, but that was only the start of the problems. Shortly after it was speedster Laitham Vandermeer hobbling off with a hamstring concern – a problem he only recently returned from – and then early in the last quarter Cody Weightman came off second best after trying to lay a big bump on Port ruckman Sam Hayes. He left with a shoulder injury and did not return.
Buku goes Kaboom
Any first goal in the AFL is a special one, and this was no different for Western Bulldogs' Next Generation Academy product Buku Khamis. Playing his second game after getting a debut against Carlton last year, Khamis missed a shot early in the second quarter but had another chance a bit later on after taking a chest mark 35m out. The 22-year-old kicked truly and was absolutely mobbed by his delirious teammates in a moment the South Sudanese refugee will never forget.
PORT ADELAIDE 5.0 7.4 12.8 12.14 (86)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 4.4 6.6 8.8 10.9 (69)
Port Adelaide: Finlayson 3, Marshall 2, Powell-Pepper 2, Gray 2, Motlop, Boak, Dumont
Western Bulldogs: Naughton 4, B.Smith 2, Dunkley, Khamis, McNeil, Liberatore
Port Adelaide: Boak, Marshall, Rozee, Finalyson, Bonner, Amon
Western Bulldogs: Naughton, B.Smith, Macrae, Dale, Liberatore
Port Adelaide: Bonner (ankle)
Western Bulldogs: O'Brien (calf), Vandermeer (hamstring), Weightman (shoulder)
Port Adelaide: Lachie Jones (replaced Bonner at three-quarter time)
Western Bulldogs: Hayden Crozier (replaced O'Brien in the third quarter)