WHAT a difference a week makes. 

Seven days after suffering an embarrassing first-quarter onslaught at the hands of Sydney, the Western Bulldogs produced an emphatic response to defeat St Kilda by 28 points and breathe life into a season that was on life support.

The Dogs kicked the first seven goals of the game – including all five goals in the first quarter – and never gave the Saints a chance in the 13.6 (84) to 7.14 (56) contest.

06:32 Mins
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Highlights: Western Bulldogs v St Kilda

The Bulldogs and Saints clash in round 18

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Two years after the two sides met in an actual elimination final at the Gabba, Friday night loomed as an elimination final in July. The match-up promised plenty in the build-up, but never matched the hype with the Dogs dominant from the outset.

BULLDOGS v SAINTS Full match coverage and stats

It took only six minutes for the blur of blond to burst across the ground when the returning Bailey Smith gathered the ball in the middle of the ground and burst around an opponent, tucked the ball under his arm before pumping the ball inside 50. He looked rusty at times, but also looks primed to have a big say in the Western Bulldogs’ fortunes from now to the end of the season. 

The Western Bulldogs’ zone defence was a work of art, not even Ocean’s Eleven could have found a way to pick it apart. The Saints simply couldn’t find a way to transition from one end to the other, turning the ball over the corridor when they ran out of patience to find a target, until the game broke open late.

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Hannan hops around Wood as Dogs bring the goods

Mitch Hannan steps past Mason Wood and finishes superbly as his side takes complete control

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St Kilda went back down the race at the main break six goals down and a long way off the pace and couldn’t find a way to make any inroads in the third quarter.

The game looked all but over at three-quarter time, but then Brett Ratten’s side finally burst into life, creating some concern inside the Western Bulldogs’ coaches box. 

'WE'RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME' Saints rue another lacklustre effort

But it was too little too late, with St Kilda unable to capitalise on its opportunities in the final quarter, missing a handful of gettable opportunities to make the Dogs completely sweat.

After winning three finals last year and leading Melbourne in the third quarter of the Grand Final, the Dogs have been chasing their tail since the opening Thursday night of the season, losing the first two games of four of the first six rounds. 

Now it is St Kilda’s turn to face the blowtorch in the coming week after it was punished for an awful first half. 

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Bont goes ballistic as stunner lights up Marvel

Marcus Bontempelli adds to his impressive first half with this mesmerising goal

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The Saints reached the halfway point of the season at 8-3 and looked like one of the most improved sides in the AFL, but have now dropped five of six since the mid-season bye to tumble from top-four contention to just outside the top-eight. 

With Coleman Medal contender Aaron Naughton entering health and safety protocols on Thursday night, along with Josh Schache and Lachie Hunter, among three other changes, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan took another step forward in his career, kicking an equal personal best three goals, all from classy finishes in a glimpse of what might be to come from the 2020 No. 1 pick. 

Bulldogs captain Marcus Bontempelli produced one of his best performances of the season, finishing with 34 disposals, 17 contested possessions, 12 score involvements and two goals, while Tom Liberatore continued his brilliant run with 31 touches and 11 clearances, helping his case for a second Charles Sutton Medal after winning his first in 2014.

06:32 Mins
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Highlights: Western Bulldogs v St Kilda

The Bulldogs and Saints clash in round 18

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Luke Beveridge’s men are now above St Kilda in ninth spot on the ladder, adrift of eighth-placed Richmond on percentage, who face North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium tomorrow afternoon.

With so little between more than a few, the margin between the chasing pack outside the eight is now even tighter. This might go down to the wire like the final day of the Premier League season. 

Issues for veteran Saint?
Paddy Ryder was substituted out of the game late in the third quarter due to a calf strain. The veteran ruckman has been managing Achilles soreness throughout the season and might be facing a race against the clock to return before the end of the home and away season. It made a bad night even worse for the Saints, as the 34-year-old has been a force again this year and looked set to go on in 2023.

Paddy Ryder watches on after being subbed out of St Kilda's round 18, 2022 match. Picture: AFL Photos

Bruce ends 342-day wait against old side
Josh Bruce returned to the scene of where his career-best 2021 campaign ended in heartache in round 21 last season, just before the final siren. 342 days later, the 30-year-old was recalled to Luke Beveridge’s side after two games in the VFL around a minor hamstring strain. With no Naughton or Schache, it was Jamarra Ugle-Hagan who starred inside 50. But Bruce got an important game under his belt.

Josh Bruce in action during round 18, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Buku surprise packet
The surprise move of the night was pulled by the Dogs with Buku Khamis deployed down back with aplomb. Beveridge has been searching for enforcements all year to support Alex Keath and Ryan Gardner – who also shone playing against Max King – and he might have found one in the forward-turned-defender, finishing with 18 disposals and seven marks.

Buku Khamis spoils a Jack Higgins mark during round 18, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

WESTERN BULLDOGS         5.2       8.4       12.5       13.6 (84)
ST KILDA                              0.2      2.4        3.9.        7.14 (56)

GOALS  
Western Bulldogs: Ugle-Hagan 3, Bontempelli 2, Dale, Dunkley, Garcia, Hannan, Johannisen, Treloar, Weightman, West
St Kilda: King 2, Steele, Wood, Jones, Sinclair, Billings

BEST   
Western Bulldogs: Bontempelli, Liberatore, Dale, Gardner, Macrae, Smith, Khamis
St Kilda: Sinclair, Wilkie, Billings, Steele

INJURIES  
Western Bulldogs: Alex Keath (corked quad)
St Kilda: Ryder(calf strain)

SUBSTITUTES  
Western Bulldogs: Luke Cleary (unused)
St Kilda: Ben Long (replaced Paddy Ryder in the third quarter)

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