The Western Bulldogs are back in the top eight, for now at least, after 13 consecutive stunning goals that beat them against Hawthorn at Marvel Stadium on Friday night.
The Dogs have now won five of their last six games, but trailed up to 26 points early in the second quarter before storming the finish line against their struggling opponents.
Now, the Dogs will face the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba in round 16, while Hawthorn will face Greater Western Sydney.
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There were no late changes on either side. Lachlan McNeil (Bulldogs) and Josh Morris (Hawks) were the medical backups.
Mitch Lewis scored the first goal of the game, after signing a four-year contract extension with the Hawks.
Hawthorn looked brilliant early on, with an end-to-end transition pass from the defense leading to a Dylan Moore goal, while Lewis featured prominently as he netted his second goal.
Ed Richards was traded to Moore, who had two assists and a goal of his own less than seven minutes into the game.
While Jason Johannisen would get the first goal for the Dogs, the Hawks were still sizzling, with Luke Breust scoring his first goal of the night to give his team a 19-point lead.
“The Hawks brought intensity, they have pace and they untangle the Bulldogs defense,” Gerard Whateley said on AFL Nation.
A 19-point quartertime lead over the Hawks was further increased in the second term, with a Ned Reeves goal carrying 26 points three minutes into the quarter.
From there, however, the Dogs began to piece together vintage passages of transition plays and chains of possession, with Aaron Naughton taking a brilliant pack mark and converting the set piece as part of three quick majors.
The third of them, in former Hawk Tim O’Brien, brought the margin down to just one goal.
A setback for the Dogs came as Ed Richards was replaced with a concussion after a wandering knee to the head in a tagging contest, bringing McNeil into the game.
Marcus Bontempelli kicked in a stylish goal from a tight angle to make it a one-point game.
A goal to Rhylee West capped the comeback and put the Dogs ahead and a miss to Aaron Naughton after the Mermaid put the margin to five points before the main break.
The two teams traded losses early in the third term, but a Josh Dunkley goal opened the doors, adding to what would become 11 straight goals.
Hawthorn never really looked to respond in-game, with the biggest fight they showed at the end of the season, with a fight between James Sicily and Aaron Naughton leading to a much bigger fight between the two sides.
Sicily ripped Naughton’s blindfold in a moment that echoed Bruce Doull and Cameron Clayton in the early 1980s.
A 41-point margin over the Dogs at three quarter time has rarely been troubled in the last term, but the goal umpires have been, with plenty of goals for both teams to end the game.
3. MARK DOGS LIGHT UP AFTER SWINGING START
Talk about clicking speed.
After a dismal first quarter, the Dogs scored 13 unanswered goals before Sam Butler broke the drought seven minutes into the final term.
The second and third quarters saw what was a 26-point deficit for the Dogs become a 41-point lead by the time the final change came.
It was as devastating a performance as the Dogs this year and the stats were just as remarkable.
In those two quarters, the Dogs had +33 in contested possessions, +8 in punts and +21 in ground balls.
There were plenty of eliminations, quick handballs and the list of major elimination winners was a familiar site to many Dogs fans: Jack Macrae, Josh Dunkley, Adam Treloar, Bailey Dale, Tom Liberatore, Marcus Bontempelli and Caleb Daniel were the top seven.
As Garry Lyon said three quarters of the time: “If you want to know what a Bulldogs game is like, this is it.”
The Dogs are slowly but surely returning to their best level and the numbers confirm it.
Since the eighth inning, when their season was on the verge of collapse, the Dogs have been the number one team in contested possession differential, the number one team in rushing ball differential and the first team in the clearance differential.
All of these traits were on full display against Hawthorn in a very impressive display after an early scare from Hawthorn.
2. SICILY INVOLVED IN FEISTY CHALLENGES
We’ve seen James Sicily return to the AFL circle with supreme ease, but the attitude and controversy that sometimes defines the 27-year-old have been less frequent.
Until Friday night, that is.
Sicily were involved in a number of scuffles throughout the night against the Dogs, including one with Aaron Naughton where the Hawks substitute skipper threw his opponent’s blindfold to the ground, echoing Bruce Doull and Cameron Clayton in 1983.
Was it a case of indiscipline on Sicily’s part or a show of resistance from a side that suffered what would become an unanswered streak of 13 goals?
Either way, Sicily was one of many Hawthorn defenders who struggled to stem the Dogs’ firepower after the quarter.
They may have only been one-off lights, but they are fascinating for a player who one would assume is in the running for the permanent captaincy once Ben McEvoy, 32, hangs up his boots .
1. FRESHLY RE-SIGNED HAWK MAKES ANOTHER STATEMENT
Sam Mitchell has been focused on extra wins and small wins in 2022 rather than pure wins and losses, so with that in mind he should be pleased with Mitch Lewis’ season so far.
After signing a four-year contract extension, Lewis has once again shown why he has put together what is already the best season of his career.
While the Hawks would fade after a strong first quarter, Lewis’ impact was monumental early on and still remained as the Dogs chained scores.
“I like a big man to get involved early, get on the pitch, take contested marks, keep his defender honest, then work just as hard inside 50 to give his kicker an option,” he said. big forward Jonathan Brown told Fox Footy at quarter.
“He had nine assignments, six marks and two goals, that’s a huge first quarter.”
Even though his influence started to wane for the rest of the game, his contested marking was phenomenal to watch and he added a few more solid goals to finish.
Much is said about Aaron Naughton’s potential and power, but Lewis ranks higher in player ratings, under 50 ratings and goals, rated ‘elite’ in all categories compared to ‘above average” for Naughton.
Anything they paid for Lewis may well be less when his four-year extension expires.
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