Bontempelli master class keeps Western Bulldogs in finals hunt

The Western Bulldogs remain in the hunt for a finals spot after embarrassing an insipid St Kilda at Marvel Stadium on Friday night with Marcus Bontempelli bouncing back to his best.

With key forward Aaron Naughton missing his first game for two seasons, the Bulldogs’ gilt-edged midfield crushed St Kilda, kicking the first eight goals of the match to put the result beyond doubt.

They will head into the weekend in ninth spot, behind Richmond on percentage with the Tigers likely to remain a game ahead after they play North Melbourne on Sunday.

Bontempelli signalled his intent from the first bounce to play his best game for the season in a return to vintage form finishing the match with 34 disposals and two goals while Bailey Smith showed his importance having missed the previous four matches with suspension.

Tom Liberatore and Jack Macrae joined that duo to thrash the Saints around the ball with the clearance count heavily in their favour to eventually win the clearances 41-21.

Marcus Bontempelli returned to form against the SaintsCredit:Getty Images

The hapless St Kilda, who have now won one of their past six matches, did not kick their first goal until the 17-minute of the second quarter when Mason Wood finally broke the run of unanswered goals but the damage had been done by then.

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With so much at stake in the week respected former skipper Jarryn Geary announced his retirement St Kilda’s performance was inexplicable. It appeared as though they lost all confidence in their method once they gave up two goals to turnovers after taking kicks into the corridor and went back into the shell. They did not put enough pressure on to create turnovers and their game fell apart.

Instead of threatening the undersized Bulldogs’ defence by getting the ball into Max King, Rowan Marshall and Tim Membrey, St Kilda chipped the ball around their backline to create slow play after slow play and they could not force turnovers to create scoring opportunities.

They look as far away from being a finals team as they looked early in 2021 with the same questions arising about their belief with Callum Wilkie and Membrey their only contributors while King was starved of opportunity.

But the game was all about the Bulldogs who have a torrid run of games ahead against Melbourne, Geelong and Fremantle that will determine their prospects of playing in September.

Like the Tigers they shape as a dangerous proposition if they make the eight with Josh Bruce playing his first game since August last season and Naughton likely to return from COVID-19 in round 19.

Bontempelli was brilliant, and he inspired his teammates to work harder than their opposition both in congestion and in open space when the game was up for grabs. They also protected the corridor.

By contrast the Saints were flat and too many of their forward entries occurred under pressure as they moved the ball with all the synergy of a family attempting to get out of an escape room on the school holidays. When the ball hit the ground the Bulldogs’ defenders won the ground balls with Jack Higgins and Dan Butler ordinary.

Barring a miracle, St Kilda won’t play finals with Paddy Ryder subbed out with a calf injury and their progress is hard to measure while the Bulldogs’ recent form shows their capability with their 2022 now a race against time.

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, Weightman, Dale, West, Dunkley, Hannan, Garcia, Treloar, Johannisen

St Kilda: King 2, Wood, Steele, Sinclair, Billings, Jones

Best

Western Bulldogs: Bontempelli, Macrae, Liberatore, Smith, Dale, Treloar, Khamis,

St Kilda: Wilkie, Membrey, Gresham, Billings

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