Bontempelli on target as Dogs edge out Eagles

In a season-opening where almost every game has been better than the average game fans watched over the past decade, the Western Bulldogs’ seven-point victory over West Coast will stand out long in the memory.

Trailing by 12 points at three-quarter-time, captain Marcus Bontempelli capped off yet another extraordinary individual performance when he kicked a set-shot goal late in the final term to seal victory for his club.

Marcus Bontempelli handballs while being tackled in the Bulldogs’ win over West Coast.Credit:Getty Images

With rule changes designed to tire players out, Bontempelli surged into the forward 50 with ease and no one on the field could go with him. He marked in acres of space and kicked the goal.

West Coast led by five points with about three minutes to play when Jamaine Jones sharked a ball off the back of the pack and scored from point-blank range, but a set-shot goal to Aaron Naughton got the Bulldogs back in front, only for the captain to make sure of things soon after.

Marvel Stadium heaved with sheer and unbridled excitment for the entire game given how open it was at times, but also because it was full of critical contests and tense moments.

The Eagles had three chances to extend their lead at the beginning of the final term but missed them all and it allowed the Dogs to drag the margin closer and overrun their opponents, who were gallant to the last.

Naughton and Josh Bruce kicked six goals between them in one of the few times, if not the only one, in the past season and a bit where they have looked very good in tandem.

Mitch Wallis is tackled by Nic Naitanui.Credit:Getty Images

But without Bontempelli it is unlikely the Dogs would have won.

He had 12 first-quarter touches, was subdued slightly in the middle of the game, and then burst again in the final term to pull his teammates across the line under the Eagles’ onslaught, which included a devastating ruck performance from Nic Naitanui.

Ground Dogs v Eagle Air

The game pitted the Bulldogs’ run and gun, handball-heavy style against the patient and precise kick-mark game of the Eagles. One trades off a deep midfield and versatile medium-sized players, the other builds on the base of the league’s best aerial players.

So it was that the Bulldogs’ undersized defence went up against the tall timber of West Coast’s forwards in Josh Kennedy, Oscar Allen and Jack Darling.

The Bulldogs dominated inside midfield early but the Eagles remained in touch on the scoreboard because of the quality of their defence once the ball hit the outside.

They pressed high onto the Bulldogs ball carriers and forced them to kick inside 50 under pressure fairly regularly, their defenders then cutting the ball off. The Dogs could not slice them up like they did Collingwood.

In this respect the Bulldogs’ first-half lead was predicated very heavily on midfield dominance, and how frequently they had general possession. As soon as the Eagles evened things up in the engine room – not even when they got ascendancy in the midfield – they were able to score goals.

That’s because the Dogs had so much trouble defending Ryan, Allen, Darling and Kennedy, all of whom found it way too easy to control the skies.

It all balanced out in the end and there was a fair bit of grit to go with the polish which saw them outlast West Coast.

BEST
Western Bulldogs
: Bontempelli, Macrae, Bruce, Hunter, Dunkley, Naughton
West Coast: Kennedy, Ryan, Naitanui, Kelly, Barass, Kelly, Hurn
VOTES
Marcus Bontempelli (Bulldogs) 8
Jackson Macrae (Bulldogs) 8
Josh Bruce (Bulldogs) 7
Aaron Naughton (Bulldogs) 7
Nic Naitanui (West Coast) 7

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