MELBOURNE has mauled the Western Bulldogs by 57 points at Etihad Stadium on Sunday in a dominant performance that underlined the Demons’ finals bona fides while casting grave doubts about the state of the Dogs’ premiership defence.
The Demons hit the Bulldogs between the eyes from the opening bounce with fanatical defensive pressure and then savaged the reigning premiers with their speed and slick ball movement on the outside.
After holding the Dogs to a solitary behind in the opening quarter, the Demons built an unassailable 50-point lead by three-quarter time before cruising to a 17.11 (113) to 8.8 (56) victory.
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Michael Hibberd (27 possessions and 11 marks) was outstanding for the Demons across half-back, while Clayton Oliver (29 disposals, five clearances and eight tackles) and Jordan Lewis (31 possessions) applied a one-two midfield punch powered by youthful enthusiasm and crafty experience.
Jack Watts (three goals) followed up his Queen’s Birthday heroics with another strong performance, Oscar McDonald (23 disposals, 12 marks and nine one-percenters) and Sam Frost (eight rebound 50s) were impassable in defence and Tom McDonald and Cameron Pedersen capably manned Melbourne’s ruck division.
Melbourne’s win was its seventh for the season and saw it leapfrog West Coast and Richmond for fifth spot on the ladder.
Five talking points: Western Bulldogs v Melbourne
Demons coach Simon Goodwin praised his team’s pressure over the four quarters.
“In terms of total team buy-in to that area, I thought it was our best game from that perspective,” Goodwin said.
“The boys prepared really well during the week and they were keen to put their skills on show. We know the Bulldogs are a terrific team, especially in and around the contest, and I thought our pressure today and our tackling and our ability to get in and win the ball was outstanding.
“It’s always nice to string four quarters together and it’s probably something that we’ve been working on. The intensity with how the game’s being played at the moment, it’s really hard to keep momentum in the game.
“There was a little patch in the second quarter where we lost our momentum, but we regained it pretty quickly.”
The Bulldogs, however, remain outside the eight in ninth, with Sunday’s loss their fourth from their past five games.
The Dogs’ premiership defence had looked in good shape when they sat fifth after round five with a 4-1 record, but they have won just two games since, against Richmond and St Kilda, and now face a challenge just to make the finals.
The Bulldogs’ day was further soured by a first-quarter right knee injury to Lin Jong that ended the midfielder’s day. A smother by Melbourne co-captain Nathan Jones collided with Jong’s knee and the Dogs suspected scans would confirm he had ruptured his ACL.
And a bad day could become a horror one, with vice-captain Easton Wood and Jake Stringer likely to be scrutinised by the Match Review Panel following incidents late in the second term.
Wood collected Tomas Bugg high when he crashed into him from behind after a Demons goal – with the Demon having to leave the field because of a head cut after goaling from a free kick – and minutes later Stringer appeared to hit Melbourne defender Neville Jetta in the chin with a couple of jumper punches.
WATCH: Dogs and Dees clash in fiery first half
Tom Liberatore (29 disposals and one goal), Caleb Daniel (28 and one) and Marcus Bontempelli (24) were among the few Dogs who could walk off Etihad Stadium with their heads held high.
Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said his team’s performance had been disappointing.
“A fair degree of the early margin was based on skill, I think. Both teams came with a reasonable intent and butted heads, but then they were able to complete their plays and we weren’t,” Beveridge said.
“And as the game wore on they got an edge in other areas. They looked a bit better across the ground and we couldn’t find our footy.”
Bugg engaged in some pre-game psychological warfare when he messaged Bulldogs defender Jason Johannisen on Instagram, posting a photo and himself and Demons teammate Watts alongside the caption: “You ready @jasonjohannissen?”
Five talking points: Tom bugs Dogs on and off the field
Bugg’s message appeared a thinly veiled suggestion the Dogs intended to target the Norm Smith medallist with the same physical attention Sydney had used to restrict him to nine possessions a round earlier.
The Bulldogs clearly took exception to Bugg’s post, with several Dogs making their feelings plain to the Dees’ No.32 when the teams took the field.
The Dogs also drew first blood with Mitch Honeychurch kicking the game’s opening score – a behind – inside the first minute.
But Melbourne soon silenced the Bulldogs’ bark and then started to apply its own bite, rattling the reigning premiers with a manic defensive intent that was typified by a series of desperate smothers.
Dom Tyson kicked the game’s opening goal at the seven-minute mark, but it took the Demons until late in the term to translate their control of general play on to the scoreboard.
For Melbourne fans, though, the wait was worth it as their team piled on three goals from the 21-minute mark, with Bugg having a hand in the final two, first finding Jeff Garlett close to goal with a well-weighted lob pass and then pinging Matt Suckling in a strong tackle that led to a Watts major.
At the end of the term, the Demons led by 25 points, having held the Dogs scoreless since Honeychurch’s first-minute behind – this despite the fact Luke Beveridge’s men led the inside 50 count for the quarter 15-11.
The Bulldogs did not kick their first goal until the 19-minute mark of the second term, when Daniel finally opened their account with a nice conversion in general play from 40m.
However, Melbourne, who had kicked the term’s opening goal through James Harmes, stretched its lead to 40 points, when Mitch Hannan goaled at the 24-minute mark and Bugg added another seconds later, when Wood crashed into him from behind in frustration, earning the Demon a free kick.
Consecutive goals by Luke Dahlhaus and Bontempelli late in the quarter helped cut the Dees’ lead to 27 points, but a nerveless after-the-siren conversion from Watts sent Melbourne into the main break with a comfortable 33-point buffer.
Western Bulldogs: Lin Jong appeared to hyperextend his right knee when his kick was smothered by Melbourne co-captain Nathan Jones in the game’s opening 10 minutes. There were soon fears the midfielder had suffered a ruptured ACL and Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge confirmed after the game that was the club’s preliminary diagnosis. Lachie Hunter came from the ground early in the first term and removed his boot to have his ankle assessed, but after it was strapped he returned to the field and played out the game without any obvious restriction.
Melbourne: Nathan Jones came from ground with a quad strain in the third quarter and played little further part in the game. Jack Watts’ day finished early after he left the game in the final term. The forward finished the game on the interchange bench with a tight hamstring. Both will be assessed during the week but coach Simon Goodwin said he was conservative with the pair, ahead of playing West Coast in Perth off a six-day break. Jayden Hunt landed on his left shoulder in a marking contest late in the third, but, after being assessed in the rooms, returned to the ground in the final quarter. Neville Jetta came from the field with a sore left ankle late in the third term, but finished the game.
Both teams face six-day breaks before playing next Saturday night, the Bulldogs taking on North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium and Melbourne travelling to Domain Stadium to play West Coast. The Demons have not won at the Perth venue since 2004; their losing streak (including defeats by Fremantle) stands at 17 games.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 0.1 3.3 6.5 8.8 (56)
MELBOURNE 4.2 8.6 14.7 17.11 (113)
Western Bulldogs: Roughead, Bontempelli, Dickson, T.Boyd, Dahlhaus, Daniel, Picken, Liberatore
Melbourne: Watts 3, Bugg 2, Garlett 2, Hannan 2, T.McDonald 2, Melksham, Petracca, Tyson, Salem, Harmes, Neal-Bullen
Western Bulldogs: Bontempelli, Hunter, Wallis, Liberatore, Daniel
Melbourne: Hibberd, Oliver, Watts, T.McDonald, O.McDonald, Petracca, Garlett
Western Bulldogs: Jong (right knee)
Melbourne: Jones (thigh), Watts (hamstring)
Umpires: Foot, Rosebury, Hosking, Findlay
Official crowd: 33,667 at Etihad Stadium