The Western Bulldogs produced one of their greatest finals performances to beat West Coast by 47 points in Thursday night’s AFL elimination final at Domain Stadium.
Written off by most pundits heading into the match, the Bulldogs unleashed a blistering opening half to set up the 14.15 (99) to 7.10 (52) rout.
The Bulldogs will meet the loser of Friday night’s Hawthorn-Geelong qualifier in a blockbuster semi-final next week.
But there was an element of heartbreak for the Bulldogs, who appear set to be without midfielder Lin Jong for the rest of the finals series.
Jong burst into tears on the bench after injuring his right shoulder while being tackled into the ground by Jeremy McGovern in the second quarter.
West Coast hadn’t lost a home final since going down to Collingwood in 2007 in extra time.
And they were expected to make light work of a Bulldogs outfit who had lost their past seven matches in Perth – including a shock 20-point loss just 11 days earlier to Fremantle.
But the Bulldogs tore up the script to leave the 42,079 crowd shell shocked.
“We don’t put a ceiling on what we can achieve this year. If we play like that, who knows how far we can go?” Bulldogs veteran Matthew Boyd said after the match.
Both sides took punts on the injury front that appeared to backfire early.
Eagles ruckman Scott Lycett, who had been battling a left knee injury since midway through the season, hobbled to the bench in the 24th minute after laying a strong tackle.
And stand-in Bulldogs skipper Easton Wood, who missed his side’s recent loss to Fremantle, re-injured his ankle just minutes later.
Both players were able to return to the field, but they failed to yield much influence on the match.
Two costly turnovers in defence gifted West Coast the opening two goals of the contest.
But from there, the Bulldogs stamped their authority, booting the next seven goals to open up a 31-point lead midway through the second quarter.
West Coast players were simply stunned by the onslaught, and their decision making suffered.
Eagles forward Jack Darling should have ended the run of Bulldogs goals when he marked just 15m out from goal.
But with a teammate nearby, Darling decided to play on – only to be tackled immediately by Matt Suckling.
Star Bulldogs midfielder Marcus Bontempelli had just six disposals to his name at halftime courtesy of a tight-checking job by West Coast’s Mark Hutchings.
But the Eagles were off the boil in the midfield, lacking the clinical edge that had netted them recent wins over GWS, Hawthorn and Adelaide.
The Eagles trailed by 24 points at halftime, and the margin continued to swell in the third quarter as the Bulldogs’ run-and-stun game plan netted big rewards.
And the Bulldogs were also resolute in defence, with Joel Hamling restricting Coleman medallist Josh Kennedy to just two goals – with one of those coming in the final minute of the match.