Josh Kennedy stars as Eagles belt Bulldogs

West Coast are within striking distance of the minor premiership after crushing the Western Bulldogs by 77 points in Sunday’s AFL showdown at Domain Stadium.

Forward Josh Kennedy booted seven goals and Nic Naitanui starred in the ruck to help West Coast secure the 25.12 (162) to 13.7 (85) victory.

The result lifted the Eagles six points clear of the third-placed Hawks, all but guaranteeing West Coast a top-two berth.

And they are now just two points adrift of ladder leaders Fremantle after their cross-town rivals slumped to an 11-point loss to North Melbourne earlier in the day.

The Bulldogs displayed plenty of fight early, with their forwards particularly damaging as they closed to within 17 points late in the third quarter.

Jake Stringer kicked five goals and Stewart Crameri chipped in with three as the game threatened to turn into a good old fashioned shootout.

But as much as the Bulldogs tried, they couldn’t find nearly enough weapons to overcome the dominance of Naitanui in the ruck and Kennedy up forward.

Naitanui, playing his first game since the death of his mum a fortnight ago, tallied 14 disposals, 48 hit-outs, six clearances, and a goal in a powerful effort.

The 25-year-old paid tribute to his mum by pointing to the heavens after kicking a goal in the second quarter.

Kennedy pulled in a series of monster marks in attack, while Josh Hill followed up last week’s Ross Glendinning medal with an important four-goal haul.

The loss proved costly for the Bulldogs, who dropped to sixth after their percentage took a sizeable hit.

And there was plenty of pain on the field.

Bulldogs forward Jarrad Grant had blood streaming from his nose after clashing heads with teammate Marcus Bontempelli late in the game.

Dale Morris (ankle) and ruckman Tom Campbell (cork) also battled.

It was high-risk football in the opening half as both sides deployed their run-and-stun game plans.

Kennedy posed a big threat early, pulling in five marks and booting 2.2 in the opening term to put the Bulldogs on the back foot.

But it was game on once Bulldogs spearheads Stringer and Crameri sprung to life.

Stringer kicked four goals in the first half as the pair terrorised West Coast’s undersized defence.

But with Naitanui dominating in the ruck, West Coast entered the long break with a handy 16-point buffer.

Stringer suffered a huge scare after his head slammed into the turf when he was felled in a third-quarter marking contest.

The 21-year-old was able to return to the field after being assessed, and his clever snap after outpacing Shannon Hurn closed the margin back to 17 points 20 minutes into the third term.

But three unanswered goals to Hill killed off the Bulldogs’ fight, with the 37,733 crowd on their feet after substitute Murray Newman kicked a final-quarter goal in his first AFL match since being released from jail.

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