Greater Western Sydney have made the ideal start to a season-defining four-match stretch as they zero in on a maiden AFL finals appearance.
The Giants were untroubled by the early loss of defenders Matt Buntine and Tim Mohr on Sunday as they claimed a record sixth successive victory, winning 15.8 (98) to 10.13 (73) against the Western Bulldogs.
The victory saw the Giants (7-2) return to third spot on the ladder, two games behind unbeaten North Melbourne.
The Bulldogs slipped a game adrift of the Giants and are in fifth spot with a 6-3 win-loss record.
Experienced duo Callan Ward and Heath Shaw were pivotal players for GWS, while Jeremy Cameron kicked a game-high five goals.
The Giants’ next three matches are also against genuine finals contenders in eighth-placed Adelaide, Geelong and Sydney.
“Today was one positive step into a tough four-week block,” said GWS coach Leon Cameron.
“We feel like we are playing really good footy but it’s a very even comp.
“All we can control is Adelaide next Saturday night and they are going to be hard to beat.
“We haven’t had a great record over there so we need to see if we can resurrect that.”
The Crows were untroubled in beating injury-wracked Gold Coast 22.17 (149) to 11.8 (74).
The fourth-ranked Swans bounced back superbly from last week’s heartbreaking one-point loss to Richmond, downing Hawthorn by 14 points.
Playing against his former club, Lance Franklin broke the contest wide open in the final term with two long-range bombs.
Sydney will now look to inflict a first loss for 2016 on table-topping North Melbourne when the two sides clash in an SCG blockbuster on Friday night.
The Kangaroos snapped Carlton’s surprising four-game winning run with a one-sided 17.11 (113) to 6.10 (46) victory on Saturday.
Winless Fremantle’s season plumbed new depths, the Dockers losing key defender Alex Pearce to a season-ending broken leg in their 38-point victory over improving Richmond.
Melbourne and St Kilda are also on the rise, as evidenced by convincing victories over Brisbane and Essendon on Sunday.
Among the biggest talking points of round nine was Port Adelaide defender Tom Jonas’s crude elbow to the head of West Coast’s Andrew Gaff.
“He’s a nice bloke. He knows he made a mistake,” straight-talking Power coach Ken Hinkley said of Jonas.
“The AFL will take care of that and Tommy will cop what comes his way.”