The Western Bulldogs have shown their fighting spirit to return to the AFL winners’ list, defeating North Melbourne by 14 points at Etihad Stadium.
In an ill-tempered contest between two finals-bound teams, the Kangaroos targeted Marcus Bontempelli but the Dogs and their young star prevailed, winning 9.7 (61) to 7.5 (47).
The 20-year-old might have expected some attention from North after calling out Lindsay Thomas for a crude tackle on Lachie Hunter in their earlier meeting this year.
He was roughed up before the first bounce and found himself in the middle of melees at quarter-time and halftime.
Bontempelli wore the jumper punches and the bumps well, responding with a best-afield performance (15 kicks, nine tackles and a goal) in a strong team performance to snap a two-game losing streak.
The win both keeps alive the Bulldogs’ top-four ambitions and delivers a hammer blow to North Melbourne’s own hopes.
The Kangaroos are likely to be two wins outside the top four by round’s end and must play the top three clubs – Hawthorn, Sydney and GWS Giants – in their final three fixtures.
Much could depend on an injury to key tall Ben Brown, who left the match early in the second quarter after hurting his already-strapped left knee.
North went almost an hour without a goal after Brown departed.
Already missing forward Jarrad Waite, the Kangaroos looked toothless when the mop-haired Tasmanian went down.
In contrast, the slow-starting Bulldogs warmed into the contest and had plenty of routes to goal, with nine different goalkickers on a low-scoring night.
Easton Wood was super in defence for the Bulldogs, with Jason Johannisen full of run.
North mounted a challenge in the third term only for Jed Anderson – who was earlier reported for a hit on Lin Jong – to miss a simple set shot that would have brought them within two points.
Less than a minute later, Lachie Hunter (21 possessions) kicked a fine running goal to keep the Dogs on top.
In his 100th AFL match, Jamie Macmillan was North Melbourne’s best.
The sour note for Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge was yet another injury, a concussion to Clay Smith that ended his night after 10 minutes.