The Western Bulldogs continued their AFL revitalisation under new coach Luke Beveridge by downing Richmond on Saturday at the MCG.
With ferocious tackling pressure, the Bulldogs led all day and kicked clear in the third term to win 12.13 (85) to 9.12 (66) in front of almost 50,000 people.
While the Tigers edged the Bulldogs on key indicators, Beveridge’s side had more intensity and forward intent.
Kicking woes beset Richmond, who won the contested possession count, inside 50s (54-48) and the free kick tally (30-13) but not the match.
Instead, the Bulldogs, who laid 23 more tackles, won the day and took temporary ownership of the top spot on the ladder with a 2-0 record for the first time in six years.
The Bulldogs’ defence – led by veterans Bob Murphy and Matthew Boyd – was exceptional, conceding just nine goals all afternoon.
Marcus Bontempelli’s tackling set a standard across the ground, while Jackson Macrae and Mitch Wallis powered the Bulldogs in midfield.
And up front, Tory Dickson’s bag of four goals was supported by two-goal hauls from Stewart Crameri and Jake Stringer.
The Bulldogs had a 29-point lead whittled back to just 16 in the final term but held on.
Beveridge suggested there were nerves creeping in late in the match.
“We thought we squandered a few opportunities and, in big games against good opposition, you can’t afford to do that too many times,” he said.
“We held our nerve … there were lots of positive signs there.”
For Richmond, Alex Rance played a solo hand in defence, with a busy Trent Cotchin leading the possession count with 34.
Beaten Richmond coach Damien Hardwick said his team’s numbers on the stats sheet were deceiving.
“Don’t even look at the stats – don’t worry about it,” he said.
“The fact of the matter is we made too many mistakes.”
Hardwick put his forward line on notice, finding a damning lack of effort from the statistics.
“We go inside 50 54 times and we win three loose ball gets and lay five tackles,” he said.
“You’re not going to win a game of footy doing that.
“But all credit to a young side that’s on the way up, they’re terrific and are going to well and truly challenge for the bottom end of the eight.”