Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge hailed the play of in-form defender Easton Wood after his side held off a late challenge by St Kilda on Saturday night to win tight AFL clash by six points.
Wood, 25, has put himself in the All-Australian conversation with a string of excellent performances this season, playing arguably his best game this year with 22 possessions and 13 marks in the thrilling win.
After establishing a 21-point lead in the final term, the Dogs were put under siege as the Saints stormed home, with Wood a key figure with some pivotal intercept marks.
“He’s off the charts with the way that he’s playing,” Beveridge said.
“I just said to the group that I didn’t really want to single anyone out but I was tempted to single him out.
“I wanted to talk about our back end as a collective but really some of his work tonight – it’s been great all year, it’s been benchmark stuff – but tonight was off the charts.
“His timing is impeccable at the moment, whether he’s marking or spoiling or whatever it may be. He really kept us in the game.”
The Bulldogs’ back six had plenty of work to do with St Kilda going inside forward 50 on 11 more occasions but their desperation, following the example of Wood and skipper Bob Murphy, was a telling factor.
The Dogs recorded their lowest winning total of the season in the gritty, hard-fought victory with Beveridge delighted that his, usually free-flowing side, were able to find a different way to win.
The result moves the Bulldogs back inside the top eight after a mid-season lull, with matches against lowly Carlton and Gold Coast to come in the next fortnight.
Those fixtures present the Dogs with an excellent opportunity to establish themselves as genuine finals contenders but Beveridge is quick to hose down such talk.
“We’ve got ourselves in a position where we can really capitalise and forge ahead and see where we end up,” he said. “We’re not talking about the ‘f-word’ (finals), because you’ve got to earn that right at some point, but we’re not there yet and there are so many challenges ahead.”
St Kilda suffered a blow hours before the game when veteran defender Sam Fisher sustained a back injury while bending over to pick up some laundry.
The Saints risked a fine by bringing in Luke Delaney, who was not a listed emergency, but coach Alan Richardson was hopeful his club wouldn’t receive a fine from the AFL given the extenuating circumstances.