The Western Bulldogs have edged out West Coast in an intoxicating first-round contest, winning by 10 points to make coach Luke Beveridge’s coaching debut a victorious one.
There were 14 lead changes in a pulsating encounter at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night, won 14.13 (97) to 14.3 (87) but marred by a serious-looking knee injury to Eagles defender Mitch Brown.
The Bulldogs did it the hard way, missing plenty of chances in front of goal as they failed to build a score that their dominance deserved.
West Coast looked to have reduced the margin to four points with four minutes remaining when Josh Kennedy kicked home from close range.
But a late holding-the-ball call denied them a shot at an unlikely victory.
Under new captain Bob Murphy, the Bulldogs’ relentless tackling pressure paid, locking down the Eagles in the final quarter.
New signing Tom Boyd and Tory Dickson kicked the final goals of the game to shore up the win.
Brown’s injury came midway into the first term, with his left knee buckling as he ran to a marking contest.
The defender has had the same knee reconstructed once already, as a 19-year-old, missing the entire 2008 season.
The 26-year-old was stretchered from the match, with the Eagles hoping he avoids the same fate.
From an early stage, the Bulldogs dominated the contests but were not as clinical as the Eagles in front of goal.
Matthew Boyd and Jackson Macrae were strong forces in midfield, with Marcus Bontempelli coming into the match.
For Adam Simpson’s side, Shannon Hurn provided tremendous run from midfield and Luke Shuey was prominent.
Jamie Cripps kicked five goals; the best a flying volley from the goalsquare in the third term to put the Eagles ahead.
Mark Le Cras only kicked one but played a smart role forward, setting up team-mates and looking lively.
Jake Stringer was the Bulldogs’ most prominent attacker, missing several chances but finishing with 3.3.
The Eagles went into the last change two points ahead with an accurate 12.2 on the scoreboard.
Goals to Cripps and Naitanui had them ahead twice but they ran out of legs.