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Bulldogs beat Hawks, sneak into AFL finals

The Western Bulldogs have sneaked into the AFL finals by the slimmest of margins after the jigsaw puzzle fell into place following their 23-point win over Hawthorn.

The Bulldogs, who entered the final round in ninth spot, needed to win on Sunday afternoon in Launceston to have any chance of leapfrogging Carlton into eighth.

They ticked off the first box and then crossed their fingers the Blues would go down to Collingwood.

The Magpies surged home at the MCG to win by one point, ensuring the Bulldogs finished eighth by 0.6 of a percentage point.

It sets up an away elimination clash against Fremantle in week one of the finals.

Speaking before his side was locked in, Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge conceded Carlton would be stiff to miss out on a finals berth considering their season.

“We haven’t been a team that has been anywhere near the top of the ladder,” he said.

“(But) regardless of whether we’ve been frustrated or disappointed, our players and our staff have just kept fronting up with a really positive attitude.

“Sometimes it all seems lost but we’ve hung in there and here we are. In this game you get what you earn.

“We’ve had setbacks but we’ve stayed it in. Once you get to a final series, things open up again.”

Last year’s grand finalists trailed by 12 at quarter-time against Hawthorn, who put on a run of five goals either side of the first break.

But the Bulldogs got better with each term, holding the Hawks to just 1.2 in the final quarter in the 12.15 (87) to 10.4 (64) victory.

Roarke Smith slotted three goals for the Bulldogs, including two crucial majors in the final quarter to give his side breathing space.

Aaron Naughton also kicked three while rookie Sam Darcy was ultra impressive, kicking his first two goals at the top level.

The Bulldogs dominated clearances (49-22) and inside 50s (71-39) but struggled to translate the possession into points at a blustery University of Tasmania Stadium.

“It was pleasing we were able to get the game on our terms. But absolutely there were some nervous moments, for most of the game actually,” Beveridge said.

In his final game for the Hawks, dual-premiership winner Ben McEvoy notched two goals, including the opener when he was fed a handpass from the first touch of debutant Jack Saunders.

Jack Gunston kicked four for Hawthorn, while James Sicily was outstanding with a game-high 33 possessions.

In a pulsating second quarter, Darcy got his side back in front with back-to-back goals in the space of a few minutes.

Hawthorn kept pace, responding when Saunders slotted his maiden major, before Bulldog Cody Weightman got his team’s nose in front 52-49 at the main break.

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