The Western Bulldogs have ridden their luck and survived a plague of inaccuracy in front of goal to open their account for the AFL season with a scrappy 11-point win over Sydney.
Tim English dominated and Cody Weightman kicked four majors as the Dogs withstood a strong second-half challenge in their 9.17 (71) to 9.6 (60) victory at Marvel Stadium on Thursday night.
A 50-metre penalty against Jack Macrae for encroaching on the protected zone gifted Swans youngster Errol Gulden a goal that trimmed the margin to five points with one minute left.
But the 2021 grand finalists hung on in a gripping finish.
Tom Liberatore broke away from two crucial stoppages with the game on the line and Dogs captain Marcus Bontempelli kicked the sealer with just seconds remaining.
There was a sour note when Zaine Cordy was substituted out through concussion before half-time and there may be concerns over English’s big bump on Nick Blakey late in the match.
Sydney lost ruckman Tom Hickey to a knee injury during the third term.
There were shades of the 2016 grand final as the Swans were left aggrieved at a lop-sided free kick count that favoured the home side 31-14.
But the Bulldogs importantly reversed a key trend from their winless opening two rounds, dominating the contested possession count (155-130), and out-tackled the Swans (67-49).
As a result, they enjoyed a significant advantage in forward-50 entries (59-49) and deserved their first victory of the season.
“If you’re not very good at contested ball you’re not going to be a challenger at the end of the day,” Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said.
“We lost it the last two weeks and tonight was a good example of what we’re capable of against a pretty dour Sydney team who have been impressive.
“So we’ll bank the four points but we’ll feel pretty good about beating a team who are going to make it really difficult for a lot of teams this year.”
Josh Dunkley (31 disposals, six clearances), Lachie Hunter (28 and four), Liberatore (18 and six) and Macrae (24 and six) were all prominent.
Dunkley had 11 tackles and English finished with 24 disposals, eight clearances and eight marks in one of his best performances to date.
Ryan Gardner had the job on Sydney superstar Lance Franklin, who kicked two goals from 19 disposals, while Alex Keath stood tall in defence.
Hickey was busy in an entertaining duel with English, gathering 18 disposals, six clearances and 21 hit-outs before he limped off and left Joel Amartey to shoulder the ruck load.
Luke Parker (22 disposals and six clearances) fought hard for a Swans side that was outgunned at the source.
“We were just right off,” Sydney coach John Longmire said.
“We didn’t have the physicality and the cleanliness around the ball, we missed tackles and all those things that you need to be strong in the contest.
“The Doggies were the opposite of that … they were really hard and hungry and we didn’t go with that. We were off the pace.”
The Bulldogs held Sydney to just one goal in the first half and should have led by more than 25 points at the main break but wasted a string of chances in kicking 1.7 to 0.0 for the second term.