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Liberatore stars, Dogs rout Hawks in AFL

A midfield masterclass from Tom Liberatore has helped power the Western Bulldogs to a 42-point thumping of Hawthorn and boosted their AFL finals hopes.

The Bulldogs triumphed 19.11 (125) to 12.11 (83) at Marvel Stadium on Friday night to move back into the top eight with an 8-6 record.

In doing so, they leapfrogged four rival teams into sixth spot, though each of those have a game in hand.

Liberatore’s numbers were impressive – 30 disposals, 16 contested possessions, 11 clearances, eight tackles, one goal – and his influence around the ball was undeniable.

The Bulldogs trailed by 26 points midway through the second term when the tenacious midfielder injected himself into the contest, negating Ned Reeves’ ruck dominance and turning the tide.

In one of several inspirational acts, Liberatore won a tough ground ball against Changkuoth Jiath on the wing and dished out a handpass to start a possession chain that led to a goal.

The deficit was erased before half-time and the Dogs went on with the job after the main break, booting 6.4 to 0.4 in the third term amid a run of 13 consecutive goals.

Hawthorn showed a hint of fight after the 11th when James Sicily tangled with Aaron Naughton, who accused the Hawks’ stand-in captain of pulling his hair.

Sicily had snatched the Dogs spearhead’s headband in a melee, during which Naughton’s jumper was ripped.

But Naughton had the last laugh with three goals in a comfortable win.

Rhylee West kicked 3.3 and had three goal assists, while Jack Macrae (31 disposals, six clearances), Josh Dunkley (27, four) and Marcus Bontempelli (26, seven) were influential alongside Liberatore in the middle.

“Libba got us going,” Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said.

“Some of his ground-ball collision plays that he was able to handball and shape out and give us an opportunity forward of the play really lifted his teammates.

“His impact was imperative.”

The only downside for the Bulldogs was Ed Richards being substituted out under concussion protocols after he was crunched by Mitch Lewis in a marking contest.

Fresh off signing a new four-year contract, Lewis starred in the Hawks’ lively opening.

They led 20-0 after just 10 minutes through goals to Lewis (two) and Dylan Moore, who took a courageous mark in the goal square for his first major and wrong-footed Tim O’Brien to set up his teammate’s second.

Lewis finished with four goals and Luke Breust three in a side that was well beaten, while James Worpel (25 disposals, seven clearances) fought on in the middle.

“We just didn’t have enough players that were tough enough for long enough,” Hawks coach Sam Mitchell said.

“They’re a really good side and their midfield in particular is first-class, and we just weren’t capable of matching it with them for long enough.

“That’s our challenge.”

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