The fight the Western Bulldogs were missing for much of last AFL season has been rediscovered in a valiant one-point comeback pre-season win over Hawthorn.
The Bulldogs trailed by as many as 14 points midway through the last quarter before charging home to win 1.10.6 (75) to 2.8.8 (74) despite a fine five-goal performance from Hawk superstar Lance Franklin at Etihad Stadium on Friday night.
The Hawks, winless so far in the pre-season, had their night further soured by having David Hale and Luke Breust limp off injured in the second half, while Dogs draftee Jake Stringer also hobbled off in the last term.
Skipper Matthew Boyd (31 disposals) was excellent for the Bulldogs while youngster Clay Smith had a fine game and kicked a nine-point super goal to put his side in front in the last quarter.
But after Hawthorn’s Jordan Lewis kicked a behind from what should have been a straightforward set shot, to level the scores, it was a poster from young tall forward Liam Jones that ended up deciding the game.
It was the Dogs’ first win since midway through last season, with the club having lost their last 11 games last year.
They kicked the first three goals of the night, the first to Robert Murphy, who is expected to play mostly in attack this year and showed he will add spark.
Franklin kept the Hawks in touch with his side’s only goal of the first term.
He also kicked the first of the second quarter then gave the Hawks the lead with a nine-pointer midway through the term, after shrugging off a tackle and taking a bounce.
The Dogs edged back in front by halftime before Hawthorn looked set to blow them away with the first three goals of the second half.
A one-armed mark and goal from Bulldogs tall forward Liam Jones, who showed brighter signs in attack than he did for most of last year, narrowed the margin.
Stringer, playing his first game, then snapped cleverly to put the Dogs in front at the last change.
The Hawks again looked set to kill the contest when Jarryd Roughead booted a nine-pointer to start the last quarter and Franklin kicked two goals in two minutes soon after to push the lead to 16 points before the Dogs’ decisive charge.
Stringer rolled his ankle and Bulldogs coach Brendan McCartney said he would need scans.
Hale received a kick to the ankle and Breust a knock to the lower leg, with Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson saying neither injury was believed to be too serious.
McCartney praised his side’s fight.
“They wanted to hang in there,” he said.
“That was a good sign because we haven’t been able to do that for a while now.”
Clarkson wasn’t overly concerned by the defeat, labelling his side “rusty” and saying they would improve by the season proper.
The match was the first played under the AFL’s trial interchange cap of 80 per side.
Clarkson was scathing of the cap, saying it meant coaches had to spend more time counting than coaching and was too radical a change to introduce permanently.
“There’s not a person in the land who knows what’s going to happen to the game if that happens,” he said.
“I reckon that’s an enormous risk to take with what’s a pretty good game we’ve got at the moment just on a hunch.”