Welcome to the top four. We are in the endgame now.
The Western Bulldogs have sent a message to the AFL world, demolishing Port Adelaide by 71 points to set up a mouthwatering grand final with Melbourne in two weeks.
A day after every man and his dog was rushing to crown Melbourne premiers after their annihilation of Geelong, the Bulldogs put together a preliminary final obliteration of their own to stake their claims to the flag as well.
The Dogs were all over a shell-shocked Port from the get-go, kicking five goals in the first ten minutes to establish a dominant lead that was never under threat.
Their 37-point quarter time lead ballooned to 58 at the main break and, although Port managed to stem the flow in the third quarter, late Bulldog goals saw the margin remain 58 at the final break, before they romped home in a spiritless last quarter.
Jack Macrae was again the pick of the Bulldogs’ outrageously deep midfield, racking up 36 disposals, seven inside 50s, nine score involvements and eight intercept possessions in a mammoth game.
Bailey Smith continued his strong finals series with 24 disposals and four goals, while Marcus Bontempelli (20 disposals, two goals), Caleb Daniel down back (22 disposals, eight intercepts) and Adam Treloar (23 disposals, 13 score involvements, nine tackles) were all excellent.
Ollie Wines (38 disposals, seven clearances) and Riley Bonner (32) were Port Adelaide’s best, but they were badly outhunted at ground level and in the contested ball by the Bulldogs and can only be feeling bitter disappointment with how they represented themselves.
The Bulldogs will be looking to claim their second premiership since 2016’s fairytale droughtbreaker, whereas Melbourne will be looking to break the AFL’s longest current premiership drought.
Bailey Smith started the preliminary final the same way he finished last week’s semi-final win over Brisbane. Tom Liberatore got a hack kick out of a forward stoppage that was brought to ground, with Smith receiving the quick handball and kicking the game’s first goal.
Last week's hero becomes this week's firestarter – Bailey Smith gets the Dogs on the board first ????
— Fox Footy (@FOXFOOTY) September 11, 2021
It was the start of a first-quarter avalanche for the Bulldogs, who had a five-goal lead barely ten minutes in after Laitham Vandermeer, Aaron Naughton, Mitch Hannan and Marcus Bontempelli all kicked majors in quick succession.
Port Adelaide managed to put the brakes on from there, however, with Ollie Wines finally kicking their first with a booming snap from inside 50. Travis Boak and Charlie Dixon had chances to make further dents into the lead, but pulled their shots wide.
The resistance was brief, however. Naughton was able to kick his second straight away after to reinstate the Dogs’ six-goal lead, before a goal to Jason Johannisen and Hannan’s third put the Dogs out by 51 points.
Riley Bonner sent through a long bomb to stem the bleeding for Port, but another pair of late majors to Roarke Smith and Bontempelli in the shadows of half time made the margin a whopping 58 points at the main break.
Port Adelaide got virtually their first set of repeat entries to begin the third quarter and got some reward through goals to Charlie Dixon and Todd Marshall – reigniting the crowd in the process.
Back-to-back goals for Port ⚡
— Fox Footy (@FOXFOOTY) September 11, 2021
The Power had the lion’s share of the inside 50s early and had trimmed the margin to 40 points when Marshall nailed his second just past the five-minute mark – or so they thought.
Replays found Bontempelli got a finger to the ball on the mark, meaning the margin stayed at 45 – and Port’s challenge was stunted with it.
The Power still had the run of play but were barely threatening the Bulldog goal, with Josh Schache able to extend the margin beyond 50 again with a goal deep into time-on.
Like the first and second quarters, the Bulldogs nailed a second straight late goal – this time courtesy of Adam Treloar on the run – to make it 58 points at the final break.
The last quarter was played with no sting, with the visitors easing to a massive win with their minds on the big dance in a fortnight.
Port Adelaide – 6.9 (45)
Western Bulldogs – 17.14 (116)
Power: Dixon 2, Wines, Houston, Bonner, Marshall
Bulldogs: B. Smith 4, Hannan 3, Naughton 2, Bontempelli 2, Vandermeer, Johannisen, R. Smith, Schache, Treloar, Scott