When the Western Bulldogs surged to a 19-point lead over Melbourne midway through the third quarter of the 2021 grand final, they seemed on their way to a second premiership in six years.
What followed was nothing short of extraordinary, the Bulldogs simply dismembered by a rampant Demons to concede the next 12 goals – and losing by a staggering 74 points.
Who stood out and who failed to fire? Here’s every Bulldog rated.
Marcus Bontempelli (c): 8/10
Well held in the first quarter as the Bulldogs were suffocated by the Demons’ pressure… but boy, did he lift in the second. Two enormous pack marks for two goals after a high hit on Clayton Oliver that could attract MRO scrutiny, but his silky third quarter goal was the Dogs’ last before the Dees’ onslaught began. 25 touches… but when it was there to be won, didn’t get near it.
Zaine Cordy: 5
Strong mark in the second quarter in front of Luke Jackson justified his inclusion over the unlucky Ryan Gardner. Spent the second half watching balls sail over his head in the defensive 50, but kept opponent Tom McDonald quiet.
Bailey Dale: 5
Playing in his first grand final, the All Australian sent a kick he would have nailed 99 times out of 100 out on the full in the early minutes. Recovered to an extent, but when the Dees lifted in the third, like his fellow Bulldogs, struggled. It’s no use being an elite kick when your team can’t lay hands on the ball.
Caleb Daniel: 8
Sensational first half with 26 disposals – 19 of them kicks – with most finding a target as per usual. His first and really only blemish was a scrubbed kick in the third quarter, which led to the Angus Brayshaw goal that gave the Dees the lead. Got to 37 touches – but the Norm Smith Medal that seemed to be his for the losing at the break was gone.
Josh Dunkley: 5
Wasn’t sent to Clayton Oliver or Christian Petracca in a run-with role, which surprised (and might just have been handy). 25 touches and some bone-crunching tackles as he was far from overawed on the big stage, but was notably absent from the centre bounces when the Dees went on their third-quarter tear.
Taylor Duryea: 4
Uncharacteristically fumbly early, but was hardly alone in the Dogs’ defence as Melbourne tightened the screws. Did a solid enough job on Kysaiah Pickett, but his usual cool head and faultless kicking was lacking.
Tim English: 4
Hardly got near it in the first term, but began to clunk marks in the second – though his one shot at goal was sent into the man on the mark. Faded from there, and it was him in the ruck when the Dees began to walk it out of the centre square in an extraordinary ten minutes to finish the third quarter and kill off the match.
Mitch Hannan: 2
Just three touches in the first half. After a wonderful preliminary final, was kept under wraps by the Dees defence. Seven touches and no score a disappointing day for any forward.
Lachie Hunter: 5
Just seven first-half touches, but his outside run gave the Dogs some badly needed drive and kicked a goal to put them in front in the second term. Faded from there, as did so many of his teammates.
Jason Johannisen: 5
Not flash on the stats sheet, but his defensive efforts as a negating forward, often on Christian Salem, was pivotal as the Dogs clawed their way back. A speccy and goal just after half time had Dogs fans dancing in the aisles… but was hardly sighted from there.
Alex Keath: 3
A dropped mark in the second term his one real scare, as he kept Ben Brown largely under wraps in the first half – with help from the Demon’s accuracy. A rare lowering of his colours to Brown as he finished with three, but lack of pressure upfield was pivotal. Was his hamstring strain worse than reported?
Tom Liberatore: 6
Industrious as ever with 14 touches and a whopping six tackles in the first half alone. His quick hands are so vital to the Dogs’ clearance game. Finished with 23 and 11 and was far from disgraced… but was hapless to stop the Demons, in particular Petracca, running rampant in the third term.
Jack Macrae: 6
Accumulated as he always does with 18 first-half touches, but wasn’t as damaging forward of centre as he can be. But faded badly in the second as the Dees tightened the screws, finishing with 25. A sensational finals series and a deserved Gary Ayres Medallist, but there were no further heroics.
Stefan Martin: 4
Is that his final game? Fought gamely against Max Gawn, particularly at stoppages, and looked the Martin of old around the ground with nine first-half touches. But he and backup Tim English were ripped apart in the second half by Gawn and – surprisingly – Luke Jackson.
Aaron Naughton: 3
Aside from a snapping goal as the Dogs surged early in the second, was well held by Steven May. Lack of supply in the second term hurt, and took some monster grabs – but the Dogs needed more from him.
Josh Schache: 4
No preliminary final heroics from the former number two draft pick. 11 touches and no goals, though was unlucky to not receive a free kick with the match up for grabs in the third term. With Lever only taking two marks, he didn’t disgrace himself at least.
Bailey Smith: 6
13 first-half touches and some trademark speedy run saw the young gun have an impact early, further up the ground than usual. Was one of the few Dogs to still get plenty of the ball in the second half, finishing with 26 – but his damaging runs were nullified as the Demons took control.
Roarke Smith: 5
Did superbly to force a contest with May and Lever in the air, then to crumb the Dogs’ first goal. Finished with 16 touches, but never reached those heights again.
Adam Treloar: 7
His move into the centre for the second term proved the Dogs’ firestarter, with two goals and plenty of the ball wresting them back into the game. His third came with the match all but gone, but behind Bontempelli and Daniel was probably their best.
Laitham Vandermeer: N/A
Named as medical sub and wasn’t required.
Cody Weightman: 1
No kicks in the first half and just seven disposals by full time, including going goalless for just the second time this season. Michael Hibberd took him to the cleaners.
Bailey Williams: 2
The usually dependable defender had perhaps the worst quarter of his career to start the grand final, botching a kick and dropping a simple mark to gift opponent Bayley Fritsch a pair of goals. Redeemed himself with a superb smother early in the third to cut off a forward foray, but the Dees treated him and his fellow defenders like witches’ hats in the second half.
Easton Wood: 2
Not as sure-handed as normal as the Dogs’ defence buckled under the Dees’ pressure early. Injured his hand in the second term in a tackle, and was led a merry dance by Fritsch in the second half as the Dees livewire finished with six goals.