On paper, it was a game the Western Bulldogs simply had to win before challenges against top eight teams later in the season, and Luke Beveridge’s troops did what they had to do on Friday night.
The 42-point win is one of their most important given the context of their season, with the Bulldogs one of several teams in the mix for a lower-end finals spot.
While they got the chocolates, it didn’t look certain for the opening half an hour of the contest.
Fresh off the bye, the young Hawks came out determined, kicking the first three goals and holding that margin to quarter time.
Sam Mitchell named a side that was over a year younger per player than their opponents, but their intensity made up for the lack of experience with plenty of desperation and hard defensive running early.
Only hours before the game Hawthorn announced the re-signing of Mitch Lewis on a new four-year deal, and the 23-year-old was clearly fired up when booting two of the first three majors of the game.
He finished with three goals, becoming the first player to do that in eight or more games in 2022 alongside Aaron Naughton
With the Bulldogs’ finals hopes teetering, Luke Beveridge’s quarter-time address worked. After conceding another goal to start the second term, the Dogs reeled off a stunning stretch of 13 consecutive goals to set up the dominant win.
Following a similar theme for the year, the Hawks’ defense just did not stand up under pressure. The Bulldogs went at a remarkable 59.6 per cent efficiency inside their forward 50, more than ten per cent above their season average.
“This is just a training drill right now, unfortunately. The Hawks have fallen right away,” Brownlow Medalist Gerard Healy told AFL Nation during the Dogs’ third-quarter dominance.
The Hawks’ defensive woes were personified by a comment from Healy late in the third quarter after Robbie McComb slammed home the Dogs’ 11th goal in a row.
Sicily went to opponent Naughton and pulled off the Bulldog’s headband, starting a major scuffle that left the key forward with a ripped jumper.
Healy was unimpressed.
“That’s the only thing he’s won tonight, that scrap,” he said of Sicily.
The 27-year-old did get better in the final term, although the damage had been done.
Naughton finished with three goals, but it was young Rhylee West who looked the most dangerous for the club up forward.
Playing just his 18th game, West finished with three majors from six shots on goal as well as an equal game-high 13 score involvements in a performance that is sure to lock him into the side for the foreseeable future.
“This is probably his best game of footy in his life, this kid,” Healy said.
Despite the dominance from the Bulldogs, Hawthorn had their chances to hit the scoreboard but couldn’t manage more than four points during the third-quarter, going goalless for nearly two quarters of football.
However, as Mitchell’s side has often done this year, they didn’t die wondering to hit back with seven goals in the last quarter. The Dogs joined in on the goal-fest to add seven of their own in the final term.
Meanwhile, after securing two important wins following the bye, the real test comes in the coming weeks for the Dogs. Games against Brisbane, St Kilda, Sydney, Melbourne, Geelong and Fremantle are to come in the next six weeks.
Now sitting in km on the AFL ladder, they could again find themselves out of the top eight if Richmond and Collingwood both triumph on the weekend.
Western Bulldogs: 1.2, 6.6, 12.10, 19.11. (125)
Hawthorn: 4.3, 5.7, 5.11, 12.11. (83)
Western Bulldogs: Naughton 3, West 3, Dunkley 2, Johannisen 2, Schache 2, Bontempelli, O’Brien, McComb, Sweet, Ugle-Hagan, Liberatore, Dale
Hawthorn: Lewis 4, Breust 3, Moore 2, Reeves, Butler, Newcombe
Western Bulldogs: Liberatore, Bontempelli, West, Macrae, Gardner
Hawthorn: Scrimshaw, Lewis, Moore, Breust, Sicily
Western Bulldogs: Richards (Concussion)