PORT ADELAIDE 2.2 5.5 8.10 14.12 (96)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 3.3 6.5 9.11 11.13 (79)
Goals: Port Adelaide: C Dixon 4 C Wingard 2 P Ryder 2 R Gray 2 J Polec O Wines S Gray T Boak. Western Bulldogs: B Dale 4 L Hunter 2 T Cloke 2 J Dunkley M Suckling T Liberatore
Umpires: Simon Meredith, Ray Chamberlain, Andrew Mitchell
Venue: Eureka Stadium
As he lay on the ground after a clash of heads in midfield with Brad Ebert, there were fears it might have been curtains for Bob Murphy. Defiantly he got back to his feet and played out the game. He wasn't stretchered off the ground, but his premiership dreams were over. That hole in his heart, spoken of at his retirement press conference days ago, will not be filled. There won't be another fairytale. Barring an unlikely string of results elsewhere, the Western Bulldogs' flag defence is over.
It was the AFL's newest venue, but it was an old-fashioned arm-wrestle. Port Adelaide fighting for a top four spot, the Bulldogs, trying to keep their top eight chances alive. The margin was never greater than 14 points until there were less than two minutes left, and the way this game swung, they could have gone another four quarters in chilly Ballarat and the gap might not have got any bigger.
But when push came to shove, the Power had the answers. Two goals down when Bulldog Bailey Dale kicked his fourth goal just shy of nine minutes into the final term, Port could have been done. Yet when needed their stars delivered. Charlie Dixon was a mountainous figure in the final term, dominating in the air to kick two goals, while Paddy Ryder blitzed Jordan Roughead in the ruck. Captain Travis Boak rounded out a strong four-quarter showing, and Robbie Gray added his second goal of the game, ensuring the Power still have much to look forward to still in 2017.
The same cannot be said of the Dogs. They toiled well for well over three quarters but, as has been the way for them for much of the year, there was something missing. Jack Macrae finished with 41 disposals, and Dale showed he is an emerging star, but unlike Port they didn't have a matchwinner when needed. Jake Stringer was sidelined in the early minutes with a hamstring injury, Marcus Bontempelli was a non-factor, and Jason Johannisen finished with 0.4.
With the breeze at their backs, the Dogs got the jump courtesy of long-range goals from Dale and Matt Suckling. Port were clearly on the back foot, seemingly resigned to playing most of the quarter in their defensive territory. So they employed a measured game plan full of short kicks, a stark contrast to the Dogs' frenetic handball tactics. It appeared to work as the Power steadied. The Dogs still led by seven points at quarter-time, but there was a sense they hadn't made enough use of the wind. That looked even more to be the case when Ollie Wines snapped to capitalise on some quick hands from Power teammates, levelling scores inside two minutes of the second term.
Luke Beveridge's side started to kick a bit more, and it seemed to work. Travis Cloke and Dale looked to have some confidence in front of goal, both kicking their second majors, but the Dogs' resistance was built on the back of stoppage dominance from Macrae, who has continued to be one of the few players from the 2016 premiership side to have maintained their standard. He had five clearances for the quarter to head to half-time with 23 disposals. Had Murphy been marginally more accurate with his kick after the siren, the Dogs would have won the quarter. Even still, they led by a goal at the long change.
With Bontempelli down, Dale – a player of a similar build and not much less ability – had taken up the slack. He kicked his third after taking a strong contested mark in the opening moments of the third quarter, and the Dogs looked like they might be away. But Port persisted, and sublime finishes from both Chad Wingard and Boak put Ken Hinkley's side back in front. The Dogs then had a prolonged period in which they mainly attacked. Lachie Hunter got a helpful bounce to goal, before Josh Dunkley got on the end of a clean centre break to put his side two goals up. Suddenly the "home" crowd roared to life, the spectacle enhanced by 7000 Bulldogs flags handed out to fans. Yet still they couldn't break clear, Port ending the quarter with a Dixon goal and some momentum, even if it was somewhat marred by an off-the-ball blow from Tom Jonas on Luke Dahlhaus.
J. Macrae (WB) 8
C. Dixon (Port) 8
P. Ryder (Port) 8
T. Boak (Port) 7
B. Dale (WB) 7