Dunkley goes berserk to give Dogs finals sniff
It has been a curious journey since their premiership almost three years ago.
But the Western Bulldogs have kept their finals chances alive despite surrendering complete ascendancy in the ruck in the eight-point win over Melbourne.
The Dogs' fourth win from their past five matches leaves Luke Beveridge's men only one game outside the eight, heading into Sunday's clash against St Kilda.
They look like one of the most dangerous sides out of the top-eight, the Dogs, with a blue-ribbon midfield, and a key forward combination of Aaron Naughton and Josh Schache growing in confidence.
Taylor Duryea set up play across half-back, Lachie Hunter had a day out and Josh Dunkley convincingly won the battle with Demons' onballer Clayton Oliver.
And they did it without Toby McLean who hurt his hamstring before halftime.
Superstar Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn ensured the Demons dominated the hit-outs (52-20) and the clearances (41 to 29) but the Dogs have shown they don't need to win the tap to prevail.
Josh Dunkley has stamped his credentials as one of the competition's best ball hunters this season.
Up against his newly-drafted brother Kyle, the Bulldogs' onballer went berserk again in the first half, gathering 22 possessions and nine tackles to finish with 39 disposals, two goals and a mammoth 202 SuperCoach points.
The blue-collar midfielder is a vacuum at ground level, and he kicked a crucial goal to put the Dogs five points up midway through the last term, with Kyle in his ear.
But his younger sibling briefly took the spotlight when he latched on to a low mark in the second term, and went back and slotted the 45m goal.
It would have been a bittersweet moment for his older brother who has a wry smile on his face standing the mark as the ball sailed over his head through for a goal.
The temptation would be there to give Jordan Lewis's spot to an emerging youngster in the final rounds.
With finals out of the equation, the Demons already have an eye on next season after shuffling their assistant coaches' roles around.
But coach Simon Goodwin gave Lewis a surprise tagging job on Marcus Bontempelli and it worked early, as he kept the superstar onballer to five disposals at halftime.
Bontempelli hurt his left ankle before half time but sprung to life in the third quarter to help keep the Dogs' noses in front.
The Dogs had more run in the last quarter, in particular, as Bailey Smith drilled one home on the run from 45m and Hunter landed a beautiful checkside on the boundary.
Lewis has spent the bulk of the past two seasons on the half back line, but has been returned to the midfield over the past fortnight.
STRAIGHTEN THE ARROWS
He's got the surfy-style long blond locks, but young Dog Roarke Smith knows where the goals are.
On another day of shocking conversion for the Dogs, the 16-gamer nailed two majors from long range, one from near the boundary in the first term and a second one after a gutsy mark 45m out in the third.
But while the Sunbury product was precise, the Dogs almost shot themselves in the foot in the third term.
Like so often this season, the young Dogs had the ball camped in their forward line for the bulk of the stanza but failed to capitalise on goals.
They sprayed one goal eight behinds for a six-point lead at the last change, keeping the door ajar for the Demons.
The Dogs' woeful goal kicking has been one of their biggest flaws this season.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 3.3 6.5 7.13 10.14 (74)
MELBOURNE 3.2 6.4 7.7 9.12 (66)
Western Bulldogs: J.Dunkley 2, Lloyd 2, R.Smith 2, Richards, Schache, Hunter, B.Smith
Melbourne: Petty 3, Fritsch 2, Hunt, Lewis, Petracca, K.Dunkley
Western Bulldogs: Dunkley, Hunter, Duryea, Macrae, Schache, Lloyd, Bontempelli
Melbourne: Gawn, Viney, Salem, Petty, Lewis, May
Western Bulldogs: McLean (hamstring)
Umpires: Dalgleish, Williamson, Mitchell
Official crowd: 26,781 at Marvel Stadium
JAY CLARK'S VOTES
3 - Josh Dunkley
2 - Lachie Hunter
1 - Taylor Duryea