Inconsistent Dogs keep finding a way
FROM "playing like millionaires" to playing like premiers again.
The Western Bulldogs might not be looking like itself as it begins the defence of its remarkable flag feats of last season, but it is seemingly doing enough to win.
Just ask Collingwood, Sydney and now North Melbourne.
An inconsistent Bulldogs outfit would have had Luke Beveridge tearing his hair out at stages in the first ever Good Friday game, with his side often outworked and outhunted by a Kangaroos team looking to make the fixture their own.
But a dramatic three-point win, in which the Dogs were saved by the bell, improved its record once more.
Upset by the previously winless Fremantle last week, Beveridge had put the heat on his reigning champions in the days leading up to this clash. He had demanded of his side to alleviate the "significant momentum swings" that had derailed the start of its campaign.
It was a wrong they couldn't right at Etihad Stadium, but one which ultimately didn't come at a cost.
Having dropped another two premiership stars in Caleb Daniel and Shane Biggs, Beveridge sent his first significant statement of intent at the selection table.
The next would have to be made out on the field.
But on a trying afternoon, the end product continued to elude the Dogs, as the same woes that had plagued the side's opening three matches lingered.
Only this time, the team's effort was also brought into question, with Fox Footy analyst Mark Maclure making the bold call they were "playing like millionaires".
"The Dogs have been terrible," he added at half-time.
"They're not tough enough at the ball and I'm sure they'll be getting an earful right now."
Having ranked inside the top two in the competition for clearance and contested possession differential last season, the Dogs were again soundly beaten in both areas by a North side also struggling to assert its dominance out of the middle.
The Bulldogs trailed in the contested possession count and the clearance count at half time, intimidated in the coalface by a North Melbourne side desperate to hone in on its opponent's Achilles heel.
"I guarantee you there would be something on the board inside there at North Melbourne saying 'beat them on the inside, beat them up at the contest'," Hawthorn great Dermott Brereton said on Fox Footy.
"There would be some motivation - one simple sentence - about being tougher."
While the Dogs were able to lock the ball inside 50 for sustained periods, when the Kangaroos finally countered they did so with speed and with ease.
Only a handful of North Melbourne mistakes from some of the team's youngsters - both by hand and by foot - enabled the Dogs any chances to hit the scoreboard.
A concussion to Tom Boyd and an untimely ankle injury to Tom Campbell left the Dogs somewhat out of sorts in the ruck - and subsequently around the ground.
It hurt the side's structures, particularly forward of the ball, with the reigning premiers often bombing away when the short option was available.
"You talk about the Bulldogs and their organised chaos that they've been known for - it's just chaos at the moment," club legend Brad Johnson added.
When the Kangaroos cleaned up those skill errors, it resulted in six straight goals and a sizeable 29-point buffer midway through the third quarter.
When the Bulldogs got the match back on their terms, the response was five straight goals going the other way.
Such was the topsy-turvy nature of the game, it had always appeared as though the team to get the timely momentum shift towards the closing stages would take the chocolates.
And while the Western Bulldogs once again might not have been at its best, it did what good sides do.
"That's a great fighters win," Brereton said.
"They had to fight and scrounge their way through it. Regardless, they are not exactly in great form at the moment."