Today, we’re rewinding to the hotly contested 2016 preliminary final between the Greater Western Sydney Giants and the Western Bulldogs. Both teams were very hungry, the Dogs looking to go one step closer to ending a 62 year premiership drought, and in turn end 55 year grand final drought. The Giants on the other hand, were looking to break into the first grand final of their short history, and walk the walk they’d been talking for so many years.
The Giants were massive favourites, they’d already knocked off minor premiers Sydney and had a weeks rest. The Dogs on the other hand, had done the hard yards travelling to Perth and looking to make a remarkable charge into the season decider from seventh.
It’s a commonly held belief that the fierce rivalry between the two teams we see today was born out of the grueling battle. It was in fact though, apparent, that the rivalry was well and truly burning before the 2016 prelim, this chapter simply adding fuel to the fire.
The Western Bulldogs didn’t only win the game on the field, they won it in the crowd. The game was played at Spotless Stadium yet it may as well have been Whitten Oval. Local Sydney-siders sporting the Greater Western Sydney orange barely making their presence felt amongst the blue Western Bulldogs ocean. It was made obvious to the Giants boys early that their ‘home ground advantage’ wouldn’t be as such. Dogs turned Giants Ryan Griffen and Callan Ward were on the receiving end of bellowing boos whenever they went near the footy, and the ‘noise of affirmation’ was prevalent as ever, the Dog’s diehards winning the away team a 23-13 free kick count.
The Dogs dominated the first quarter but were left with nothing to show for it. Taking just a 2.3.15 to 2.1.13 quarter time lead. They zoned and set up behind the footy extremely well, locking the ball in their forward 50 for all but the final few minutes of the quarter where the Giants would make them pay. In their period of dominance, they had 17 inside 50’s to the Giants six. The Giants were happy to sit back, absorb the pressure and wear the Dogs out who were relentlessly attacking. They waited until the dying stages of the term to strike, sparked by a Devon Smith free kick and goal against the run of play. Minutes later Jon Patton would goal and decimate the Dogs hard fought lead.
Easton Wood was instrumental for the Bulldogs, leading from the front by all means of the phrase and also providing one for the highlight reel when he took a spectacular specky. Tory Dickson also provided a highlight of his own with a brilliant goal, dropping a one handed mark in a 2 on 1 contest at the top of the square before scrambling to the footy and slipping past both of his opponents. The hatred was evident, physicality on show with constant skirmishes breaking out for the quarter’s entirety.
Easton Wood takes a hanger
The second quarter, much like the first, was fast paced but not free flowing as both teams put on a defensive clinic. The physicality remained unwavering in the high pressure, high intensity contest. Callan Ward and Jordan Roughead being two of the casualties, both ruled out of the game’s remainder with concussion. Toby Greene opened the quarter’s scoring, smothering a Joel Hamling kick and running the footy into an open goal, Stephen Coniglio’s vision would give Greene his second soon after. The two Greene goals were separated by the Dogs’ elite forward pressure, Tory Dickson laying a big tackle and Clay Smith goaling. They were going goal for goal as Dickson scored again for the Dogs.
Toby Greene managed to provide a trademark 30 second passage of play, sending a flying boot into Toby McLean, fusing the sports of karate and football as he so often does. He then dumped Matthew Boyd into the ground and sent an elbow into Easton Wood.
The Gerard Whateley dubbed ‘orange tsunami’ was on full display, a picturesque, handballing, running wave up the middle of the ground finding Jon Patton for a goal. Clay Smith capped off a phenomenal half with two more goals to take his match tally to four, his energy providing a valuable spark up forward, the Dogs leading 6.5.41 to 5.2.32 at half time.
The third quarter was all Giants traffic until two big score review moments completely swung the momentum and changed the game. GWS showed great run and spread early, leading to a good Rory Lobb goal from the two on one contest. Tory Dickson hit back for the Dogs, scoring off a big one on one mark against Heath Shaw. The Dogs continued to implement the great zoning and formation behind the footy that they had all game, the Giants eventually broke through and Patton was all alone in the forward 50 for a goal. Lobb took yet another big contested mark and converted. The Giants were on again when Heath Shaw took the hand off from at least 55 metres out and thumped a massive goal, stretching their lead to 11 and giving them three consecutive goals.
Even as a young 20 year old, Marcus Bontempelli was destined for greatness, coming up with a pivotal assist to keep the Giants at bay. He bought the ball to ground, fended off his opponent weaving through traffic, before dishing off to Zaine Cordy who goaled. Tom Scully goaled for the Giants, but on review they found it was touched by Stringer and corrected the decision. This coming mere minutes after Stephen Coniglio was genuinely convinced he touched the ball off Cordy’s boot, only for no review to be taken. This was a huge turning point in the match and gave the Western Bulldogs plenty of momentum, no doubt playing a role in the final result. The Western Bulldogs trailing GWS 9.6.60 to 9.7.61.
One of the many heated exchanges that took place between the teams
Rory Lobb and Toby Greene, who had been influential up forward all game, got the Giants back on top early with the opening two goals of the final quarter. The Dogs were really feeling the pinch and Tory Dickson provided some much needed pain relief, bringing them back within striking distance. A few free kicks went the way of the Dogs and they were on the hunt. A Johannisen behind bought the margin to 6, Jack Macrae had his own flash of brilliance but hit the post, bringing the Dogs within a goal.
GWS were the ones now feeling the pinch and didn’t respond accordingly. They went into their shell and started playing conservative footy, desperately defending their morsel of a lead instead of attacking. The Dogs on the other hand. They were brave, valiant, epitomised by Jason Johannisen. He was phenomenal, taking the game on and blistering through traffic straight up the guts. Bontempelli found space beautifully and was hit up by Johannisen, playing on and kicking the goal, giving the Bulldogs a one point lead. A game changer by any stretch of the imagination. Cordy snapped for goal and the Dogs were up by seven. They were flying but Jon Patton reduced the margin to one.
It was game on, a grand final spot on the line, seasons if not careers on the line. Jake Stringer worked back in defence and performed a big chase down tackle. A goal saving tackle. Keeping the Dogs in front. His physical presence had been influential up forward all night but he was now making it felt all over the ground.
Jeremy Cameron, Toby Greene, Devon Smith. Three Giant superstars. Three dependable goal kickers. Three men that had superstar status dangled in front of them like a carrot, and instead succumbed to defeat. Failing to etch the 2016 Giants into eternal club history, and make their first grand final. All three missing shots on goal when it mattered most.
In between the string of Giant misses, Jack Macrae goaled. The Western Bulldogs led by five with one minute remaining and Toby McLean was taken high. At that moment in time, at the stage of the game, the dogs possessed something of immense value, value you couldn’t put a price tag on. It was the Sherrin.
That priceless piece of leather found its way to Jake Stringer who was 30 metres from an open goal, 30 metres from icing the cake on a famous day in Dogs history. Yet unselfishly, leaving nothing to chance, Stringer pulled his kick straight across the 50 to Tory Dickson who marked and wound down the clock.
The final siren so much more than a siren to the once Footscray, now Western Bulldogs faithful. The final siren signaling the burying of 55 years of grand final-less sorrows. Reigning supreme 13.11.89 to 12.11.83. The Bulldogs were in just their third ever grand final, four quarters away from ending a 62 year premiership drought, and adding a second trophy to the cabinet.
Western Bulldogs celebrating their win
The Giants engine room was humming like a well oiled machine all game. Tom Scully, Josh Kelly, Dylan Shiel and Stephen Coniglio tallying 30, 29, 28 and 27 disposals respectively, Shiel with seven clearances and Coniglio with eight. Rory Lobb and Toby Greene were influential up forward with three goals each and Nick Haynes was a pillar down back with eleven marks. Shane Mumford dominated the ruck battle 46 hit outs and his standard rough, bruising approach, that boded well with the combat.
Luke Dalhaus had 32 disposals for the Bulldogs. Jason Johannisen had 26, 24 of which were kicks, but his raw pace and explosiveness lit the game up all night and sparked the Dogs when they needed it most. Easton Wood played a great game and picked up eight marks down back. It was the unlikely duo of Clay Smith and Tory Dickson, kicking four goals apiece, that really led the Dogs forward line, assisted by the physical presence of Jake Stringer who didn’t get reward for his efforts on the scoreboard.
In the dying stages of a wounding, hate-fueled battle, the Dogs were more courageous. Benefactors of trailing, they were the hunters and not the hunted. Something that would ultimately play to their advantage as the Giants looked to play conservatively, when attack was so desperately desired, yet concealed by the nerves and panic of a cutthroat preliminary final.