Western Bulldogs and Liam Picken blow Gold Coast Suns away

The Bulldogs were harder, smarter and had much more to play for. Photo: Western Bulldogs, Twitter

The Bulldogs were harder, smarter and had much more to play for. Photo: Western Bulldogs, Twitter

In the seven years that the AFL has fixtured a game at Cazaly Stadium in July, one thing has been certain: the best player on the ground is invariably the five-goal northerly that blows in off Trinity Bay during the first half.

On this day, though, the breeze was bested by the Western Bulldogs' evergreen Liam Picken, who kicked a career- and ground-best six goals, three of them against the wind in the first quarter, to strike the decisive early blows that sunk the Gold Coast Suns and kept the Bulldogs in the finals hunt.

They also gained a potentially valuable percentage boost, slamming on six goals to just two  behinds in the last quarter to turn a 15-point lead at the last change into a 54-point victory that will probably see Suns coach Rodney Eade shed a few more hairs from his thinning scalp.

It came at a cost for the Dogs, though, with veteran Dale Morris breaking both bones in his right forearm in the second quarter. For most 34-year-olds, that would spell the end of a career, come round 18 of a season. But Morris played in last year's grand final with a broken back, so who knows?

The Suns had their own problems. They went into the game missing Gary Ablett and co-captain Steven May with  hamstring strains and finished it with key forwards Tom Lynch and Peter Wright hobbling. Their season is petering out to another unfortunate conclusion.

They opened the game with the wind and were quickly on the board, capitalising on turnovers upfield to kick the first three goals of the game. Wright, with one of the game's biggest boots, bombed one through from close to 70 metres. It was, as one commentator said, almost unfair.

But the Bulldogs were harder, smarter and had much more to play for. Without Ablett to contend with, they dominated the clearances, bullying the Suns off the ball. And up forward, they were having a picnic, with nine marks in attack for the quarter. Once they started taking those marks closer to goal, they quickly reeled the Suns in.

The Suns were small in defence, having dropped Rory Thompson on top of losing May. But height wasn't the issue. Picken, playing as a brilliant if undersized key forward, took six marks and kicked three goals for the quarter. Another Lilliputian, Luke Dahlhaus, kicked the other.

That gave the Bulldogs an eight-point break at the first change; as good as a four-goal lead in the conditions. They didn't quite capitalise once the breeze was at their backs, though, the Suns tightening up around the ball and breaking even for clearances. It wouldn't last.

The Dogs still kicked three goals to one for the quarter, with Bailey Dale – a delightful kick – booting his second with less than half a minute remaining to see the Dogs with a 19-point lead at the main break. Picken also added his fourth after pinning a frustrated Pearce Hanley in a tackle.

The wind began to drop in the third quarter, and the Suns managed to mount a brief challenge, with David Swallow and Aaron Hall lifting in the middle and Ben Ainsworth again showing his precocious talent as a small forward, with two goals for the quarter. It was Picken, again, who stemmed the tide with his fifth.

By the end of the game, though, the Suns looked cooked, and not just by the game or the tropical humidity. They looked spent for the season, a sad-looking team whose destiny, seemingly preordained by the game's governing body, looks many years away from being fulfilled.

By the numbers

WESTERN BULLDOGS  4.4 7.6 10.9 16.14 (110)

GOLD COAST  3.2 4.4 8.7 8.8 (56)

GOALS - Western Bulldogs: Picken 6, Dale 3, Dahlhaus 2, Redpath, Roughead, Wallis, Murphy, Liberatore. 

Gold Coast: Ainsworth 2, Martin 2, Hall, Swallow, Wright, Lynch. 

BEST - Western Bulldogs: Picken, Macrae, Hunter, Dahlhaus, Johannisen, Biggs. 

Gold Coast: Swallow, Fiorini, Martin, Ainsworth, Hall.

INJURIES - Western Bulldogs: Morris (arm).

UMPIRES – Kamolins, Williamson, Gavine

CROWD – 9364 at Cazaly's Stadium

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