Just like West Coast and Sydney and more recently Hawthorn and Geelong, Western Bulldogs and Greater Western Sydney could well be the next fierce AFL rivalry.
Against all odds, Western Bulldogs reached the grand final for the first time in 55 years, winning at Spotless Stadium against the Greater Western Sydney Giants by just one goal.
After finishing seventh, Luke Beveridge‘s side won three away finals, knocking out 2015 finalists West Coast and back-to-back-to-back premiers Hawthorn, before putting the Giants to the sword in an intense preliminary final.
The Dogs will need to pull off one last shock win to become the first club since the Adelaide Crows in 1998 to win the flag from outside the top four, with 2012 premiers Sydney standing in their way.
The club has come a long way since 2014, when Beveridge was brought in to replace departing coach Brendan McCartney, which was soon followed by the resignation of CEO Simon Garlick.
Fans did not know what to expect from Beveridge, with the club trading captain Ryan Griffen to GWS for young forward Tom Boyd and allowing key midfielder Adam Cooney to depart for Essendon.
But Beveridge has defied all odds in just two seasons, with his team hoping to add to the club’s sole premiership from 1954 when they were still known as Footscray.
While the Bulldogs will have to topple a powerhouse Sydney side, it will be the Giants of Western Sydney that will stand in front of a “Dog dynasty.”
The Doggies may have won the battle on Saturday night, but they have not won the war just yet, as both sides have years of dominant football ahead of them.
With such depth in elite young talent at both Western Bulldogs and GWS, it is hard to imagine either of these two sides ending the next decade without a premiership.
While it would be wrong to discount the league’s most dominant sides – Hawthorn, Sydney and Geelong – this season should act as a prelude for what is to come from these emerging teams.
Beveridge and GWS boss Leon Cameron arrived at their respective clubs as first time coaches and their big-game nous will only grow from here.
Both teams each fielded just six players over the age of 25 on the weekend, with their young guns displaying knowledge and potency well beyond their years.
The match could have gone either way, with both sets of players leaving everything out on the ground in a high-pressure and quick-paced nail biter.
Both sides have their respective strengths, with the Bulldogs counting on key centre men Marcus Bontempelli, Liam Picken, Tom Liberatore and Luke Dahlhaus to dominate in contested possessions and tackling.
GWS, on the other hand, rely on their pace and skill through the middle to break the lines and get the ball to their strong-marking forwards Jeremy Cameron, Jonathon Patton and Rory Lobb.
But the most intimidating characteristics of these two sides are their hunger and determination, chasing down every ball like men possessed.
Big game experience was supposed to be the trait that the Dogs and the Giants lacked, but the way they picked apart Hawthorn and Sydney respectively in this finals series proves just how fearless they are.
As the Bulldogs prepare for their biggest game in the AFL era, the Giants will use the hurt from Saturday’s defeat to improve from their first ever finals series.
Their preliminary final was a treat to all football fans and we could be seeing the GWS Giants and the Western Bulldogs battle it out in the big dance come this time next year.
Written by Marco Balsamo