MELBOURNE has strengthened its top-four standing with a 64-point win over the Western Bulldogs on Sunday, retaining the coveted Hampson-Hardeman Cup in the process.
Playing the yearly fixture for the first time at Casey Fields, the Demons methodically worked their way to the 10.13 (73) to 1.3 (9) victory.
Melbourne got on the front foot from the first ball-up, bursting from stoppages and using strong, clearing handballs to move efficiently into attack, with the standard set early by Karen Paxman who covered the ground with purpose.
The Dogs worked hard to create forward entries but the likes of Sinead Goldrick (six intercepts), Shelley Heath (five) and Libby Birch (three) were well set up behind play to pick off those long kicks and set up another Demons attacking play.
Bulldogs coach Nathan Burke threw the magnets around at three-quarter-time, sending key defender Katie Lynch into attack and Richelle Cranston and Elisabeth Georgostathis into defence. But it wasn't enough as the Demons continued to pepper the goals, kicking four goals from eight scoring shots in the final quarter.
DEMONS v BULLDOGS Full match coverage and stats
After a lean couple of games, Alyssa Bannan had a huge impact for Melbourne. Finishing the game with three goals - her first since round three - Bannan's best moment was her involvement in a series of play that saw her run from defence into the attacking goalsquare to lay an important tackle that ultimately resulted in Tayla Harris's second goal.
Eliza West and Olivia Purcell were once again vital through the midfield for Melbourne, while Ellie Blackburn and Alice Edmonds continued their formidable partnership for the Dogs.
There were concerns for the Demons late in the second term when the opening-half's best player Karen Paxman clashed heads with ruck Lauren Pearce and both had to leave the field. Paxman, who had blood streaming from her forehead, returned to the field to start the second half with strapping around her head, while Pearce took no further part in the game.
The Western Bulldogs' finals place looks shaky now, having lost their last three games, while Melbourne continues to challenge for a place in the top two.
Tayla continues to dominate the air
Melbourne forward Tayla Harris has made a name for herself as an elite contested mark. A finalist of the Mark of the Year competition a record five times, Harris put up her season seven nomination in the second quarter against the Bulldogs. Kate Hore popped the ball up to a leading Harris in the middle of the attacking 50, where the latter leapt to take the ball easily with one hand like it was any regular mark. She finished the game with 14 disposals and two goals in Melbourne's important win.
Ellie Blackburn makes history
With her third disposal on Sunday Ellie Blackburn became the seventh AFLW player to register a thousand disposals, but it wasn't just her ability to win the ball that was important for the Dogs. Racking up 350m gained from 18 disposals, Blackburn's power and explosiveness out of congestion stole the show despite the Bulldogs' struggles on the scoreboard.
Melbourne will travel to Metricon Stadium on Saturday evening to take on Gold Coast, who is trying to stay in touch with the top eight, while the Western Bulldogs will host St Kilda in Ballarat on Sunday afternoon.
MELBOURNE 1.1 4.8 6.9 10.13 (73)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 0.0 1.0 1.1 1.3 (9)
Melbourne: Bannan 3, Zanker 2, Harris 2, West, Hore, Duffy
Western Bulldogs: Hartwig
Melbourne: Paxman, West, Goldrick, Purcell
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn, Ferres, Edmonds, Grant
Melbourne: L. Pearce (head knock), Paxman (head knock)
Western Bulldogs: Nil
Crowd: 2,154 at Casey Fields