Dogs thrash Crows to storm into AFL finals

Bailey Dale's five goals have led Western Bulldogs to a win over Adelaide and into the AFL finals.
Bailey Dale's five goals have led Western Bulldogs to a win over Adelaide and into the AFL finals.

Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge has declared his surging AFL side will be hard to beat after storming into the finals with an emphatic 34-point win over lacklustre Adelaide in Ballarat.

Seemingly-endless finals permutations boiled down to the Dogs needing a win at Mars Stadium on Sunday to qualify.

And they were rarely troubled after a blistering opening in front of 9560 fans, cruising to an 18.13 (121) to 13.9 (87) scoreline that flattered the Crows.

Adelaide, Port Adelaide and Hawthorn were also in the top eight mix heading into round 23 but Beveridge's men showed they thoroughly deserved to return to September action for the first time since their 2016 premiership.

The Dogs, struggling in 14th with a 4-7 record at the halfway point of the season, romped into seventh spot with a stirring 8-3 run that set up an away elimination final against GWS.

"It's a brand new ball game now," a jubilant Beveridge said.

"We talk about creating the opportunity ... the season is two stages - it's the season-proper and then it's a whole new ball game once the finals come.

"We're in there and who knows what can happen?

" ... We're not limping into this finals series, we're going in with a head of steam with a brand of footy and probably a new identity, so to speak, and we're going to be hard to beat."

The Hawks' upset win over West Coast meant the Crows needed to win by around 16 goals to sneak into the eight but it was the Dogs who looked set for that sort of margin in a prolific first quarter.

Marcus Bontempelli (31 possessions and a goal) helped set the tone with a hand in both the Dogs' opening goals kicked by Bailey Dale who finished with five majors.

Jack Macrae (36) and Josh Dunkley (33) were also prominent in the impressive display.

Don Pyke's men were 40 points down before they'd even looked like scoring.

The Bulldogs led by 29 points at the first break and 28 at halftime after Adelaide showed some signs of life.

The margin blew out to 55 points before a late surge, Taylor Walker booting the third of his five goals to see his side trail by 41 points at three-quarter time.

The lead grew to a game-high 59 points before Brodie Smith kicked a goal-of-the-year contender from the boundary as the Crows fired in three goals in a row to add respectability.

Matt Crouch had a career-high day with 47 possessions and Rory Sloane (34) also worked hard but the Crows simply had too many passengers as they slumped to a seventh loss in nine matches to finish 10-12.

"Obviously the result last night made it very difficult to play finals but we wanted to finish the season better than that," Pyke said.

Australian Associated Press