GISBORNE has ticked off a full set of wins against all nine BFNL opponents after a comprehensive 63-point victory over Eaglehawk at Canterbury Park on Saturday.
The Bulldogs' commanding 14.16 (100) to 5.7 (37) triumph included a string of 10 consecutive goals that stretched across the first, second and third quarters in what was a game that was already safely in the visitors keeping by half-time.
"We made five changes from last week's team and had a couple pull out last night with the flu (Josh Kemp and Luke Ellings), so there were some challenges we had to overcome," Gisborne coach Rob Waters said.
"Last week against Golden Square our structures broke down in parts, so our focus today against a strong physical team in Eaglehawk on their home ground was to make sure our structures held up with those five different players coming in.
"The first five minutes I thought we were in a bit of strife, but after that I felt if we were able to keep our composure and we maintained our pressure and structures we would come out on top."
The game started positively for the Hawks when they kicked the opening goal two minutes in through Sean Williams and didn't allow the Bulldogs their first goal until the 14-minute mark when the busy Matt Panuccio weaved his way through traffic to split the middle.
After a competitive first 15 minutes of the game the warning bells began sounding for the Hawks as the Bulldogs started to assert their authority, but didn't make the most of their forward opportunities.
The Bulldogs had the last eight scoring shots of the first quarter for a return of 2.6 as they were able to keep the ball locked in their front half.
Holding an 11-point lead at quarter-time, 2.6 to 1.1, the Bulldogs upped the ante with a game-breaking burst in the second term.
The Bulldogs booted six unanswered goals during the second quarter as they both showed their class with their ability to hit targets inside 50 and their tenacity with strong tackling pressure.
Of the six goals the Bulldogs kicked in the second quarter, five came from forward 50 marks - Matt Merrett (two), Braidon Blake (two) and Harry Thomas.
There was no respite for the Hawks' defence, which was under constant siege for the quarter as the visitors kicked 6.4 while the home side could manage just a pair of behinds to Sam Thompson and Darcy Richards.
By half-time it was a case of how far the Bulldogs as they led by 49 points, 8.10 to 1.3, having had a lopsided 18 scoring shots to four.
When the Bulldogs kicked the first two goals of the third quarter through captain Pat McKenna and Merrett they had booted 10 in a row and blown their lead out to 63 points, 10.12 to 1.3.
Although they had been comprehensively outplayed when the game was there to be won by the far superior Bulldogs - who are now two games clear at the top of the ladder - for the last quarter-and-half the Hawks did break even on the scoreboard with the visitors.
The 63 points the Bulldogs led by at the 10-minute mark of the third quarter remained the margin at the final siren as the two sides split the final eight goals four apiece.
The best player on the ground was Bulldogs' ruckman/forward Blake, who was a particularly strong marking presence inside 50 and slotted four goals.
"Braidon was fantastic for us; he was our best player last week and I thought he was again today," Waters said.
"He's got a bit of belief in his body this year and he is really showing us his wares; he's a very talented player.
"Having Ben Eales playing well in the ruck allows us to throw Braidon forward and you see the impact he had today."
Merrett also finished with four goals for the Bulldogs, the last of which was a kick out of the air in the goalsquare to also be among the best players, while Sam Graham was another of the top performers for the victors through the midfield, regularly bursting from stoppages.
Defensively, it was the sixth time in their nine games this season the Bulldogs have held their opponent to less than 50 points.
Among the five inclusions for the Bulldogs was first-gamer Cameron Freake from the under-18s.
The loss leaves the Hawks with a 5-4 record at the halfway mark of the season and now clinging onto their position in the top five by just percentage from the chasing South Bendigo.
Among the valiant performers for the Hawks was key defender Oscar Madden, who given the amount of time the ball spent inside the Gisborne forward 50 did a fine job in keeping Bulldogs' star McKenna to one goal.
Williams with two was the only multiple goalkicker for the Hawks, who fielded the most inexperienced side in Travis Matheson's coaching tenure that began in 2019.
"We still take plenty of positives out of today. You never like to lose, but I thought guys like Jacob O'Brien down back played a really good game against quality opposition," Matheson said.
"I said to the guys after the game that is the first half of the season done and every other team has sat in their rooms having been beaten by Gisborne, so we're not in a position that every other team hasn't been in either."
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