North Melbourne are off to their best start to an AFL season since 1979 after overcoming the Western Bulldogs by 16 points at Etihad Stadium on Friday night.
The Roos prevailed after a dour struggle to remain the only unbeaten team in the AFL, strengthening their grip on top spot with a 9.7 (61) to 6.9 (45) win in front of 47,622 fans – a venue record for a match between the two teams.
The pressure of the contest was worthy of a top-of-the-table clash but that increased intensity led to more skill errors and turnovers than could reasonably be expected from two premiership contenders.
With numbers around the ball that have rarely been seen this season, goals were hard to come by as the Roos eked out a 12-point lead at quarter-time then maintained that margin at half and three-quarter time.
Nearly 15 minutes elapsed without score in the final term before Jarrad Waite outmarked three defenders to slot his fourth goal of the night – the only major of the quarter – to seal the result.
Daniel Wells started like a house on fire and finished with 27 possessions, Scott Thompson had 27 disposals and took nine marks in a star turn down back and Todd Goldstein had 40 hitouts.
North did it one player down on the bench after quarter-time after Kayne Turner suffered a hamstring injury.
The Dogs’ defence was the stingiest in the league going into the match and they remained resolute in keeping the competition’s most potent attack to their lowest score of the season despite the absence of key trio Bob Murphy, Jason Johannisen and Matt Suckling.
But the Bulldogs couldn’t find a reliable avenue to goal as the Roos kept them at arm’s length throughout.
Lachie Hunter was prolific with 44 touches, while Matthew Boyd and Jack Macrae each had 33 possessions.
Brad Scott conceded the Kangaroos’ sixth win of the season wasn’t their prettiest.
It was the first time this year they’ve scored fewer than 100 points, but the coach was pleased with the way they were able to grind out a victory.
“They’re a very good side in the contest and we pride ourselves on that area too,” Scott said.
“It was pretty keenly fought and I think it’s a really good sign that we can get the job done multiple ways, regardless of what the opposition throw at us.”
The Bulldogs had 10 more inside 50s than North, but again struggled to make the most of those scoring opportunities.
“It’s probably the thing that’s frustrated us for most of the year,” coach Luke Beveridge said.
“We haven’t been able to capitalise on our transitions and our opportunities we’ve created.”