After appearing on track for the minor premiership just a month ago, Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge is resigned to his side finishing fifth after losing three straight games to end the home-and-away season.
The Bulldogs look set for an elimination final next weekend after falling to Port Adelaide 9.12 (66) to 10.4 (64) in a two-point thriller on Friday night.
If Brisbane defeat an undermanned West Coast, as expected, on Saturday and make up 0.1 per cent, then the Lions will leapfrog the Bulldogs into fourth and claim the double chance in finals.
“We worked hard to get ourselves in a strong position up until a month ago and it’s quite obvious to all that we haven’t been at our best in recent times,” Beveridge said.
“We absolutely still have a lot to play for but I can’t lie and say we’re not pretty flat after that, even though Port Adelaide were probably the better team for most of the night.”
It is difficult to comprehend for the Bulldogs, who have not dropped lower than fourth since round two.
“We’re anticipating we’re going to finish fifth and I just spoke to the boys about how we’re all in their corner,” Beveridge said.
“We’ll walk out of the room and be absolutely flat about the defeat but all we can do is believe we can stay the course and win as many games as we can from here on in.”
If the Bulldogs finish fifth, they are likely to play Essendon, who defeated them just two weeks ago.
The Dogs opted to use Lewis Young in the ruck against Port and he was smashed by premiership big man Scott Lycett.
Beveridge decided to use Tim English mainly up forward, with captain Marcus Bontempelli even having more hit-outs than the 24-year-old.
Veteran ruckman Stefan Martin would be the ideal inclusion for a final but the former Brisbane tall has been sidelined through injury since round 12.
Martin will play in a scratch match on Saturday and the Bulldogs will decide from that if the 34-year-old is ready for a potentially cut-throat final.
“He’s had a few things going on while he’s been out,” Beveridge said.
“He’s not a player that we can hang our hat on because he’s just missed too much footy.
“He hasn’t had the training load that’s required to play the game at this level for long enough, especially a final.”