Motoring on: Bulldog Ryan Griffen has been labelled a Rolls-Royce player. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
THE mantra emerging from the Whitten Oval is clear - team defence and a desperation to win the contested ball.
The Western Bulldogs were brilliant in both areas in an 18-point upset over North Melbourne on Sunday, as well as their ability to swiftly move the ball into attack.
Veteran forward Daniel Giansiracusa, who battled plantar fasciitis earlier in the season, was a beneficiary of this, with three goals against the Kangaroos.
Giansiracusa told The Age last September he was hopeful the Dogs would have ''a game plan that can really stand up to modern footy'' this season.
Under rookie coach Brendan McCartney, this plan appears to be heading in the right direction, with the Dogs beginning round seven mid-table in terms of contested possession and third in uncontested possession.
''If you win [contested football], it gives you first use of the footy and you can move it in quick into your forward line,'' Giansiracusa said yesterday.
''[Kicks inside 50 metres] were probably deeper, which is what we are looking to do. Not only then do you get the scoring opportunities but you can set up your defence as well.''
That was shown with Tory Dickson, a mature-age recruit, not only booting four goals but also having eight tackles, reinforcing the Dogs' commitment to defence.
For a club that is supposedly rebuilding, the Dogs now sit just outside the top eight and are favoured to claim their fourth win of the season this week.
They face struggling Gold Coast in a home game at TIO Stadium in Darwin on Saturday night, with Adam Cooney to return if his knee permits.
Then come major challenges against Geelong and Sydney, although both opponents are vulnerable.
''We've won three games and we're in that middle pack and I think we're seeing improvements but we've got a long way to go,'' Giansiracusa said. He spoke after club great Doug Hawkins had the area of turf he made his own during his playing days - the Doug Hawkins wing - reactivated in his honour at the Whitten Oval, complete with new signage.
Hawkins has never been shy of creating headlines but his assertion that Ryan Griffen is emerging into a midfielder of ''Rolls-Royce'' quality is a feeling shared by many in football.
Griffen had 31 disposals against the Kangaroos, adding to his impressive form against Collingwood (33), when he was arguably best on ground, and Greater Western Sydney (37).
After missing the opening clash against West Coast because of injury, he was excellent against Adelaide but quiet against St Kilda and Melbourne.
''Not many Rolls-Royces at this footy club - Chris Grant was one - but Ryan Griffen's not far away from it,'' Hawkins said.
''I don't like talking Brownlow Medals but he is potentially that player who will win a Brownlow Medal because he carries and he runs
''He's a good decision maker - tough, hard at the footy. He's right up there with some of the best midfielders in the competition … you're talking Gary Ablett jr, [Geelong's Jimmy] Bartel, Sam Mitchell from Hawthorn.
''He's just absolutely sensational. Ryan Griffen belongs in that top bracket of midfielders, no doubt about it.''