THE WESTERN Bulldogs are experiencing life as the hunted as teams bring a high level of intensity when they play the reigning premier, according to coach Luke Beveridge.
The Bulldogs have lost their edge in contested ball and clearances this season, with Collingwood, Sydney and Fremantle all producing fighting efforts against them in the opening three rounds.
Winless North Melbourne followed in an historic Good Friday match-up, winning the contested ball (149-131) and clearances (41-34) in a thrilling clash that the Bulldogs won by just three points.
"I think teams are playing with a great intensity against us," Beveridge said on Friday night after his team moved to 3-1 for the season.
"If that's an indicator that maybe we are (a scalp).
"But everyone has respected the way we've played for a period of time, so it's not like we've played against teams that have come out and think they can win in third gear."
After opening the season against Collingwood, the Bulldogs have met the Swans, Dockers and North when all three have been searching for their first wins.
The coach said it was possible teams were lifting when they face the Bulldogs as an opportunity to gauge their own progress.
"With teams who have been on top or are fighting to get there, it does give you some perspective if you're playing against a side that has had recent success," he said.
"Contextually you get a vibe of whether you're on the right track with what you're doing … maybe teams are using it as that.
"There's no doubt teams are playing with a great intensity against us."
The Kangaroos won the coalface battles on the back of outstanding midfielder Ben Cunnington and they were the better team for long periods, breaking 29 points clear in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs were able to work their way back, however, and then swing the momentum dramatically late in the final quarter with three crucial goals.
Beveridge praised his players' ability to dig deep and persist, especially in trying circumstances with big man Tom Boyd sidelined for three quarters with concussion.
"Under duress you've got to find a little bit more from the 21 who are left ... that heightens the satisfaction you get," the coach said.
"I thought Tommy Campbell, we needed to ask a lot of him and he did a very good job as that sole ruck."
Beveridge declined to give his view on how the nominated ruck rule is being adjudicated after confusion late in third quarter saw Bulldogs midfielder Josh Dunkley awarded a free kick.
Dunkley and teammate Marcus Bontempelli both appeared to nominate for the ruck, and Dunkley was awarded a free kick when his path to the contest was blocked by Kangaroo Andrew Swallow.
"I've said in the past I advocated not to change it, but now that it's in we're doing everything we can to manage it and get on top it and manage it and maybe get an edge if we can," Beveridge said.
"It's here and we've all got to deal with it."
Beveridge said dropped premiership players Caleb Daniel and Shane Biggs had taken their demotion to the VFL well and played "pretty well" against Box Hill on Friday.
Both had put their names forward for selection against the Brisbane Lions next Saturday in what is set to be captain Bob Murphy's 300th match.
The coach was pleased with inclusions Clay Smith and Dunkley, who "provided flexibility and played their roles".