The Port Adelaide Power were confronted with their biggest challenge of the young season in the West Coast Eagles, and whatever test was thrown at them, they passed with flying colours.
The Eagles were poor and the Power made them look worse. A combination of sharp ball use, a harder edge in the contest, and the a star up forward who was ready, willing and able to put his body on the line to clunk contested grabs saw the Power endure a brief flurry from the Eagles in the third quarter to pull away for an impressive 48 point win.
Was this the game that announced the true arrival of the 2020 Port Adelaide team? Was it the game that showed us who the West Coast Eagles really are? Or is it yet another game that conjures more questions than it does answers?
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
THE BIG FELLA
Well, we know who Gerard Healy’s favourite player is, don’t we? Seriously, if the bloke had a topless pic of big Charlie on his wall, I wouldn’t be too surprised.
But at least he has good taste, with Dixon proving to be the difference in the first half of this contest, and then going on to finish with a bag of six to take the lead in the Coleman race.
For the first time in forever (thanks Anna and Elsa) Dixon looks as though he has his body right and his attack on the ball in the air is currently unparalleled in the league. He took six big contested grabs, including five of them inside forward 50 as he completely monstered Tom Barrass.
Not that Barrass was terrible, he just got no bloody help. Really, Dixon could have had seven contested grabs, with another mark inexplicably not paid in the second quarter. With such talent in the West Coast defence, their willingness to give Barrass a chop out was damning of their intensity levels.
With a career high of 49 goals in 2017, Dixon averaged 2.13 goals per game, and he looks on target to surpass that average this season. After three games (he missed Round One) he is sitting on 3.7 snags per game. Next week he has his biggest test, with contest-killer, Harris Andrews waiting for him – it will be a match up to savour.
With Dixon looking like a monster this season, he gives Port a fantastic focal point. Genuine question – was he cleanly beaten in an aerial contest in this game? I cannot remember one.
BUTTERS’ ATTACK ON THE FOOTY AND MAN
It was hard not to be impressed with Connor Rozee last season, and the consistent play of Xavier Duursma won over plenty of supporters as well. In the distance was Zak Butters who, whilst very serviceable, was still a level or two below his fellow draftees in the eyes of many.
Note the tense – “was” still a level or two below.
It is not the case anymore. The gap has closed.
Butters’ attack on the contest was monstrous. For a bloke his size, his desire to throw his body into the action, seemingly with little care for his own wellbeing, or anyone in his way, was wonderful to see. You could tell by the look of him that he loved mixing it up with the Eagles, and enjoyed sitting a few of them on their ass.
His last quarter launch at the pack in the forward line was one of those actions that goes largely unnoticed by many watching at home, but in the process he took out two West Coast defenders, allowing the ball to fall to Brad Ebert for another goal.
But the little things were there all the game – a smother on Andrew Gaff, another tackle on Tim Kelly and the sucker job (not the Joe Ganino style of sucker job) on Will Schofield was the kind of act that exposes ill-discipline and, let’s be honest, stupidity.
And Schofield was happy to provide both those things.
What is the ceiling for Butters? Haydn Ballantyne with more skill? It could happen – he has that element of cheek about him, and as much as everyone except Freo fans hated Ballantyne, Docker fans loved him. And Port fans will adore Butters if that’s what he becomes.
I actually think he could be even more.
DROPPING THE HAMMER
Not a lot gets written about Hamish Hartlett, but his efforts in the first half of this contest went a long way to setting up the Port Adelaide lead.
With 12 touches in the first half running at 75% efficiency, Hartlett also managed to sneak forward to slot a goal and break the heart of Jamie Cripps, who languished back behind him by the lazy… oh, let’s say 60 metres.
It was the willingness to run and create that made Port such a lethal weapon in this game, and no one epitomised it more than Hartlett while the heat was on.
LYCETT DOES THE TOUGH STUFF
I loved the game of Scott Lycett in this one. From the moment he debuted for the Power, and proceeded to beat down Max Gawn, I was a fan.
You see, I like players with a bit of a mean streak. I like players that will knock someone over without a second thought, and still put his head over the footy when it’s his turn to go. That’s what Scott Lycett brings for the Power.
Matched up against the irresistible force that is Nic Naitanui, Lycett took the points. Forget the fact that Naitanui won the hit outs 30-15, the work of Lycett to restrict the West Coast big man at ground level was vital to the Power’s success.
Lycett had six clearances to match Naitanui, and also laid six tackles to, get this – lead all players! Okay, he was even with Tim Kelly, but you love that kind of effort from your big fella, right? It shows you just how much he is invested.
I am sure many will argue that this contest was a draw, or that Naitanui was better on the day. The first one I’ll accept, but the second is way off base. Naitanui is expected to be a huge factor. He wasn’t. Scott Lycett is a player people expect to compete and give effort- he was that, and so much more. He was the winner in this contest.
MAKING THE MOST OF LIMITED OPPORTUNITIES
There were not too many things to smile about for the Eagles, but seeing Josh Kennedy take marks and kick goals would have given the Eagles supporters something to hold onto.
Whilst Jack Darling ran up and down on the spot, Kennedy started to look likely, and finished with four goals for the afternoon. Between him and Liam Ryan, the Eagles may have enough to look forward for fans to keep some hope. I reckon Kennedy was a poor performance away from being “rested” against the Tigers next week, but with this mini-bag, he lines up again to try to overcome the conditions he really struggled with over the last couple of weeks.
IT’S JONAS, BROTHER
Look, I really don’t know who the Jonas Brothers are, but one of my daughters does, so I thought it sounded good.
What I do know is that Tom Jonas was like a one-man wall in the Port Adelaide defence in this game, and there would be no Port Adelaide supporter watching him run around in the storied number one guernsey that didn’t feel a sense of pride in watching their captain go about it.
Jonas controlled the defensive 50 with an iron fist, killing his share of contests and rendering Jack darling all but useless in their contests. One of the more underrated defenders in the game, Jonas is the sort of leader that doesn’t posture, rant or rave. He leads by example.
Follow him, do what he does, and the Port Adelaide Power will be in the mix once 17 games have been completed and we head into the finals.
THE EXCUSE NOT THERE THIS TIME
It was the sticky dewy conditions last time, and the time before, right?
The Eagles don’t handle to slippery conditions well, they said. They need the dry footy so they can execute their skills and unleash the lethal mark-kick game that took them to a flag two seasons ago.
Yeah… there goes that theory.
In perfect conditions, the Eagles were deplorable, kicking just two goals in the first half and registering their third straight game of six goals in total. For a team this laden with class, this is unacceptable, and if you’re making excuses for them, I reckon you’re not helping.
There is much more going on with West Coast than meets the eye – they are too good to be pumping out this absolute shit, but for the last few weeks they have been afforded the benefit of the slippery doubt. That is now out the window – it has nothing to do with the conditions. It is about application and desire.
And this team is showing very little of either.
RELIANCE ON WHAT’S TO COME AND THE ABANDONING OF RIGHT NOW
Okay, hold onto your hats, Eagles supporters – I am going to town here.
The attitude of this team as a whole over the last month has been terrible. Absolutely terrible.
With an opportunity to hit the road, get a load of games away from home out of the way and set themselves up for a sustained run at home, the Eagles have played football like a bunch of petulant children.
From the top down, all we’ve heard about is how much they want to go home, and how much they dislike the hub. In contrast, you had Port players calling it “paradise”. You don’t think that translates to poor performance on-field? You don’t think the opposition senses this and perceives it as weakness? Teams see the Eagles coming now and they know that their heads are not in the game.
Here is what we saw from the Eagles today.
A refusal to assist Tom Barrass in the air against Charlie Dixon. We could all see Dixon was on, right? He looked likely to impact every contest he participated in, yet time and time again we saw Barrass having to battle him one-out. And we saw him losing badly in those cases.
We saw Lewis Jetta barely attempting to sprint in this game, seemingly happy to amble around the defensive 50 and hope no one noticed.
We saw kicking inside 50 as though the entire team was challenged to kick only on their opposite foot and only under pressure. With the exception of some second half kicking to Josh Kennedy, the delivery of the renowned Eagles ball users was toilet-water bad.
That said, Jack Darling resembled a statue for the most part and is looking more like the man who fumbled and bumbled his way to ridicule a few years ago than the man who put this team on his back at stages over the last two years. He has three goals for the season, and as many contested marks.
Can you remember one rundown tackle for the game? Have a think about it – just one? I can’t either. It is an effort stat and the effort was simply not there.
This team, ten minutes of the third quarter aside, played like a bunch of millionaires and deserved to be whacked. If the prevailing school of thought amongst players is that they see out this stay on the Gold Coast and then limp home to go on a big winning streak and save their season, they’d be incredibly silly. Form just doesn’t magically turn around, and bad habits are hard to break, especially when they are borne of lack of effort.
Going home for seven weeks will be nice, but with Richmond looming in the dewy Gold Coast evening next Thursday night, we may see a West Coast team sitting at 1-4 as they head back to the West. I know it’s not how you start a season that matters in the end, but whilst you cannot win a flag in the first five rounds, you can sure as hell lose one. And this team seems to be doing all they can to put themselves in a poor position.
West Coast fans are a passionate bunch, and I know this is probably hard to read, but watching them flounce around over the past three weeks like a bunch of sulking children is not the kind of display they would want to witness. The AFL media is talking about 60K crowds back at Optus Stadium, but if this team keeps up this horrid standard of play, maybe they could loan some of Port Adelaide’s unused banners to fill the empty seats, as there might be a lot less people than they think paying to watch whatever this is they’re producing.
This performance, and the last three weeks as a whole has been completely unacceptable.
HOW GOOD CAN THE POWER BE?
Is this a dumb question? I feel like it’s a bit of a dumb question, so I should quantify it.
They are doing what they’re doing at the moment without significant impact from Robbie Gray. They did it today with Connor Rozee having a run of the mill kind of outing, and they did it without the damaging run of Xavier Duursma. Their ceiling is very high, and though they are 4-0, they really have another level to go to as yet.
What happens if Gray has a match-winning weekend? What can Port do to teams if everything clicks at once? They’ve threatened for a long while. Is 2020 the year they finally deliver?
WHAT IS KARL AMON BECOMING?
How about this comparison – he is like Andrew Gaff, only he is more damaging with less disposals. Is that fair? He seems to be able to find the kind of space that the Eagles wish Gaff could fins at the moment, and when he gets it he is gaining metres at a better efficiency clip.
At 24, we should be seeing him move into his peak right now, and if teams allow him licence to run unopposed, it will spell some big trouble.
WHERE IS SHANNON HURN AT?
He had less statistical impact this week, but I can’t help thinking that there were better signs from the former captain this afternoon. He started finding the ball in the right spots, and even though he had just five intercept disposals, his work to give the Eagles something from half back was admirable.
That said, I have heard more than a few Eagles supporters state they think he is cooked. Never doubt the heart of a champion…
IS JEREMY MCGOVERN AT RISK OF ENDING HIS AA RUNS?
Hell yes he is. After four years straight at centre half back, Gov sat out his second game in four weeks, and hasn’t set the world on fire when he has played. He has given many others a huge start this season and would have to string together a huge run of 6-7 games to put himself back into contention.
IS JACK REDDEN AS A DEFENSIVE MID THE ANSWER?
With Mark Hutchings still a month away from possible selection, the Eagles have been forced to be creative, and maybe they found something in Jack Redden as a run with player? He put the clamps on Ollie Wines after quarter time, with the former captain picking up just seven touches over the course of the last three quarters.
Redden is a bit lost in the current Eagles midfield mix, but given a job to do, he is a viable option to become a very good shutdown player.
ARE PORT ADELAIDE STILL WINNING THE WINGARD-BURTON TRADE?
I was thinking they were miles ahead after the 2019 season, but now with Burton out… they’re still winning. You thought I was gonna say something else, didn’t ya!
Whilst Wingard is now playing good footy for Hawthorn, the Power grabbed Xavier Duursma, so given his impact on this team. Wingard would have to lead the Hawks in goal kicking and maybe finish top three in the B&F to make it anywhere near level.
The sooner Burton gets back, the better – he is a very good player, but even if he doesn’t get straight back into the side, Port are still ahead in this one
Tom Clurey has the worst hairstyle in the competition. It is like his clippers have broken half way through cutting his hair. This actually happened to me once – if I were a younger man, I may have panicked but once you hit a certain age, you kind of shrug your shoulders and think “who cares?”
Maybe Tom doesn’t care too much.
Josh Kennedy may have snagged four goals, but I can’t help but like what I saw from Trent McKenzie. One of his spoils running with the flight of the ball against Jack Darling in the first quarter was absolutely ridiculous.
Sticks Marshall was relatively quiet, but he is very graceful in the air… he almost looks majestic.
Was it just me or were a few Eagles big names content to soccer off the ground instead of taking possession in this game? Elliot Yeo may have been the biggest offender.
If West Coast didn’t have Brad Sheppard, they would have lost by ten goals. Big chance for the B&F based on what I’ve seen this season so far.
Whoever thought Tom Hickey was a good ‘in’ for Oscar Allen needs to have their head checked. Seriously, poor selection there.
And there we go. Next week the Power have another huge test in the Brisbane Lions. Whilst many thought today was their big challenge, they got an Eagles team with the sulks. That’s not to downplay how good they were – it is to emphasise how poor West Coast was. If Port go 5-0… watch out. Confidence can do wonders.
West Coast limp into the game against Richmond with 1-4 starting them in the face. They will receive no favours from the Tigers, who haven’t been great, themselves, but a loss here makes top four all the harder, and it is hard enough to secure one of those spots.
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