So I watched this on delay, thinking I’ll sit back and enjoy a good run-of-the-mill pre-season hit out, played in 42 degree heat, which will mean the sides won’t go all out, and have a bit of a handshake deal that they play bruise-free footy.
But then I remembered that this is Adelaide v Port Adelaide and really, if there was any handshake agreement to take it easy, you’d have to check they didn’t have their fingers crossed behind their backs as they shook on it. It’s a mini-Showdown – of course they’re going to go all out!
It wasn’t quite ‘Showdown’ levels – not many games measure up to that standard, but it was as high quality a pre-season game as you’ll see. It had stars performing, players back from injury, and youngsters emerging to demonstrate just how good they can be.
So yeah, not quite a Showdown, but also quite unlike any of the other games in this JLT series to date.
Here’s what jumped out at The Mongrel as I sat back and took it all in.
First off, kudos to all those in Port Pirie who made the effort to attend. It was 37 degrees in Melbourne and I pulled up stumps and camped in front of the air con for most of the day – those people were out there in at the game in 40+ degree temperatures. They love their footy, and you have to respect that kind of commitment.
Secondly, the players – loved the effort. Loved the passion. Loved the way the kids went about it, and loved the spirit of the game overall. It was good, hard, free flowing footy in extreme conditions.
Tom Doedee – we had tickets on the Doedee train early last season at The Mongrel, and as a matter of fact, we had him sitting in the back pocket of our first rolling All-Australian team last season. That’s how highly we rated him after six or so weeks of his AFL career.
I’m pretty sure I saw him beaten in one contest today – a marking contest against Steven Motlop in the final quarter, but overall, Doedee was dominant (I was going to write Doe-minant, but that would’ve been incredibly wanky, right?)
He racked up 14 contested touches amongst his 21 possessions for the day, and just looked at home in the defensive half of the ground. He looks stronger, and his ability to stand up in a tackle and release to someone in a better position is a genuine improvement in his game. So often, it takes young players a while to understand that they have to absorb the contact and attention from the opposition to aid their team. Doedee is on top of this already, and with Daniel Talia out, the Crows would be thanking their lucky stars that he has developed so rapidly.
Speaking of those who stand in tackles, Cam Ellis-Yolman seems to have come to the conclusion over the off-season that he is one hard man to tackle. He is a powerful unit, and now barrels through traffic to create for teammates. He looks bigger, stronger, and was very effective with almost every touch.
It was real heart-in-mouth stuff when Paddy Ryder limped from the ground late in the last quarter. Just prior to his injury, Ryder combined with Sam Powell-Pepper to provide the catalyst for the Port Adelaide comeback. His ruckwork, follow up, and brilliant hands in marking contests changed the course of the game. What an advantage Port has in being able to play Lycett the bulk of minutes on-ball, and then switch Ryder into the middle when they need a lift. He provided that lift today, and it was no coincidence that when Ryder hobbled off, the Port challenge fell away. He looks a bit lighter this year, and I hope his Achilles issues are behind him now, as he is one of the best rucks in the game when he is in full flight.
On Powell-Pepper, this is the impact people have been waiting for him to have. He was like a bull with the ball in the last quarter, willing it forward, and throwing himself into contest after contest. He had only 17 touches for the game, but it was his physical influence when the heat was turned up (pardon the idiotic pun) in the last quarter that made me sit up and take notice.
I love when players like Ryder and Powell-Pepper put a team on their back and say “enough’s enough”. Early in the last quarter, the game was ostensibly over. The Crows were comfortable, and looked to be ready to cruise home, but those two had other ideas, and they dragged the team with them. Motlop lifted, Watts started to realise the situation required urgency, Lienert was hustling at half back – Ryder and Powell-Pepper inspired their team.
That sort of thing is something you cannot teach, and you cannot buy. Leaders do that.
It appears as though those engraving Sam Walsh’s name on the 2019 Rising Star award may have something to think about after this game. The emergence of Zak Butters as a hard-running, gutsy midfielder was enough to pique the interest of the Old Mongrel today, and it wasn’t the fact that he just got numbers…no, no, no – it was the way he accrued those numbers. He had 25 touches, to be second only to Travis Boak for the Power, and worked his backside off at every chance.
Commentators were talking about Butters making his case for Round One. If you were Port, would you have him in? I would – you reward that sort of effort.
Jumping back to the Crows, it was great to see Brad Crouch get through unscathed. He and his brother had 61 disposals between them, with 25 contested touches. The last time these two were compiling those kind of stats, the Crows were travelling pretty well, right? Throw in 27 touches from Brodie Smith, and four goals from Eddie Betts, and Tom Lynch working up the ground and it was like 2017 all over again. As much as people are talking about returns of Smith and Brad Crouch being like new recruits, Betts’ return to full health may be the lynchpin of their season. He looked sharp… like the pre-2018 version of himself.
Much like Richmond in 2018, Adelaide were the best team in 2017, but they fell over at a crucial time. After a year of lamentation, and quite a few wounds being licked, the Crows look ready to fly back into contention. I’m on board early for their renaissance.
Not the most auspicious start for Tom Jonas as captain. Usually he is as good a lockdown defender as there is, but in the first quarter I had him as being the direct opponent for Eddie Betts’ first goal, and then only a shocking kick by Lachie Murphy saved him from having two goals kicked against him. He rallied well, as you’d expect.
I’m a big believer in Todd Marshall, but I didn’t know Champion Data rated him as the number one something, something, something… I’m actually a bit sick of Champion Data drip-feeding info to us. Release the whole damn list, will you? I bought their manifesto, or prospectus or whatever they’re calling it… never again.
All I know is that Marshall needs to do some work to pass the eye-test. He still looks like he’s made of match sticks, and will need a bit more consistency to retain his spot in the side all year. We saw glimpses of what he is capable of last season – his performance against the Swans in Sydney was wonderful – and I am sure once the Power have their structures down pat, we’ll see him emerge as a potential ten year forward. I’m buying stock in Sticks Marshall. I reckon this season is when that stock starts to appreciate.
I have to admit when I saw Marshall and Doedee attack the contest on the wing in the second quarter, I really didn’t know who I wanted to prevail. Two absolute young guns, right there, and there was some Mongrel excitement in my living room. I probably need to settle down.
Speaking of Mongrel favourites… The Fog. I love the Fog. He is just a mean-looking kid. My missus looked up when I mentioned his name and said that he “just doesn’t look like the kind of guy you’d want your friend to date.” I don’t quite know what that means, but I wouldn’t mind him dating some of her friends. I’m sure he is a fine, upstanding young man, with values beyond reproach. I also think he’d try to kill you if you got between him and the football.
And that’s one of his good qualities. He is a star in the making, and looks to have dropped a couple of kilos. That said, he was running up and down on the spot in the last quarter. That temperature must’ve been brutal to play in.
I didn’t mind the defensive efforts of Kyle Hartigan today. Usually, in truth, I am not a fan, as he seems to be a walking block of flats with little in the way of skill, but he was still running to create options in the last quarter when you could’ve forgiven him for taking the foot off the accelerator. There was also that belated spoil on Justin Westhoff that as old-fashioned as you’re gonna get in the modern game. It’s the sort of spoil that Danny Frawley would call an “ear massage” and laugh about… whilst in the next breath talk about banning tackling players to the ground in junior ranks…
Yeah, I don’t like hypocrites.
I mentioned in my pre-season preview of Port that they needed more from Tom Rockliff. They were buying what they thought was a Rolls Royce for the 2018 season, and what they’ve got is a dinged up old VW that can’t get out of second. 16 touches at 50% efficiency is nowhere near the output they need from him. Someone responded to that article at the time, stating it’ll be the young kids coming through that will give the improvement Port needs, and that may well be the case, but I’ll tell you this much – it won’t be the kids starting in the guts in Round One – it’ll be Rockliff, and he needs to produce this season, or slip back to become a handy depth player behind those kids.
Pretty quiet game from Scott Lycett in his first game for Port, but I did like his second efforts, and contest-killing. Sam Gray was pretty quiet, as was his broth… yeah, I know they’re not brothers – Robbie Gray wasn’t his usual Crow-killing self either. Karl Amon had some nice moments. I liked his pressure and willingness to leave his man and get involved through the wing and into half forward.
Wayne Milera was pretty good without being anything spectacular, and Rory Sloane did the bulk of his work in the first half. Rory Atkins was one who played his heart out, and Jake Kelly is as unsung a defender as you’ll find.
The Hoff had moments of both the great and forgettable variety. His hands are usually so beautiful. But that dropped chest mark, 15 metres out from goal… lucky it wasn’t in a real Showdown. The crowd would’ve gone completely nuts.
On the new rules – yes, we all heard the commentators talking them up, and how positive they are for the game. Meanwhile, we’ve got 18 senior coaches, and hundreds of line coaches and advisors concocting strategies to best exploit them. By Round Three, my guess is we’ll see some teams employing systems that everyone else will copy. The game will evolve as the players and coaches learn what they can and can’t do, and how best to manipulate everything.
I’ll withhold my accolades for the rules committee until I see how it plays out, but what I will say is on face value, I like the kick in rule. It is a zone-killer.
How many centre bounces were recalled today? We must have been nearing the record.
I can’t finish up without mentioning Rory Laird. In a game that had 7-8 players I genuinely like and want to do well, he just stands out as the complete footballer. Hardly ever loses his feet, makes great decisions, has clean hands and is deceptively good overhead. If you’re a Crows fan, I know I am preaching to the choir, and if you’re a Port fan, I know you probably snarl at such praise heaped upon a Crow, but geez I love the way this bloke goes about it. First picked every week in my team.
And that’ll about do. Not sure about playing a game in 42 degree heat, but that’s probably why I don’t run the AFL, right. I mean… why look after the players?
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