So I want to start this with a little story about my childhood, which may reveal why I am the way I am.

As a youngster, I used to go and holiday in Adelaide with my aunt, uncle and their kids (as much to give my Dad a break from me as to give me a holiday, I realised as I got older). I can’t remember exactly where in Adelaide they lived, but I know it was about a block away from Victoria Park racecourse. Nice part of Adelaide? It seemed nice.

Anyway, we used to go out and amuse ourselves during school holidays as he was a doctor at the hospital there across the road from the racecourse and my auntie would get sick of having me an her own kids in the house. We’d go to ‘Downtown’ to play video games, head into Rundle Mall and shop at John Martins, and once in a while we’d get to go to Magic Mountain. That was great fun. I heard it closed down a while ago and was a little saddened. There at Magic Mountain was a video game called Punch Out, and I would waste all my money on it.

Actually no… it’s never a waste of money if you enjoy it.

Aaaaaanyway, firstly you’d fight a dude called Glass Joe, and knocking him out was pretty easy. I remember beating a guy called Bear Hugger, but there was one guy who used to beat the living shit out of me almost every time. His name was Bald Bull.

So, I’d start okay against Bald Bull, but as the seconds counted down, he’d start reigning blows on me, and my seemingly great start would be halted by a combination of blows, and I’d end up on the canvas. Time to feed more coins into the machine.

That was the story of North Melbourne in the first quarter. They were going fine until they ran into the Bald Bull, and this Bald Bull was named Sam Powell-Pepper.

Now he had some help, but the move of Powell-Pepper into the midfield mix paid immediate dividends. It coincided with Robbie Gray heading in there as well, and together, they demonstrated how to snatch the momentum back. With Paddy Ryder giving them first use, they combined on two centre clearances and a goal in the ensuing few minutes as the Power came storming back to be within a point at quarter time.

Powell-Pepper finished with only 16 touches, but that concentrated blast was enough to get Port Adelaide rolling and should not be discounted. It was power-football from the Bald Bull, and he put the Roos on the canvas in that quarter, after they looked so good early.

There was a real element of Dustin Martin to SPP in that first quarter. He imposed himself on the contest in the same way Martin used to in flashes before he fully developed his fitness base. I might put some cash on Powell-Pepper for the 2021 Brownlow.

I reckon that first quarter is the reason you stick by a player when he’s having a bit of a hard time away from footy. Sometimes if you embrace the player, the player embraces the club. Start embracing Port, Sam… they embraced you, and they’re gonna need you.

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Is Tom Rockliff back?

Here’s a stat that may give you an indication. In 2018, his highest disposal output for Port Adelaide was 31. He went for 30 disposals just one more time in his first season with the Power, and, truth be told, was a huge disappointment. In our season preview, I wrote about Port needing a big lift from Rockliff in 2019. If today was any sign, they’ll be getting it.

He collected 41 touches and ran at over 80% efficiency. Add a couple of goals, and a couple of goal assists and you have close to the perfect midfielder’s game. The Port hierarchy would’ve been breathing a sigh of relief as Rocky went about his business today. This is the player they thought they were getting last season, but as happens when you introduce several new players to a team, chemistry takes time to develop. Rockliff looks ready to have the impact everyone thought he’d have last season, and finally looks like a Port Adelaide player.

The recruitment of Scott Lycett may go down as the coup of the year. Not only does he have impact himself, he allows Paddy Ryder to divide his time between the forward 50 and the ruck. The effect is two-fold.

When Ryder comes in as the second ruck, the game changes. His athleticism and ability to hit to advantage enables the Power mids first use of the ball going in the right direction. It was Ryder’s ruck taps that enabled Powell-Pepper and Gray to break the game open in the first, and bring Port back.

It also creates a monumental headache up forward as Lycett is a beast of a man. You go from Ryder, who is like a panther hunting the ball in the air, to contending with Lycett who is more akin to a silverback – all power. Whilst Ryder was scoreless, Lycett kicked two goals and but for unselfishness, may have had more.

Though the competition in the ruck today probably wasn’t worthy of Ryder and Lycett, more care is required with their ruckwork. North mids weren’t roving to any expected taps from Tom Campbell – they were pinching the taps of Lycett and Ryder, so much so that they finished with eight more total clearances despite Port holding a 38-26 hit out advantage.

That Lycett led Port in tackles is testament to how hard he works without the ball – rare for a big man, with only Brodie Grundy pulling off those sorts of feats often.

There’s a fair bit riding on how Ryder pulls up from that head clash with Gray.

Luke Davies-Uniacke has started to look like a legitimate midfielder. I heard the commentators talk up his pre-season efforts, but for me it was his confidence that jumped out about him. He got caught a couple of times, but it was as though he was given permission to take opponents on, take time to steady, and make plays for others. The majority of his 16 touches came in the first half before the foot came off the pedal for almost all the third quarter.

Organic improvement is usually what pushes a team over the top – not big name recruits. Improvement from LDU will be vital to the Roos push for the finals, but there seems to be some big issues they need to address. Let’s get into them.

The forward structure. The Roos look like a two-trick pony at the moment. They go to Ben Brown whenever they’re able, and then they lower their eyes when he’s covered. Unfortunately, no one else, Jack Ziebell aside, seems to have the capacity to impact in the air. You’d think three goals from Paul Ahern in a quarter won’t be occurring too often, right? Who kicks the goals?

I like Ziebell. I like the way he attacks the contest, and I like that he doesn’t flinch when there’s contact – I’d hate to run into the bloke. He looks like he hits hard! But if we’re going to rely on him to kick a couple of goals per week and take marks inside 50, I’m afraid we might be disappointed. I have stated before that he is a great third option – what North need is a good second option, and they’re coming up with donuts at the moment.

Should North look to Mason Wood? With 11 touches and four marks, he did nowhere near enough. His goal was from a spill on the goal line, and I reckon he took one contested mark today. Brad Scott sent him down to defence at one stage to get him involved. If North are putting their eggs in the Mason Wood basket… time to get a new basket.

And what about Ben Brown? He’s not looking as mobile as he was last year, and having to deal with two opponents whenever he’s inside 50 probably doesn’t help. He got a Joe the Goose goal today and missed two set shots, but I am actually quite concerned we might not see his best until after the half-way point of the season. He’s turning like a container ship at the moment.

And the key defenders? With Tarrant under an injury cloud, North may have to get creative down back (much like my mate Joe Ganino) when they take on the Dockers in Round One. Assuming Jesse Hogan is fit, they’ll have to contend with him and Rory Lobb without many genuine tall defenders to combat them. They’ll get troops back eventually, but man… they look thin. Maybe Mason Wood can be of some good down there? It’s probably too big an ask to expect Ed Vickers-Willis to hold down a key position just yet.

That said, North are experts at overcoming the odds, and it’s just the sort of circumstance that usually sees them giving the finger to the doubters, just like they did all 2018.

But let’s talk Port – I am guessing their supporters will want to read about how well they played, right? Well, it’ll be a mixed bag, because defensively, both teams absolutely stunk it up. It’s just a JLT game, but the defensive intensity was very low for both teams. Apart from players in one-on-ones, there was very little care factor about either defence. The first quarter was end-to-end aerial ping pong with players loose all over the ground. Great to watch, but the defensive line coaches would’ve been pulling their hair out.

The kids looked great for Port. Zak Butters had another stand out game. His three goals, two direct goal assists and 14 touches all but guarantee him a place in the Round One team. We’re going to hear a lot about him all season, and deservedly so. He runs the game out magnificently, and gets to the right spots effortlessly.

Connor Rozee had moments as well. He almost pulled off the mark of the day, accepted the punishment when it came his way via a late hip and shoulder from Scott Thompson, and would stop and hold to find the right option instead of blazing away inside 50. That can’t be taught. I think that whilst Butters will be the talk of Port for the first few weeks, it won’t be long until Rozee pushes his way into the discussion as to who the best young kid is at Alberton.

And then there was Xavier Duursma. He’s got some wheels, and loves to go for a run. At one point I watched him match up on Polec, and it was like Port Adelaide’s past up against their future. He will probably be viewed as a midfielder eventually, but I couldn’t help thinking he would make a very handy replacement for Polec off half back. He’s wiry, shimmies out of tackles, and though he isn’t a left footer, loves a long kick.

That said, I think he should stick to the long kicks. It seemed that when he had a bit of time to overthink kicks, he’d botch them. That’d be something that he’ll work
on in time.

Speaking of Polec, I thought he was good without being great. His numbers were impressive (25 touches and seven inside 50 deliveries) but there were a fair few cheapies off half back amongst those 25 touches. We probably didn’t see the run and carry from him North need to deeply penetrate the forward 50. I’d say his entries were mostly shallow (again, a Joe Ganino special).

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Look! Mongrel Punt Stubby Holders. Buy one and be cooler than all your friends! It also helps the site out.

An unexpected hip and shoulder from Todd Marshall dropped Sam Wright in the second quarter. Though Marshall didn’t have a big say in this game, I really liked that aggression.

North have a lot of “flash-in, flash-out” kind of players at the moment. Jy Simpkin, Sam Wright, Shaun Atley, and now Aaron Hall. I reckon those guys, Atley in particular, need to make a leap this season. You can’t have them playing like that while you introduce younger players into the system who’ll also flash in and out (Thomas and Larkey). These are the blokes who should be stepping in to carry the load now.

A lot of people have been buying stock in Trent Dumont over the off-season. I’d be putting my money on Bailey Scott. He only had two tackles, but both of them were great. He’ll bulk up a bit  (I hope), but the way he moves screams “200-gamer”.

I liked what I saw from Willem Drew (sounds like a cigar company… would make a great slogan – suck on a Willem Drew). He’s hard at it. Ryan Burton started to look at home, but he’ll need a little bit of time, and I really liked the hunter-mentality of Karl Amon today.

Just 24 total tackles for North today. Ebony Marinoff could almost match that by herself! 

I reckon there would have been some high-fiving at AFL HQ after the first quarter. that’s the footy they want to see. 14 goals kicked, quick ball movement and defenders kind of trying to stop goals. I’m with them, on all except the last point.

Overall, a very solid win for Port after a highly entertaining game last week as well. They were well-poised to make a run last year before it all fell apart, and this year, I guess they’re getting hit with injuries to major players early. If they can weather the storm and get Dixon and Wines healthy sooner rather than later, they could be a player in 2019.

For North… my jury is out. Too much is currently being left to too few. Cunnington back in the mix will be incredibly healthy, but there are cracks there they need to fill quickly.

And now, I am going to find a game of Punch Out and try to knock Bald Bull out. Easier said than done.


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