Two teams took the field in this Good Friday clash, and one team decided they were going to put their heads over the ball, go hard at every contest and beat their opponents at the coal face.
The other team was the West Coast Eagles.
Port Adelaide played solid, wet weather football in an ominous indication that they see themselves as a contender in 2019. Maybe it’s time others started looking at them that way as well?
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly of a terrific road win.
TRAVIS BOAK AND SAM POWELL-PEPPER EARLY
You know, I get to do the votes for this game, and I am sure we’ll read a hell of a lot about players who racked up numbers late in the game – I hate that. I like to reward players who do the hard yards when the game is there to be won, and these two players were the players putting their head over the ball and earning tough disposals early in the game.
At half time, I had these two as best on ground, with Boak collecting 14 touches before drawing the full attention of Mark Hutchings, and Powell-Pepper collecting 11.
But it wasn’t just the numbers that were impressive – it was the way they collected them.
Powell-Pepper was an absolute bull again. As soon as the rain came down, you could tell he was going to elevate his game. He takes no backward step, and is a contested beast. He knows he is going to have to wear the occasional knock, and at this stage in his career, he is willing to take it.
Boak put his body on the line early, and did it for the team. I know he is no longer captain, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t lead by example. His commitment to the cause, leaving himself wide open to be hit in order to aid a Brad Ebert goal in the first quarter spoke volumes about where his game is at, and where it could take Port Adelaide.
With these two leading the way, Port has hardened bodies that are willing to take a hit it’s for the betterment of the team. I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of players I’d like to play with – you can’t help but respect guys who continually put their head over it and don’t even think of pulling out of a contest. That’s what you get from these two.
That said, can someone get SPP to practice kicking left foot once in a while?
All is forgiven, Ollie. You can have your water skis back as long as you leave them in the garage until after September, okay?
Yes… AFTER September.
The Port midfield is full of big-bodied bulls, and the biggest bull of all is… Sam Powell-Pepper. But the second biggest is Ollie Wines, and when his team needed him today, he stepped to the fore, took a mark and nailed a long range goal to stop the momentum the Eagles had gathered.
That, people, is a captain’s goal.
A lot of people questioned his appointment as co-captain, but with Jonas doing the hard yards in defence, it was Wines stepping up in the middle of the ground to lead his midfield brigade.
Personally, I’d have both Boak and SPP over him in terms of impact when it mattered most, but Wines played a very consistent game to finish with 35 touches for the night. He sent his team inside 50 a game-high 10 times as his relentless press forward saw him intercept in the middle and gain the Power over 600 metres for the game to be one of only two players in the game to reach that mark.
If the off-season was Wines’ time to commit the sin of not putting his health and the team first, then today he was absolved in the church of Port Adelaide. Go forth, my son.
It’s not often you can say that Robbie Gray was clearly beaten, but underrated defender, and one of the most unlucky Eagles of last season, Brad Sheppard played a blinder on Robbie this evening.
In a tussle that was relatively even after the first quarter, Sheppard amassed 26 disposals whilst travelling at 81% efficiency in conditions that lent themselves to disposal errors. In addition to winning the ball, Sheppard was able to run off Gray to aid teammates, and rebounded out of 50 eight times.
Sheppard is a great match up for Gray, and I’ll look forward to their return bout. Gray was able to collect 14 touches, but only seven were effective and nine of them came when he moved onto the ball for a period. This was the first outing of the season Gray was held goalless, and it was the defensive work of Sheppard and his willingness to mix it up when the ball hit the deck that limited the All-Australian to his quietest game of the season to date.
We all know Robbie Gray can tear a game apart, and now we know that West Coast have a man that can prevent him from doing that, because that’s exactly what he did in this one.
I had someone tell me that Ken Hinkley was the worst coach in the league last week (it was Mip Grant… he writes for us, but mostly doesn’t write for us). Anyway, after I received the text from him, I started to wonder what he had against Hinkley, and it made me watch the moves the Port Adelaide coach made tonight with a little more interest.
And after doing that, I can only surmise that Mip got Ken Hinkley and Brendan Bolton completely mixed up.
Hinkley’s brand of pressure football was exactly the right style of play to employ against an Eagles team looking to possess the ball. His decision to bring in Sticks Marshall to play forward and make Jeremy McGovern accountable worked a treat. His decisions to have Powell-Pepper, Boak, Rockliff and Wines in the guts gave Port the first use, and his trust in his first year players indicate a coach that has learned from mistakes and is now evolving.
I’m sure there will be critics when the Power drop a game here or there – let’s face it; there always is, but tonight Hinkley showed that his team is on the right course. That doesn’t happen by accident against this quality of opposition.
Also, suck a fat one, Mip Grant.
I touched on Robbie Gray being down earlier, but his broth… I know it’s not his brother, damn it!
Anyway, while one Gray was down, the other had possibly his best game for the club. Yeah, he’s had bigger statistical games, but in terms of influence, this was a game where he really stood up.
26 possessions with two goals and two direct goal assists amongst his eight score involvements speak of a man who made a real difference whenever he got his hands on the pill. When you throw in the fact he had only one turnover for the game, you’re starting to look at a player that was extremely effective and hurt the Eagles not just on the scoreboard, but in terms of ensuring he didn’t allow them the chance to rebound from errant possessions.
The lesser-known Gray doesn’t get anywhere near the plaudits Robbie does, and that’s probably fair enough, but Port fans should be raining down compliments on him after this one – he was outstanding.
Fast becoming a Mongrel favourite, he continued on his merry way of physically torturing whoever was unlucky enough to come up against him.
Tonight, it was Tom Hickey’s turn to feel the former Eagle’s presence.
Lycett finished with 27 hit outs to go with his 12 touches, which seems underwhelming, right? Well hang on, I have something for you.
Here are the contested mark stats on a night that did not at all favour big men taking grabs.
Scott Lycett took four contested marks.
The entire West Coast Eagles team took four contested marks.
There ya go, a Mongrel special for our current favourite big man.
The Eagles’ leader is doing his chances of being All-Australian captain no harm this season. Let’s be honest – he should’ve been captain last year but for some stupid decisions to reward those who can;t even lead their own teams.
Aaaaanyway, Hurn stood up in the backline again today, totalling 33 touches at 85% and a game-high 665 metres gained… the bloke is a star. Add to that double figures in intercept touches and rebound 50s… I think he’ll be moving right on up in the Mongrel’s Power Rankings when we release our next installment.
I was going to add him into the section below, but I reckon he deserves his own shout out… mainly because I made a pic of him.
The Mongrel loves a good, old fashioned c
rash and bash player, and while Drew ain’t that (yet), there are definite signs that if you get in his way, there’s going to be a collision.
He did not mind mixing it up with some of the stars of the game in this contest, going head to head with Luke Shuey and Elliot Yeo at points.
At the risk of repeating myself… and I swear I won’t say it again, I reckon his name sounds like a cigar brand, and he should be canvassing local Torcedors to name a cigar after him. Then he can advertise it with the slogan “Suck on a Willem Drew”.
You know it would work.
He finished with 20 touches, 12 contested disposals, and two direct goal assists on a very nice night out for the youngster.
Go on… suck on a Willem Drew.
See? It works!
I wanted to single out Jack Petruccelle, but with several almost “Joe-the-goose” kind of goals, I thought that may be over-doing it.
Still, it’s very difficult to argue with a five goal haul, particularly from one still eligible for the Rising Star award. He’s the clubhouse leader for this week’s nomination on the back of kicking five of the Eagles’ eight goals for the game.
How long until clubs start playing one out the back against the Eagles? And how ugly could this game have been for West Coast had Petruccelle not been part of the team? I guess his performance almost assigns Jake Waterman to the WAFL for the foreseeable future.
But there were more kids.
Connor Rozee looks like a million bucks, and Zak Butters continues to impress with a beautiful pair of hands at ground level, controlling the greasy ball. Butters’ ability to gather, assess the situation and take immediate evasive action is fantastic, and you can already see he will be a star in this team for years.
Rozee’s running goal, burning off both Shannon Hurn and Liam Duggan in the process was a genuine highlight. I’m not a Port fan, but I fist-pumped the air when he snagged that one.
Then you have Xavier Duursma, who plays a vastly different role, but I can see him developing into one of the premier wingmen in the game rather rapidly.
Half of me expects the kids to fall over at some point as the grind of the AFL season grabs hold of them, but what if they don’t? What if they stand up all year and really stake their claim on this team as theirs for years to come? Does that make Port a contender?
Our own Edward Hurley went early last week. Maybe he should have held back this article just a few more days?
What happened here?
This is the sort of game I expected Cripps to really step to the fore, but at one point, I was scanning the interchange bench wondering if he was done for the day, such was his conspicuous absence.
In writing about West Coast for the last year or so, you kind of learn things, and one thing I’ve learned along the way is that Cripps is a bit of a whipping boy for Eagles supporters. Not all, of course, but there are some who like to sink the boots in.
Last year, he kind of silenced them, with 16 touches per game and 38 goals for the season, but with tonight’s five touches, the knives may come out again.
I wrapped him up in his first outing of the 2019 season, where he wandered back into the team and kicked the lazy four goals against Collingwood, but far out… he was almost a witch’s hat out there tonight.
Yeah, the delivery inside 50 wasn’t great all evening, and yeah, the Eagles’ opportunities were limited by Port pressure, but five touches from a guy who was third in their goal kicking is not good enough, particularly when numbers one and two only managed to get 13 touches between them. We’ll get to them in a minute…
THE BOTTOM SIX
You hear this a lot in footy – you’re only as good as your bottom six.
So, with that in mind, let’s have a gander at the bottom six disposal winners on the ground this evening.
With nine touches, Oscar Allen.
With nine touches as well, Mr Tom Hickey.
With seven disposals, former Coleman medallist, Josh Kennedy.
With six disposals, his partner in crime, Jack Darling.
With five disposals, a guy I rate really highly who just had a shit one, Jamie Cripps.
And with three touches on the evening, Nathan Vardy.
So, of those six, five are talls, and many will excuse them for not playing big roles given the slippery conditions. But if we’re handing out free passes based on height, why was Scott Lycett able to pick up 12 touches? Why was Sticks Marshall able to collect 10? Paddy Ryder had 13, and Dougal Howard had 20.
Being tall is not an excuse for having a poor game. If it’s good enough for the other big guys to apply themselves and earn tough touches, it’s good enough for the Eagles.
We saw several of the West Coast big men really struggle in the humid, slippery conditions in Brisbane in Round One, and now we’re seeing it again. West Coast fans… I know you are pretty confident of seeing more September action this season – you’d best hope for good weather based on tonight’s effort.
EAGLES PLAYING MILLIONAIRE’S FOOTBALL
I touched on this a little above, but I’ll expand a little here.
The Eagles play a beautiful kick-mark kind of style. When it works, they own the football and possess the life out of the game. They hurt the opposition with their foot skills and make them pay when they over-commit.
But add a bit of moisture to the equation and the sure hands, and the gameplan consisting of deft 25 metre kicks start to unravel a little. If that happens, and the opposition smell blood, the pressure increases, and that’s what it did early in this game, as Port Adelaide turned the screws on the Eagles and made every kick seem like it had pressure bearing down from everywhere.
I was amazed at how little time Andrew Gaff seemed to have this evening. Every time he touched it in the first half, it seemed as though he was throwing it on his boot to… and I hate quoting Dwayne Russell – “make it somebody else’s problem.”
It was un-Gaff-like, and un-Eagle-like. He had plenty of mates, and plenty of them looked as though they were pining for wide open spaces and a little less pressure, but there was no grace given by the Power.
Remember what I said about smelling blood? The Power were like sharks, and the Eagles had a gaping wound as they flapped about in the water. The more they handballed backwards into more trouble, causing fumbles, the more ravenous the Port Adelaide players became. It was like a pressure-frenzy, and in the end the Power devoured them.
West Coast need to adapt to inclement weather. You’d hate to see the cruise through the season and run into a wet Melbourne day at the pointy end of the finals. And you’d hate to see them do that without having won a game against quality opposition where the weather hadn’t played to their strengths.
As it stands, they’re 1-2 when the ball is a bit slippery, with their win against the Dockers eked out in weirdly slippery conditions in Perth last week.
How smart were some of those chaos balls into Port’s attacking 50 metre arc. They completely negate the aerial influence of Jeremy McGovern and really place the defence under pressure with a slippery ball. I saw that happen a dozen times in this game – too often for it not to be a designated tactic.
Dan Houston relished the haphazard way the Eagles went forward, feasting for a game-high 13 intercept possessions. He really flies under the radar in a team with Jonas, Howard and Clurey back there.
And how good was Clurey on Darling tonight! Aided by the conditions, yes, but still a stellar lock down defensive role on one of the most dangerous big men in the game.
I thought Lewis Jetta looked really dangerous in the first half coming off half back. He always finds a way to buy himself time, but he really fell away after half time.
Every year we see teams do their homework on something that was a standout in the year or two prior. This year it seems it is a trend to avoid kicking long to Jeremy McGovern. Still, he had nine spoils in this one, but his strength has been his intercept marking, and teams look like they are purposely working the ball around to avoid him.
But for that 50 metre penalty in the last quarter, where I reckon his reaction gave the ump the reason to pay it, Ryan Burton had a stellar outing across half back. 22 touches and nine intercepts have seen him slot in seamlessly to that Port back six. Between you and I, this team has the potential to have the best defence in the game.
Is it just me thinking we may see Travis Boak leading the Brownlow after Round Five?
So, where to now?
The Power head into a very winnable Friday night footy contest against north Melbourne, and yes, we’ll be covering that with a Good, Bad and Ugly, whilst the Eagles have to hit the road and play the Cats in Geelong, in what should be a belter.
Never an easy game at Kardinia Park, the Eagles could be looking at sitting outside the eight after six rounds if they’re not careful, and the Power, if they’re serious should be able to start consolidating a spot in the top four with a win over the Roos.
Have I mentioned that I love how this season is playing out so far? You just don’t know what’s going to happen next.
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