Port Adelaide did what was expected, dispensing of North Melbourne on their home deck, but with four points comes some real worries.

At one point you had the Power up by 41 points, but North found themselves, miraculously, within striking range with four minutes to go.

The career-best season of Travis Boak continued as the Power now sit third on the ladder, at 4-2, and must be considered a contender, despite their fade out.

Here’s the Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

CAREER-BEST BOAK

Can you say “Brownlow favouritism”?

I can, and I can write it as well. See above.

Travis Boak is currently the best midfielder in the competition. Big statement, huh? Well, you see, I don’t make those sorts of statements without good reason. Either someone is paying me, which I can state is not the case, unfortunately. Or, I’ve watched enough footy to know what I’m talking about… which is debatable.

He had 30+ touches for the fifth time in six games, and I had him as best on ground last week when he only had 23 against the Eagles. That’s how good he’s going.

Boak had 11 clearances amongst his game-high, and season-high 38 touches. He had 15 contested possessions and ran at an impressive 82% efficiency. He may have relinquished the captaincy, but this performance had ‘leadership’ written all over it.

He added a goal to his name, drove the Power inside 50 on nine occasions, and was prolific as Port set their win up, with 21 first half disposals.

I don’t know what Boak got up to in the off-season, but I am tipping it was not much fun. He looks like a player who has come to realise that his time in the game, and everyone’s time in the game is relatively short and spent s lot of time making sure he was as fit as possible this season. With game 250 looming, Boak looks to be relishing the chance to prove that his last couple of seasons, being played out of his preferred position, are not representative of him as a footballer.

He will most likely make the acquaintance of Mr. Levi Greenwood in his milestone game. 

He was magnificent tonight. Three votes. Again.

 

THAT GRAY FELLA

For the second week in a row, it has been that Gray fella at Port Adelaide that has looked so dangerous around goals. Let’s check his CV, shall we? All those All-Australian selections, the coach’s association MVP award, the club’s leading goal kick… oops, wrong bloke.

Sam Gray has had a few of ripping weeks in a row now. 15 touches and three goals against Richmond. 26 touches and two goals against the Eagles, and tonight, he had 28 disposals and four goals. As Robbie Gray has struggles, Sam has flourished.

He probably should’ve had a fist full of goals, missing a relatively easy one in the first quarter, but his nine score involvements and five tackles indicate that he was busy even when not aiming for the big sticks.

Many people will point to recruits in the off-season as the way a club gets itself into a better position to contend, but for mine it’s the surprise packets that allow teams the freedom to shuffle the deck and make an impact. Look at the Power this season – they were supposed to feel the pain from losing Polec and Pittard. But with players like Sam Gray kicking it up a notch (thanks Elzar… love your spice weasel), they’re getting improvement from within.

People forget just what a talent Sam Gray is. Seemingly in the shadow of his namesake, this is a bloke who averaged 22 touches per game in his second season. He’s had 30+ disposals five times, and he’s snagged six goals in a game.

His performance this season is no fluke, but to some, it may have come as a huge surprise. And that is to the advantage of the Power.

 

TWO MINUTES OF ROZEE

Speaking of surprise packets, how good has this kid been to date? The number five pick in the draft turned it on in the third quarter, and in two plays, showed why those who thought the 2019 Rising Star Award was a foregone conclusion should start rethinking things.

Connor Rozee makes things happen.

His efforts to create a goal for Travis Boak, and his following goal of his own, gave Port the break they needed in the third quarter. If you look back at the vision of Rozee’s mark and goal, he is the only option Port had up forward. If that ball hits the deck, North had a 4-1 advantage at ground level.

Rozee didn’t try to do too much – he just timed his leap at the ball, and with sure hands, one grabbed a contested mark inside 50. In the modern game, those sorts of marks are worth their weight in… goals.

And the Butters gather, spin and delivery to him was sublime. 

Rozee finished the evening with 22 touches, two direct goal assists and four tackles. The more I see of him, the less doubt I have that he will be a star in this game. Will he be the eventual replacement for Robbie Gray? Will he move into the midfield and float forward to hit the scoreboard at will? Will he become the best small forward in the game?

Anything is possible with this kid. No wonder the Power were so eager to improve their draft position. They got an absolute gem in Rozee.

 

TODD GOLDSTEIN V THE TWO HEADED MONSTER

I love watching the ruck duels at the moment. There is just so much going on, and with rules designed to make ruck contests more and more important, gaining the upper hand in them can be vital to the chances of a team.

I’ve loved the year of Scott Lycett thus far, and his combination with Paddy Ryder is a formidable one indeed, but the efforts of Todd Goldstein in this game were outstanding. There was a three or four minute patch at the beginning of the third quarter that Goldstein started to position himself as a potential match-winner.

He won taps, sent the ball inside 50 to hit up Nick Larkey (with one of the ugliest looking passes in history), and had he converted after sharking a Travis Boak handball in the forward pocket, he may have gone a long way to swinging the game, but I am an old WWE fan (WWF fan, actually), and in the immortal words of the Slickster… three mens will always beat two mens.”

Or in this case, two mens will always beat one mens.

English was actually the Slickster’s first language, by the way.

Goldstein threw everything he had at Ryder and
Lycett, but by half way through the third quarter, the duo started to get on top. After Lycett did the heavy lifting, Ryder arrived on the scene to start leaping over Goldstein, which is probably the best way of working the ruck I’ve seen, tactically. Lycett is the bull – the power man, and Ryder is the athlete – the finesse.

The final stats see Goldstein finish with 21 touches, two clearances and 33 hit outs, whilst the two-headed monster accrued 17 touches, three clearances and 42 hit outs. It was a great performance by Goldstein over the duration, and he certainly earned his money.

Next week, the two-headed monster runs into Brodie Grundy, and I cannot wait to see Lycett and Grundy smashing into each other. These two are absolute bulls in the ruck, and it should be a highlight.

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BEN CUNNINGTON

In regard to his hit on Brad Ebert, I’ll channel Frank Drebin, of Police Squad.

“Nothing to see here… please disperse.”

There was nothing in it, and it should not detract from a vintage Ben Cunnington performance as the sole midfielder worth his salt in the North Melbourne line-up tonight.

With Shaun Higgins a late withdrawal, Cunnington had to increase his workload, and after a slow start, really kicked into gear in the third quarter, where he collected 14 disposals and continually got his hands on the ball at stoppages.

Cunnington collected a game-high 13 clearances, and once again drifted over the 20+ contested possession mark, totalling 21 in this one. He is an absolute monster when there is a ball in dispute and when he wasn’t laying tackles, he was ripping the ball away from Port players who seemed content to hold onto it as they lay on the bottom of packs.

Cunnington must have Ted Whitten-like grip strength. I don’t recall him ever losing the battle for the ball when there are several sets of hands on it, and I have to admit – I do love that he gives the press absolutely nothing. He is all about footy, and allows his play to speak for itself.

It was a great night at the office for Cunnington, once again carrying the paper-thin North midfield.

 

THE BIG BACKS

With Tom Jonas pulling out due to injury, there may have been some worries about the Port Adelaide backs coming into this one. At least, those outside the club may have worried. Those within Port Adelaide would’ve been quietly confident.

You see, they have this bloke named Tom Clurey down there… he does big jobs all the time to little or no fanfare. Then they have this contest killer named Dougal Howard who runs around with his fist cocked like Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, just waiting to punch the ball. Then there’s Dan Houston, who just looks so composed and fluent whether the ball is in the air, or on the deck.

Those three did a number on the North forwards for the first three quarters, with blokes like Mason Wood (who I thought was much better than I’ve seen him this season) having to venture up to the wing to get their hands on it.

Check out a couple of their bigger numbers. Those three combined for 24 intercept possessions, as they continually cut off the North offensive thrusts (not quite as gross as my mate, Joe Ganino’s offensive thrusts… ewww). They had 18 spoils between them, with Doogie Howard collecting 11 by himself, and they rebounded the ball outside 50 on 14 occasions.

Each one of them played their part, working with Jarrod Lienert as he replaced Tom Jonas, and the collective was greater than the sum of its parts. They mesh beautifully.

Port’s defence is so underrated. Whichever of those three (or Jonas) you get as an opponent, you know you’re going to be in for a long night. If you manage to kick a bag against them, you deserve votes.

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

 

THE BAD

 

JASPER PITTARD’S KICKING

I can’t believe the booing of legends this season. First Ablett, then Gaff, then Pendlebury.

Now… Pittard!

When will it end?

Pittard’s return to Adelaide didn’t start particularly well, as he attempted to play the role of schoolyard bully in beating up the young kid, only he got caught by the teacher on yard duty and Connor Rozee was awarded a downfield free kick.

Pittard then decided to hack the ball with cross-ground kicks not once, but twice in the first quarter that put his team under enormous pressure inside defensive 50. If you were drawing up a nightmare scenario when playing your old team, it may have had those kicks in it.

As the game wore on, Pittard got better, and he ended up being North’s most effective spoiler and intercept player, but he does let himself down with his kicking. He gets great penetration, but it is an absolute crap-shoot as to where it’s going to end up at times. He went at just over 60% efficiency, but coming off half back, that would be rated way below average, particularly as that’s where you have the most time and space in the game.

My bet is that Port fans were quite pleased to see him finally hitting some Port Adelaide players when he kicked. Pity he couldn’t do it a bit more last season.

 

ONE TRICK PONY

I’m not going to question the work ethic of Ben Brown. He is a complete workhorse, but he is looking less and less like a thoroughbred, and more and more like an old draft horse every week.

Never quick off the mark, and suspect in a contested situation, without a consistent foil to draw the defence, Brown has been unable to get off the chain at all this season. Several of his four goal season-best the other week coming via free kicks.

Against Tom Clurey tonight, Brown could hardly get near it. He finished with nine touches, four marks and no goals. This is the bloke who led the Coleman last year until Jack Riewoldt decided he wanted a bag of goals against the Suns. I know he is being starved for opportunity, and I know he is not getting any sort of quality delivery, but did you see Jeremy Cameron last week? He was soundly beaten by Alex Pearce of Fremantle, yet still finished with four goals.

Great forwards find a way, and despite Brown finishing the last two years with 60+ goals, he’ll be very lucky to hit 50 this season.

What can he do to get better?

Crash packs. Let’s face it – he isn’t going to take the mark; why not take out some bodies in the process?

Let them know you’re around – you’re a big body. Put the hurt on a couple of players if they decide to get in your way.

Quit running 13+ kilometres a game – make the 50m arc your own and if you’re going to run up the ground, maybe Brad Scott can do you a favour and structure up to empty some space out behind you to help you out. At least that way, you’re running back to space and may have a chance if the kick is to your advantage.

Eat some meat and put on some muscle – vegans… they’re weedy.

I want to see Ben Brown do well, but as of right now, he looks so far from being a legitimate forward threat. There’d be ten blokes I’d prefer coming out of the square ahead of him. Want me to name them?

Hawkins, Franklin, Cameron, Lynch, De Goey, Stringer, Daniher, Taberner, Kennedy, McKay.

I can go on – Hipwood, Naughton, Cox, Wright.

Truth be told, the only forwards more disappointing than Brown this season have been Darling, Walker and Tom McDonald.

It might be harsh, and it might be because he has set the bar pretty high over the past two seasons, but on tonight’s performance… he’s not the same player.

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THE UGLY

 

THE FADE

Hmmm, a win is a win, right?

Wrong.

This type of fade out from Port Adelaide, against a team with a killer instinct… let’s call them Collingwood, and let’s say it’s next Friday night, will cost them dearly. To be 41 points in front and find yourself at risk of losing the game with four minutes remaining, would have had Ken Hinkley fuming.

At times Port were a little too cute with the ball in the last quarter. They tried dinky little handballs and kicks that were completely in contrast to the way they went about it for the first three quarters. They were in a position to hammer home their advantage and pocket a 60-80 point win in this game. Instead, they won by 16 points.

What does that mean percentage-wise? I’m buggered if I know – what do you think I am, a mathemagician? What I do know is that this season is incredibly close, and it may come down to percentage to determine playing finals, finishing top four and getting a home final, or having yet another early finish to the season.

Numbers in the ‘points scored’ column count just as much in Round Six as they do in Round 20, and if Port end up in a tussle to secure a spot in September, supporters may well look back on this day and rue the opportunity they had.

North were on their knees, but Port Adelaide allowed them to climb back to their feet and throw a few haymakers in the last quarter. The Power are lucky they didn’t find themselves on the canvas as a result.

I’d like to have been a fly on the wall as Ken Hinkley let them know about it.

 

 

QUICK BITS

 

Let’s see what we have here that I haven’t already covered…

Ah yes, the “dangerous tackle” against Xavier Duursma in the last minute was about as dangerous as something that’s not very dangerous at all (it’s late and I’m tired…gimme a break). As a matter of fact, it appeared as though Sam Wright released the tackle on the way to the ground. Bad call.

The booing… oh Gerard Whateley… I hope the sound of the Port fans booing their former players doesn’t keep you up tonight, lamenting how poorly behaved AFL fans are in this age of PC enlightenment. It’s part of the game, and I am so glad those media do-gooders, and the forgetful Collingwood coach didn’t provide enough implied pressure to make Port fans think twice about booing. It’s A legitimate part of the game.  It’s part of the theatre – forget what media whiners have to say about it.

Speaking of former players, nice goal by Jared Polec, but 17 disposals and one inside 50… that is not value for money. With Shaun Higgins out, North needed a lift from him, and he did not go anywhere near providing it. As a matter of fact, his numbers were way below his season average, and the lowest number of disposals he’s had in a game since Round 18, 2017.

Aaron Hall was relatively good late, but I’ve long believed he is a bit of a downhill skier. He looked like more Elastoplast than man out there at one point, but he is another North needed more from tonight. Don’t forget, he was rated as elite by Champion Data. I’m still trying to work out exactly what he was elite at.

A bit of a quieter night from the bald bull, Sam Powell-Pepper. That said, with Boak and Rockliff both accumulating so much of the footy, the need for SPP to be in and under diminished significantly. It’s a nice problem to have when the load needs to be shared.

Throw Ollie Wines in that mix as well. 26 touches, but was quite subdued, and spent a bit of time up forward.

I might be preaching to the choir, but is there a better pure set of hands in a marking contest than those of Justin Westhoff? He is so fluent when heading toward the contest. If you don’t put a body on him, you can jot it down as a mark. He led the game in contested marks, with four for the night.

How was Wayne Carey whacking Mason Wood for not taking on the responsibility of having a shot at goal from 35 out in the last quarter and instead passing to Nick Larkey? I reckon the Duck just doesn’t like Wood much. I’m a bit torn – was Wood doing the team thing, or was he simply putting pressure on a young kid because he didn’t feel as though he was as reliable Larkey?

Nice game for Larkey, by the way. He showed some really good signs.

I remember North fans telling me last year that Trent Dumont was going to be jumping out of the box this season. Looks like someone forgot to take the packaging tape off the box then. He’s at 23.8 disposals per game this year, but that is lower than his average last year. Back in the box, Trent.

Another 24 touches for Xavier Duursma tonight. How crazy was his run down the wing where he almost handballed out of bounds, somehow kept it in and ended up feeding to Boak who hit Marshall inside 50. He reminded me of a guy in a movie who came up with a crazy plan and someone says “it’s so crazy… it might just work!” he looked like he had no idea what he was doing, but you know what they say about methods in the madness.

Looks, that’s gonna do me for tonight. I’m going to see the new Avengers movie on Sunday morning, and I really need to stay awake during it so I can discuss it with my daughters and not sit there completely confused because I zoned out.

Next week, Port v Collingwood will be an absolute cracker. Don’t tell the Collingwood supporters (they already dislike me after the review of the ANZAC Day game), but I am really hoping Port causes the upset. Might need a decent lead as you turn for home, though, going by this one.

North take on the Blues, which I believe they would have pencilled in for a win in the pre-season, but now it looks as though we’ve got a game on our hands!

That’s all from me. Later.

 

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