It was the third iteration of footy’s Shanghai trip this weekend, as the AFL’s power troupe, Port Adelaide and St Kilda all headed off to China in what was a bit of a do-or-die battle between two teams sitting ninth and eleventh on the ladder with 5-5 records heading into the weekend.
It’s been tough at times to get a read on both of these sides; Port have been mightily impressive at times, especially in road wins against Melbourne and West Coast, but have then managed to serve up what can only be described as truly poor performances like their one last weekend against Hawthorn.
St Kilda, meanwhile, started the season off in outstanding fashion, sitting second on the ladder after Round Five, but tapered off massively in the last five weeks, with just one win against Carlton. In a matchup that intrigued, on foreign soil, here’s what happened:
Dominant Port put St Kilda to the sword
In their last four games, against Collingwood, Adelaide, Gold Coast and Hawthorn, the Power have been -90 points in first quarters. It was important, obviously, for them to get off to a good start, and Travis Boak was clearly cognisant of that, spotting up Dougal Howard with a lovely kick inside 50 for the first goal, which turned into a five goal first quarter and nine point quarter time lead.
Boak’s season has been absolutely outstanding, and he continued that form into today. He was particularly in the first quarter, where he had eight touches at 100% with a goal and a goal assist. He finished the day as a clear best on ground, with 33 disposals at 76% and including 13 contested touches, two goals, three goal assists, 11 score involvements, seven clearances, seven inside 50’s and six tackles in what could well have been the standout performance of a fantastic season.
It was an equally great start, though, from Howard, who looks a bit of a natural forward. He clunked nine marks for the day, with four contested – an excellent return, while also kicking two goals and having eight score involvements from 15 touches. In the absence of Charlie Dixon, who hasn’t appeared yet this season, and Todd Marshall, who has been in and out of the side, Howard looked a likely gap filler in the front half of the ground.
The ruck tandem of Lycett and Ryder had an interesting day. Rowan Marshall was probably his side’s best player in a strong all round display, and while Lycett was more than handy in his first game in China, Ryder continued his disappointing month, with just six touches, including two goals. For the Eagles’ premiership ruckman, it was a solid but not spectacular outing, with 12 touches and a goal, as St Kilda won the clearances by one. It was clearly not particularly relevant to the result, but if Port want to go further this season than they have in recent years, they’ll want greater production from Ryder in particular.
At times today, the Power looked simply irresistible. They scrapped a number of goals inside 50 as their forward pressure led to turnovers, and their goal kicking was exceptional, finishing with 22.7. Their young players were excellent once again, in season debutants, Butters, Duursma and the man who at this stage must be remarkably close to Rising Star favouritism at this point, Rozee, as well as young guns Burton, Lienert and Bonner.
Butters kicked two goals from his 19 disposals; Duursma was excellent with ball in hand, kicking a goal from 23 touches at 87%; Rozee kicked 1.1 from just 11 disposals but also had six tackles; and Burton, Bonner and Lienert were the Power’s three leading players for metres gained in what would be a hugely encouraging performance for Port supporters both for the upcoming season and for the future too.
I haven’t even mentioned, at this stage, the performance of Robbie Gray, who turned in what would have to be his best game of the season. Despite being in and out of both the side with injury and also up and down with form, he was back to his All Australian best against the Saints. 19 of his 28 touches were contested, while he also kicked three goals, had nine score involvements, eight clearances and five tackles in a performance that will have him just behind Boak in the votes.
Shanghai Shanking for the Saints in front of goal
The Saints’ performances since Round 5 have been adequate but they simply have not put the results on the board. While in theory a week long escape to Shanghai to play football in conditions as close to as anonymous as imaginable would provide as good an opportunity for the Saints to have their best performance of the year, myriad factors including predominantly a bad case of food poisoning meant that they left without the four points for the fifth week out of six.
St Kilda’s pressure was fairly good early, though with ball in hand they were exceedingly wasteful. They won the clearances and had 52 inside 50’s of their own but managed just nine goals in yet another display of poor forward efficiency. Arguably the most galling stat for Alan Richardson and his coaching staff would be the final scoreboard return of 9.15, finishing the day with just five fewer scoring shots than their opponents but losing the game by 70 points.
Just as bad, though, especially earlier on, was St Kilda’s planning going forward. Time and time again, they bombed the ball inside 50 long to a pack, sitting it on the head of Bruce or Membrey or simply making it far too easy for the tall Port defenders to kill the contest or intercept. More than once throughout the first half when the game was up for grabs, St Kilda’s midfielders delivered the ball lace out to a Power defender, with Seb Ross, Jade Gresham and Shane Savage all delivering performances below their usual efficiency.
Gresham was, in competition with Marshall, the Saints’ best player, despite his 65% efficiency. He finished the afternoon with 20 touches, 12 of which were contested, along with three goals, eight score involvements, seven clearances, six inside 50’s and five tackles. Gresham has had a very good fortnight, and though his side were smashed on the scoreboard, he was certainly not to blame for that, as he blossoms into the star his side hoped he would be.
On Marshall, Sunday was yet another exceptional game in what looms as a breakout season for a player who could be the next big, big thing. His 24 touches were the second most for his side, as he competed hard all day. He also ended with 24 hitouts, 17 contested touches, a goal, a goal assist, eight score involvements, seven marks including four contested, seven clearances, four tackles, five inside 50’s and three rebounds as he continually provided a presence around the ground in a performance that has him in line for votes despite the scoreboard.
Once Upon a Time in China
It was the third game held in Shanghai on Sunday, and the first featuring St Kilda after the last two included Gold Coast up against Port. The first two games were fairly lacklustre, with Port winning by a combined 112 points against Gold Coast sides that simply didn’t have the class to compete. It was encouraging, then, that the first quarter was a bit of a shootout, with eight goals between the two sides.
In their pre-game meeting, in vision featured on Fox Footy’s coverage of the game, Ken Hinkley told his team how much this game matters for their club. Though it would be nice to see them sacrificing one of their own home games for the match, it is certainly true that the display is getting more and more professional as the Power become further and further entwined with Shanghai and China more generally. The surface at Adelaide Arena looked absolutely pristine, although it may have been a little on the hard side, with some players lingering a little on the ground after falls.
It’s certainly fair to say that St Kilda’s player looked more sluggish than Port. It’s hard to definitively ascertain whether that was a personnel issue or a travel issue. Certainly, St Kilda have been ravaged by injury this year, and illness in their camp could not have helped, as Blake Acres, Dan McKenzie and Jonathan Marsh were all late outs. A number of other players looked less than 100%, including most notably Shane Savage, who was uncharacteristically quiet with just 11 touches at 63%.
Nonetheless, Port ran over the top of their opposition in the second half, kicking ten goals to four, proving that they are masters of the Chinese conditions as they turn Shanghai into a definitive Portress.
Fear-y the Geary
After returning sooner than expected from a nasty corked thigh that required surgery, Geary was good without being great in the first term, with four touches including three contested. There’s no questioning his courage though.
To come back so soon from an injury like that in an environment both as taxing and far away as Shanghai with the bye next week shows his commitment to the cause. I don’t think there’s any questioning whether he’s the right captain for St Kilda or not now, after fierce questioning following his appointment.
Geary was a long way from the Saints’ worst in the first half but just struggled at times to be clean. He finished the day with 13 touches at 69%, but disaster struck in the last quarter as he was run down brilliantly by Rozee. While there is no disgrace in that, he looked in real trouble with an ankle, and the fact that Alan Richardson left the coach’s box to go down to the rooms and see his captain tells a fairly sad tale by the looks of things. He was taken from the ground for x rays before the end of the game, and Nick Riewoldt on commentary suggested it looked similar to Mitch Wallis’ devastating broken leg in 2016.
Nick Riewoldt turned out to be correct.
After 11 weeks of footy, the Power sit seventh on the ladder with a 6-5 record. While they haven’t yet reached their peak, Sunday in China was as dominant as they’ve looked all year as their young players look more and more at home at AFL level. Ken Hinkley would be encouraged that there is so much room for improvement despite their position on the ladder as they head into the bye, followed by an intriguing trip to Perth to play Fremantle.
For St Kilda, their finals dream may well be over. They sit 12th on the ladder now, at 5-6, and though they are technically just a game outside the eight, their abysmal percentage of just 85% suggests that they may be out of the running at this stage. Alan Richardson would be scratching his head as to how to improve their efficiency going forward, both in terms of hitting up forward targets and kicking for goal, as they head into their bye and then a return match up against Gold Coast at Metricon in a game that won’t be as easy as they may have expected at the start of the year.