So I will try not to be too dramatic.
These are the kind of wins that kick start seasons. They’re the kind of wins that take a middle of the road team and instil belief. These are the kind of wins that take a list, give it a shake and make it sit up and take notice.
Port Adelaide welcomed the ladder-leading Geelong to the Adelaide Oval, and sent the Cats to their second loss of the season with a fantastic display of pressure footy.
They were hard, they were uncompromising, and the big guns fired in front of the adoring home crowd while the Cats got some uncharacteristic quiet ones from players that have been very good to this point in the season.
Port dropped favourite son, Justin Westhoff, and one of the two-headed monster in the ruck, Paddy Ryder. They were big calls – gutsy calls. And they paid off. They say fortune favours the brave, and with a win over the ladder leaders, fortune was definitely on the side of the Port Adelaide Power.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
THE ONE-HEADED MONSTER
It came as a bit of a shock that Paddy Ryder was dropped. Didn’t it? It came as one to me.
I thought this Ryder-Lycett combination was going to be an absolute nightmare for teams to deal with this season, but as we’ve progressed, their collective work has seemingly regressed. Ryder would start forward and Lycett seemed as though he was a little unsure of how to play his role, as well as accommodate Ryder in the ruck. It was like two friends liking the same girl. Sure, there were endless possibilities, but the most likely one was that one of the two friends was going to be going home alone.
Well, Ken Hinkley and his match committee seemingly made things a little easier for Lycett in this game, and it was Ryder who had to stay home. Lycett had no back-up ruckman to worry about – the responsibility sat solely with him, and he ate it up.
The former Eagle was dominant, and in a performance rivalling anything that Max Gawn or Brodie Grundy have dished up this season, completely owned the stoppages in the centre and around the ground.
He finished with 41 hitouts, 24 disposals, five marks, three tackles, as well as a very impressive nine clearances. That 18 of his 29 touches came in the contest gives a clear indication that he was at his combative and ruthless best. He threw his weight around, put himself in the right spots, and became an enormous thorn in the side of the Cats as he put Rhys Stanley to the sword – more about that later.
It’s going to be a difficult decision for Hinkley as to whether he brings Ryder back into the side. There is simply no questioning what Ryder adds when he’s on, but at what cost to the performance of Lycett? It is no coincidence that the first game Lycett has the green light to be “the man”, he racks up a career-high amount of disposals. For mine, the number one ruck position now belongs to him, and with a performance like this underpinning a brilliant Power win, it will be hard for Ryder to displace him, or even convince match committee that it is a good idea to share the role again.
If Ryder comes back in, it has to be as a second marking forward option to Charlie Dixon, and with the capacity to spell Lycett for a few minutes here and there.
We got to see a high quality performance from Scott Lycett tonight. It was the kind of performance Port fans were hoping for when they signed him away from the premiers. From the outside looking it, it was definitely worth the wait.
Three votes – S Lycett.
HOUSTON GIVES THEM A PROBLEM
So, Dan Houston is a midfielder now? And more than that, he is a midfielder who has not lost his defender’s mindset, it seems.
Houston went to Tim Kelly at stoppages in the first half in particular, and really threw down the gauntlet to the second year star. As the siren sounded for half time, we had a clear winner in their battle.
Houston had accumulated 19 disposals, whist Kelly was struggling to get his hands on the ball at all. It wasn’t the kind of run-with role we’ve seen from players like Matt de Boer, whose sole purpose is to shut down the opponent at the expense of his own game/influence. This was more the way George Hewett of the Sydney Swans, or Elliot Yeo of the Eagles handles a defensive assignment. They pay attention to the bloke in 50/50 situations, but look to create for themselves and teammates when given the chance.
And Houston created today. He finished with 26 touches, five clearances and six tackles to give his team drive and accountability through the midfield.
Houston’s move to the midfield has come a little from left field (to me, anyway – I did not see him as a mid at all) but it is proving to be incredibly effective. He added another element of toughness, and helped out the established big bodies like Boak and Wines with another presence that wouldn’t be moved off the ball easily.
Tim Kelly is a barometer for the Cats, and when he runs hot, so do Geelong. Houston did a great job of ensuring Kelly reached only lukewarm temperatures in this one. With just 12 touches through three quarters, Kelly was a non-factor, and that has been rare this season.
HAWKINS GETS A CLUREY
I’ll touch a bit more on Hawkins below, but the main reason for his ineffectiveness starts and ends with the job Tom Clurey did on him.
Clurey’s effort on Hawkins was an absolute class in how to defend a power forward. He took Hawkins’ run, refused to allow him to body him up, and closed him down whenever Hawkins looked to get a jump at the ball. It was as though Clurey was given a cheat sheet before the game, and whatever questions Hawkins and Chris Scott asked of him, he already knew the answers.
Rom a Geelong perspective, he was like that annoying bloke playing a quiz show that keeps answering questions before the host can finish them, and us dummies are there wondering how the hell he knew that answer when we didn’t even know the end of the question!
Clurey finished with seven intercept possessions as he worked Hawkins away from the contest and was able to zone off and help out his teammates as the game progressed. It is a feather in Clurey’s cap that Hawkins was unable to have any sort of impact, even late in the piece, as forwards have a habit of bobbing up late and kicking a late one to save a bit of face.
Not this night, however. Clurey stuck with Hawkins all the way to the final siren to put a cherry on top of a dominant sundae. It was perhaps the most comprehensive defensive performance of the season, and worthy of votes.
ANOTHER BOAK SPECIAL
What a season for Travis Boak. With Ollie Wines and Robbie Gray returning, you couldn’t have blamed him if he took the foot off the pedal a little and deferred to them at stoppages. He did the yard this year while they were out, and now maybe it was their turn to do some of the heavy lifting.
Not Travis Boak, though. He put his hand up to be in and under the packs all day long, creating an almost telepathic connection with Scott Lycett as the big man fed the ball down to him, ending up with 11 clearances for the game as a result.
Boak has proven a lot of people wrong this season. There were those who thought his days of being a midfield star were gone, yet his form has been one of the talking points of the season. He is +10.2 possessions a game on his 2018 numbers and is relishing his role in the guts once more. Without the weight of captaincy, Boak has excelled, and his +4.6 clearances per game indicate that he is not at all afraid to go where others fear to tread.
There were others that’ll get votes in this game – we had some players providing their absolute peak performances, but the efforts of Boak should not be forgotten at all. When the Power needed to get running, it was Boak at the feet of Scott Lycett making it all happen.
He is a star.
In a game where Geelong just failed to fire a real shot, yet still managed to lose by only 11 points on the road, a couple of acts by Jordan Clark really stood out. His efforts to take on, and beat both Tom Clurey and Xavier Duursma on the half forward flank in the third quarter are the sorts of contests that would have given Geelong supporters something to smile about.
At just 18 years of age, Clark does not lack for confidence, as evidenced in the aforementioned play, and also a run into half forward in the last quarter that saw him take on both Robbie Gray and Duursma again before hitting Ablett who goaled.
Clark’s run, dash and willingness to compete irrespective of the odds will make him a favourite at Kardinia Park for years to come. People love a bloke that’ll take the game on, and with a dozen years in the hoops ahead of him, Clark will be providing many highlights at the Cattery.
COOL HAND ROBBIE
Robbie Gray was having one of those years, wasn’t he? Struggling to get on the park and a little bit down on the sparkling form he demonstrated at times in 2018, it was as though it was just a matter of time until things fell into place for Gray.
Or until he put things in place, himself.
Tonight he split time between the forward line and the midfield, as he has most of the season, only this time it worked exactly the way it’s been supposed to.
The perennial All-Australian picked up 31 disposals, and had seven clearances amongst them, but it was his quick, clean hands that made him stand out. On the whole, his disposal efficiency could’ve been better, but his ability to one-grab the bobbling footy, and dish to a teammate in a better spot was exactly what Port ordered.
Add two goals and you have the quintessential Robbie Gray game as he cruised through the midfield and made the ball his own whenever his team needed him to.
This was the first 30+ disposal game of the season for Gray after notching two last season and four in 2017. If he is to keep that string of All-Australian blazers running, Robbie will need a few more games like this, and one of those Robbie Gray specials along the way as well. When’s the next Showdown?
BEATEN AND BEATEN UP
So, I am a bit of a thug. I like seeing players tackle to hurt, bump to hurt, and contest to hurt. Maybe it’s the Neanderthal in me (my missus and I did some National Geographic test… I have more Neanderthal in me than she does, damn it) but I like physicality in my footy.
I like to see players go hard when it’s their turn to go, and I like to see a team come in with a mindset that sees them sit an opponent on his backside whenever they get the chance. And that’s what Port did in this one.
In one two minute stretch, you had Gary Rohan, Luke Dahlhaus and Jack Henry all hobbling, or being assisted to the bench. Not one Port player went off in this period.
Rohan’s incident was off the ball, and though it looked somewhat innocuous, the way the MRO has operated this season, Karl Amon will probably be given somewhere between 0-8 weeks for the half-hearted bump. Dahlhaus was unfortunate to hurt his leg and I was glad to see him come back on, as he has been great for the Cats this season, but Hamish Hartlett’s hit on Jack Henry was a thing of beauty.
With Henry having to extend his arms above his head to take possession, he left himself wide open and ripe for the picking. And pick Hamish Hartlett did!
With a half tackle, half bump, Hartlett lowered the shoulder into the exposed ribs of Jack Henry. On replay, you could see his body jolt on impact. It would not have tickled, and it was a visual representation of the way Port Adelaide went about their footy in this game. They took their opportunities to hurt their opponents, both on the scoreboard and physically.
It was good, o
ld-school, take-no-prisoners footy, and I loved every second of it.
UMPS GET SUCKED IN
I love the desperation of Patrick Dangerfield, and if there was one player who looked like he could will the Cats both into the game, and to a win, it was him, However, there is one aspect of his game that umpires need to start watching for.
He throws himself forward in tackles to draw free kicks.
Look, this is a perfectly legal tactic, and it is incumbent on the tackler not to fall into his back, but when Danger is down there picking up the ball, and he feels pressure coming from behind (the Joe Ganino special) he throws himself forward, and if the opposition want to complete the tackle, they have to go with him.
The result in this game was three free kicks to Danger that were largely of his own making.
Now, I don’t begrudge him doing that – it’s smart. If the umps are going to reward it, then by all means do it. I was also right on board with Joel Selwood dropping slightly at the knees and raising the arm to earn free kicks if that’s what the rules allowed, but what I think the umpires need to do is watch Dangerfield when he is in that situation, because in a desperate attempt to release the footy, he throws himself around, often using his momentum to bring the tackler down on top of him.
It’s the in-the-back equivalent of ducking to draw a high free kick, and umps need to wake up about it and not blow the whistle when Danger’s actions are almost as responsible for the action as the tackler.
STANLEY BEATEN AROUND THE GROUND
The best attribute of Rhys Stanley is his ability to work hard around the ground, and stretch the bigger ruckman as he tries to keep up.
I don’t know what Stanley was up to in this game, but stretching Lycett and making him work hard to cover him didn’t really seem to be on his agenda. Lycett controlled the stoppages, giving the Power at +16 victory in the clearances, but he also gave Stanley a bit of a touch up around the ground as well.
Stanley had just seven disposals for the game and took just one mark in possibly his worst performance of the year. As good as Scott Lycett was, Stanley made him look better!
As Lycett laid tackles, Stanley laid none. That right there is indicative as to who worked harder on the night.
HAVE YOU SEEN TOM HAWKINS?
If so, please report to Geelong Football Club as soon as possible. They’d love to know where he was.
We’ve been really complimentary of Hawkins this season, and rightfully so. He would be close to an All-Australian key forward slot right now, but he was nowhere near it this week. It was as though the dreaded bye-curse had a personal impact on Hawkins.
Check this stat-line for one of the best marks in the game.
Five disposals, one score involvement, four tackles, no goals and ZERO marks.
Yep, zero marks. On a night almost tailor-made for forwards taking grabs, Hawkins came up with donuts in the air.
Hawkins has been very consistent this season, including a string of five games prior to this where he kicked no less than four goals. He was the form-forward in the competition over the last month and a bit, and he was brought back to earth with a thud.
Without Hawkins involved, the Geelong forward line faltered. Those who feed of Hawkins up forward – Dahlhaus and Miers, were left to starve as he was unable to do the things he usually does to get them involved. There were no goal assists, not deft touches to his running teammates. There was nothing.
I’d put it out there that it was the worst game I’ve seen Tom Hawkins play, and as much as he has to wear the blame, the quality of the opposition has to get some of the credit as well.
Is it possible to have a quiet 35 disposals? If so, I reckon Mitch Duncan did that in this game. He got a ton of it in the back half and didn’t really do a hell of a lot with it. Would you rather 20 from Ablett, or 35 from Duncan? I know which one I’d take.
It’s interesting to see the Dougal Howard experiment continuing up forward. He is wonderful overhead but am I the only one that wants to see him back in the role that could see him develop into the best help-defender in the caper?
I really think Brad Ebert, who I won’t call Brett just this once, is the missing piece to the Port puzzle. He brings an element of basically everything to their forward half. He is strong overhead, can put his body in harm’s way when required, lays strong tackles, and his kicking inside 50 can be sublime at times. The Power have missed his presence so much.
How do we rate Charlie Dixon’s return? Got his hands on it plenty of times but looks to be at least a week or two away from a five or six contested mark game. Eight touches and two marks is a bit less than what’ll be required going forward, but getting through the game, and getting a win in the process is a result Port would’ve taken.
The umps seem to be getting a bit whistle-happy on dangerous tackles again. Were three of them paid in this game? Sometimes a good tackle is deemed legal by one umpire and dangerous by another. I think Ollie Wines and Joel Selwood were both dumped in pretty harsh tackles but were not rewarded. Makes you wonder why? Had they stayed down, the tackler would probably be off the tribunal at some stage in the next few days, but because their heads are thick, the tackler gets off. In short, it’s a shit rule. Half the time the guy getting tackles contributes to the danger by throwing his leg at the footy to get a kick away, completely losing his balance and accentuating the force of the tackle.
Anyway, I could argue about dangerous tackles until the cows come home. It does not good because… CONCUSSION!!!
It’s a bit of a joy to watch Connor Rozee go about his work, isn’t it? I used to own a stake in a trading card shop many years ago. If I were still collecting them, I’d grab a couple of his signed draft pick cards releasing soon – he is going to be a star for a lot of years in this league.
A pretty good game for Gaz again. 19 touches and two goals is about par for the course for him this year. Of course, if other small forwards got those kind of numbers, they’d be putting their hand up for votes. He’ll have another All-Australian berth this season, and it will be well-deserved. It’s been a fantastic year for him again, and he was definitely amongst the Cats’ best again in this one.
Really bad call against Tom Stewart in the second quarter as he put pressure on the kick of Zak Butters. All he did was pressure the kick, but at times there is the feeling that if the ump sees contact, he feels like he has to blow the whistle. That’s what he did, awarding a downfield free kick for a perfectly legal bump/pressure act. Put the whistle away, fella.
Looking at what was ostensibly the Burton for Wingard deal, you’d say Port is way out in front at the moment, right? Burton is starting to look right at home in the Port back six, and the Power will have years to enjoy the benefits of that trade.
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