In what has been a fascinatingly even season, these two teams squared off in a rematch from Round 4 – a game in which Richmond put their interstate demons to rest by beating the Power on their home deck without their five best players. It was the role players who stood up, as well as new recruit Tom Lynch, who has had an impressive, if not spectacular, first season at Tigerland.
That Round 4 game was symptomatic of the Power this season. After winning their first two games, against Melbourne and Carlton, they had lost the week before to Brisbane, and needed to consolidate to maintain their top 8 spot. They fluffed it though, and 14 weeks later they’re now on the mere precipice of a finals spot, despite wins against most notably Geelong and West Coast, as well as their huge Showdown victory two weeks ago. Their form has been up and down all season, and a win against Richmond would have been just the tonic Ken Hinkley needed, keeping his side in touch with a top 8 berth.
It has been an injury riddled season for Richmond. It’s almost as if Damien Hardwick threw a black cat under a ladder during the offseason, such has been the way in which the Tigers’ luck has run out, and while no coach would admit it, fortune plays a huge role in a season. Fortuitously, then, the Tigers have managed to begin their build towards September at exactly the right time, with most of their stars who were previously injured back on the park. Just Toby Nankervis and Alex Rance remain out of the best 22 at the moment, and with Nank playing VFL this weekend, Richmond’s selection panel would be almost licking their lips. In a match in which the mild purr of the Tigers transitioned into a louder roar, here’s what happened:
POOR POWER, OR A POWERFUL PORT?
Heading into this game, you could have been persuaded to tip Port Adelaide. Over the last nine rounds, they’ve alternated results, with wins against Gold Coast, St Kilda, Geelong and Adelaide all interspersed with losses to the Crows, Hawks, Dockers, Dogs and Lions. A form line like that makes them one of the hardest teams in the competition to get a read on. They looked like a genuine top 4 side when they beat Adelaide just a fortnight ago, but looked insipid just a week before against the Bulldogs.
These results aren’t unique for Port Adelaide, even if a nine game loss-win streak is. After losing a preliminary final by a kick to Hawthorn in 2014, they won 12, 10, 14 and 12 games across the succeeding four seasons, with their one finals appearance in 2017 ending in an extra time loss to West Coast on their home ground. It would be inaccurate to suggest that Port are a weak or irrelevant football club, but the fact remains that they’ve played finals just three times since 2007, and managed to miss out on September last year despite an 11-4 record, at one stage.
Under Ken Hinkley, the Power have never really bottomed out, but they also haven’t really pushed for a top 4 spot. They’re a genuine middle of the road team this year, by the looks of things, and while that is understandable, having brought in a stack of exciting young talent, their consistency is a worry. In any event, Saturday afternoon was their opportunity to make a statement, after last week’s debacle of false bravado, and they accordingly never really showed up.
THE LYNCH MOB ARE RIEWOLDT-ING
With player movement expanding over the last decade or so, we haven’t often seen a team go after a superstar key forward to link up with another superstar. Tom Lynch’s move to Punt Road over the offseason was one of those rare instances, as the former Suns captain looked to share a forward line with three time Coleman Medalist, Jack Riewoldt. The question that was asked, of course, was how the chemistry would work, with two players who have had forward lines gravitate around them for the last few years now having to synergise.
That question hadn’t ultimately been answered quite yet in the lead up to this game. Lynch’s year has been very good, if not spectacular, in a year in which he was probably expected to be pretty good, but not to set the world on fire. If you had have asked Tigers’ fans preseason if they’d have taken 40 goals from Lynch in his first 17 games, they probably would have jumped at it, assuming that Riewoldt had managed a similar total. However, after managing at least 20 games in every season since 2009, injuries have twice struck Jack down, missing four weeks at the start of the year and then close to three months in the middle.
After their win over GWS last week, it looked like we were seeing the return of the pre-2017, all-about-me Jack Riewoldt, with his comments about not getting as much of the ball as he would have liked maybe a snipe at Tom Lynch. They might have been overblown, but it was certainly true that Lynch was tremendously influential in his last start, with three Mongrel votes. In fairness to Jack, it was his first game back after a long term injury, and this week shaped as far more indicative of how Richmond’s forward line could function with the two of them up there.
It was a test they, seemingly, passed with flying colours. Riewoldt kicked three goals before half time to essentially ice the game for his side, while Lynch managed 3.4, and though he was not quite as damaging on the scoreboard as he was in Round 4, where he kicked 6.2 from nine kicks, it was another big day for the former Sun, with season highs in disposals (19), marks (nine), inside 50’s (five), and score involvements (12). It could have been a much bigger day for him too, missing a couple of shots late and a very gettable set shot in the third. If any side was out there making a statement on Saturday, it was Richmond, whose dominance up forward suggested they would be the side no one would want to run into come September.
IT’S ALL GONE PEAR SHAPED
A season which started so promisingly for the Power, with a win at the MCG over Melbourne, has now faded into one whose only promise now is for the future. That Round 1 win looked mightily impressive at the time, but less so now, what with Melbourne’s dramatic drop off, and in reality after half time they were never really in this contest.
Their midfield has been excellent this season, and a centre bounce team of Lycett, who has been one of the best acquisitions of the year, Boak, Rockliff and Gray should compare favourably to most other lineups. They won the clearances 37-24 on the day, but were smashed in contested possessions 153-132, and despite losing the disposal count 422-394, they were out-tackled by a Richmond side who looked to have a renewed interest in manic pressure.
Their inability to capitalise on their ascendancy out of the middle hurt Port Adelaide, but what killed them was horrible disposal going forward. At three quarter time they’d managed just seven goals from 33 inside 50’s, and they managed just two more from 12 in the last quarter when the game was already over. Charlie Dixon threatened all day, with a golden opportunity in the first quarter to keep the Power in the game after winning a mismatch against Liam Baker, but he wasted it. He took a nice pack mark just on the 50 metre line in the second quarter, then proceeded to kick the ball straight down Nathan Broad’s throat, and then managed to pick out Ivan Soldo alone at the top of the square, with none of the former Sun’s teammates anywhere near the ball.
For a patch in the second quarter though he looked like breaking the game open, with a good mark and a great kick from 50 for his side’s third, before outbodying Chol in the ruck to set up Amon for his first. That patch probably coincided with the Power’s best segment of the game, with their pressure really lifting. They managed to get momentum back in their favour, before Chol laid a hard tackle and kicked an important goal to give his side the ascendanct. Dixon then managed to miss a handball to Sam Powell-Pepper just before half time that would have given his side some hope heading into the long break.
In Round 4, Dylan Grimes was a clear best on ground in a pulsating last quarter, restricting Port time and again going forward. On the basis of the Power’s ball use going forward today, it wasn’t hard to see why. Too many times Ken Hinkley’s side tried to play on when they had no one up forward to kick to. Justin Westhoff did really well to win a one on three on the forward flank, then handballed it off to an under-pressure Sam Gray, which ultimately resulted in a turnover. Cam Sutclifffe tried to tee the ball up to the top of the square rather than having the shot, which Grimes picked off, then kicked the ball straight to David Astbury when he was outnumbered by Dixon and Powell-Pepper. When they did have chances going forward, taking marks on the wing, they either kicked it to the defender’s advantage or backwards. Whether it was a work rate issue or a disposal issue is hard to say definitively, although as with most things it’s probably a bit of column A and a bit of column B.
In fairness to Port, they were deflated by a pretty poor 50 metre penalty against Westhoff, who punched the ball away while it was over the line. There were mere millimetres in it, and I think more than anything it was a case of Razor Ray wanting to get himself into the action, but after working hard to stay in the game in the first quarter, a goal gifted to Jack Graham just before quarter time made the going even tougher for the traveling side.
No player at Port better emphasises their inconsistency more than Steven Motlop, who should have been the cherry on top of a talented list but has had a really poor year, topping twenty disposals and kicking multiple goals just once each, against Carlton in round two. He had a golden chance to get the margin back within three goals halfway through the third, running into what was essentially an open goal, and instead managed to pick out Shane Edwards perfectly.
Just finally, and I can’t believe this is a talking point, Xavier Duursma earned his goal, copping a couple of big hits and then going back with the flight, which would have been hugely encouraging for Port fans to see. Cracking out the bow and arrow was interesting, to say the least, given the margin, but if it had have lifted his side we would have been singing his praises. On the opposition’s home deck, it might not have looked great, but it was an attempt to galvanise his team. The footballing landscape can be a very black and white one (and not just because it’s dominated by Eddie McGuire), but a bit of colour here and there is only a good thing. Let’s not overblow it either, by suggesting that the game was out of reach, with the goal getting the margin back to 16 points halfway through the third.
ROARING ONCE AGAIN
There was a stat floating around a couple of weeks ago, I think after Richmond’s win over the Gold Coast, that their record was essentially the same as it was to the same point in 2017. That flag feels like eons ago, but it was really only 18 months or so, and while the Tigers have had injury issues galore this year, after stumbling at the penultimate hurdle in 2018, they seem to be hitting their straps at just the right time. Their important players are in form, their roleplayers are, well, playing their role, and they’re getting most of their previously incapacitated players back on the park.
On the topic of most important players, Prestia’s goal from 50 to open his side’s account was a beauty. His goal kicking this year hasn’t been great, with five goals as part of a 24% scoring accuracy, but that’s the only real knock on what has been an incredibly consistent year, with Cotchin out more often than he’s been in. The former Sun (and boy weren’t there a few of them playing in this game) has had to almost become the leader of the young midfield brigade, in tandem with Dusty, who has also played forward. Both were excellent today, with Prestia’s 30 disposals and nine score involvements crucially important to his side’s win.
In addition, Stack and Bolton rotated through midfield for most of the day. Neither was truly dominant, with 18 and 22 touches respectively, but their impact was greater than that, adding speed to a midfield that can look a little one paced when Dusty goes forward. Bolton went at 86% with six score involvements, while Stack went at 78% and six, including three goal assists.
It also meant that Dusty could play forward a lot more often, with the Tigers less reliant on his bull work in the middle, and while he might have just managed the one goal, he draws defenders in up forward, as he did with Edwards’ goal. It’s a cliche to refer to it as a matchup nightmare, but playing one on one against Martin, as it is with Fyfe, de Goey and Dangerfield, is, I imagine, what keeps defenders up at night. The 2017 Brownlow Medalist was again excellent for his side, with 30 touches and eight inside 50’s, though it was somewhat surprising that, after the Power’s attempts to ‘terrorise’ Lachie Neale last week, Cam Sutcliffe didn’t go straight to him at the opening bounce.
It may have gotten them into trouble sometimes, with their handball game inviting some pressure to their receivers, but Richmond’s ball movement on Saturday looked exceptional. 39 of their first 62 disposals were handballs, as they moved the ball with speed, gaining 407 metres by hand in the first quarter, and though hey ended the day with a more even kick to handball ratio of 202-220, they gained more than 900 by hand for the afternoon. A couple of times they handballed to players under pressure though, with Butters’ second coming after Soldo and then Grimes were both run down, but I reckon Damien Hardwick would take that, given they managed to score so heavily from turnovers themselves.
Soldo and Chol might not have properly beaten Lycett, with Port having that 37-24 clearance edge, but the former Eagle was limited in his impact around the ground with just two score involvements. Soldo and Chol kicked a goal each, and had nine score involvements between them, and while the former Eagle was important for his side early, and probably had the better of the inexperienced pairing, his inability to truly dominate, as he did against Geelong a month ago, means that the Richmond duo probably take the chocolates.
Cotchin’s run down tackle on Robbie Gray on the outer wing was pretty symbolic, as the Power talisman struggled to get the ball forward and have an impact, as he did all day and has done historically against the Tigers. Richmond’s pressure was pretty good on Saturday even when the game was done and dusted, with four defenders swarming Rockliff when he got the ball forward. Despite having so much time in possession, they also won the tackle count by three. These Tigers are starting to work really hard, and along with probably Essendon and Brisbane, are the form team of the competition.
This game wasn’t exactly a fizzer, but Port’s inability to stand up and be counted was somewhat surprising. All year when we’ve been ready to write them off, they come out and look like a genuine top 4 side. They’ve beaten two of the best sides in the competition, but they were never really in this game, and now a top 8 spot looks increasingly unlikely, with Adelaide a game clear in eight and Carlton to play next week. Port’s run home looks decidedly trickier, with the suddenly in form Giants to come next week in Adelaide, then Essendon, Sydney, North and Freo. They need to win at least four of those, if not five just to make finals, and at this stage I’m only really prepared to give them three at best.
It’s a different story for the Tigers. September was looking a little iffy heading into the bye, having lost their last three to North, Geelong and Adelaide, and sitting with a 7-6 ledger and a percentage of 92. They’ve won all four games since then, though, and sit just percentage outside of the top 4. Incidentally, the team keeping them out of the double chance spot as the ladder currently stands is Collingwood, who they play this coming Friday at the MCG in one of the biggest meetings between these two clubs since… well, the second to last time they played. Win that, and a top 4, or even top 2 berth looks likely, with winnable games against Melbourne and Carlton to come, before games against West Coast and Brisbane to close out the season.