The premiership quarter is what set Port Adelaide up for their eighth win of the 2020 season, and positioned them for a very likely top four finish and a serious tilt at the flag.

Against a Western Bulldogs side that controlled most of the first half in a low-scoring affair, the Power lifted the intensity in the third quarter and the Bulldogs were unable to match it. With Charlie Dixon clunking marks, Zak Butters throwing his body into contests like a lunatic, and Tom Clurey and Tom Jonas making a mockery of Josh Bruce, the Power ran out 13-out winners and look forward to a show-stopping clash with the Tigers on Saturday.

The Dogs plenty from Mitch Wallis and Tom Liberatore but could not conjure a contested mark to save their life through the first three quarters. It cost them dearly.

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

 

 

THE GOOD

 

THE BREAKOUT STAR OF 2020?

So, last season we had the race in two for the NAB Rising Star award. It was Sam Walsh and Connor Rozee who were the two.

Remember that? Do you want the player who is solid and consistent, or the player that does the special things in a harder position?

Well, we’re now half way through the 2020 season and whilst Bailey Smith could really put his hand up and state he has entered the frame, so could Zak Butters. And if you doubt that, jump onto Fox Footy, or that wonderful place where you can download full games on the interweb for free… you know the one, and get a hold of this game. In particular, watch the third quarter.

That was the quarter where Zak Butters put his stamp on this game and gave Port the break they needed.

He collected 11 touches in that quarter, but it wasn’t just what he did with the ball that was impressive. It was what he did for others.

His desperate, diving tap to advantage to allow Kane Farrell to slot a goal is probably the direct goal assist of the season to date. It was an action borne of the sort of desperation and competitiveness that you cannot teach. People either have that, or they don’t.

Zak Butters has that.

He had a career-high 24 touches as he moved through half forward and inside 50 with the sort of confidence that is getting close to cockiness. I like it.

Butters comes across as an agitator. He is the mosquito buzzing in your ear as you try to get to sleep. He is the itch you can’t quite scratch. He is the loud talker at the table next to you, the fly in the ointment… the sand in the Vaseline. And he was the player that turned the Power on in this game.

 

THE CONTESTED MARK BEAST

Far out it is exciting to watch a big forward glove some contested grabs, and this season there has been no better big forward to watch than Charlie Dixon.

West Coast fans will argue that Josh Kennedy is making a run at the title, and there is some merit in that, but right now Dixon is the best contested marking big man in the game by a looooong way.

For context, Charlie is averaging 3.56 contested grabs per game. Last year, matt Taberner had the best average in the league, with 2.67. In shorter game time, Charlie Dixon has been the master of his domain, and if you needed proof, you could take a bit of a gander at some of his efforts in this one.

He finished with five marks – all contested, as he was used as both the primary target inside 50 and the “get out of jail” target down the wing.

Dixon looks as though he has worked himself into phenomenal shape and whilst some speak of resting him, I just want to see the players keep rolling while they’re hot.

We’ve had a couple of people question our praise for Dixon this season, as though the way he’s played in years past has a bearing on the way we should view him now. I don’t actually believe these people are watching footy. They come across as those who shoot their mouth off based on a perception they had two seasons back. If they bothered to watch what Dixon has added to this Port Adelaide team in 2020, their opinion would likely change quickly.

Leading the Coleman or not, Dixon has been the best forward this year. Bar none.

 

AN ENTHRALLING RUCK DUEL

Tim English is the perfect ruck opponent for Peter Ladhams. I thought that coming in, and as the game progressed, it really became apparent.

The only knock I have had on Ladhams recently is that he cannot match it against a brute of a man, and he was shown up a little in his contests against Marc Pittonet and Max Gawn. But give him someone of equal stature, and his value is apparent.

English has taken control of several games this season, and early on it appeared as though he would get on top of Ladhams as well. However, a spirited fightback from Ladhams in the second half was pivotal to the Power assuming control of the game.

Ladhams had three of his five clearances in the second half and drifted forward to snag a vital goal in the third quarter. Ladhams’ mark leading to the shot at goal was one of Port’s seven contested grabs for the quarter – it was a decisive factor in the game.

On the night, you give the points to Ladhams. The Dogs won the clearances by one, but Ladhams was better in the contest and had English covered both in the air and around the ground. A nice win for the big man.

 

The Winners And Losers Of Round Nine

 

THE PREMIERSHIP QUARTER

Oh man… don’t go getting too excited, Power fans, but they call it the premiership quarter for a reason.

I don’t know what that reason is – I do remember Lou Richards calling it that when I was a kid, but he never really explained why. Anyway, if this is the quarter flags are won, then Port were brilliant when it mattered.

Led by Zak Butters (and I have already heaped praise on him above) and a hard-running Karl Amon, the Power upped the ante and the Dogs simply could not respond. It was a devastating term of physicality from Port, laying 21 tackles to ten as they pressured the Digs at every turn. Each handball, each double grab and each fumble tightened the screws on the Dogs, and Port cashed in on the rebound.

Sam Powell-Pepper was enormous in his attack on the contest, and Butters… well, his efforts were the sort of a 200-game match-winner, not a bloke who’s played 29 games.

The Power asked questions of the Dogs in the third, and they couldn’t answer them, and if you had any questions of your own about Port’s credentials in 2020, I reckon you may have got a couple of answers of your own.

 

THE HARD NUTS

Players from both sides had winners in close today, and you’d be hard-pressed to question the value of any of them to their respective teams.

Where would the Dogs be without Libba? He is one of the few who will burrow into a contest and come out with the footy. He is not afraid to get his hands dirty, and if it means putting his body on the line, he’ll happily do that. His 20 contested touches demonstrate just how much he relishes the fight and if you threw a footy into a mix of ten players and Libba was in there, he’d be the short-priced favourite to come out with it.

Mitch Wallis… the poor bugger. This is the second week in a row he has earned a free kick the hard way inside 50 and had to leave the arena due to bleeding from the head. There can be no question as to his guts, or willingness to do the hard stuff for his team. That he finished without a goal in this game is a travesty given the work he put in up forward.

Tom Rockliff tackled like a lunatic in this game – and not like one of those sedate lunatics who are extremely intelligent and can manipulate your mind. He’s no Hannibal Lecter, but give him half a chance and he’ll tear you in two in a tackle!

Rockliff finished with 15 tackles for the game – easily sitting him atop the AFL for most tackles in a game this season as he scragged and dragged down any Dog silly enough to take him on.

He was only really challenged by Sam Powell-Pepper, who added ten tackles of his own, but had the added feature of throwing himself into the contest willing a recklessness that you cannot help but admire. The way SPP goes about his footy turns an 80-20 contest into a true 50-50, and when his actions generate a win for his team, you can almost sense the lift it gives them.

He had just 12 touches in this game, but I’d like to see the numbers for the number of times he crashed in and split a contest allowing a teammate to collect an easy touch. They’d be impressive.

 

THE BAD

 

THE BIG THREE UNDERPERFORMING?

Coming into this season we all had our visions of what may or may not occur. We were expecting Buddy to kick his 1000th goal. We were expecting Patrick Cripps to dominate the competition, and some of us were expecting the three-headed monster in the Bulldogs’ midfield to rip teams apart.

Sadly, that has not occurred.

Jack Macrae cannot be faulted. He has continued to produce the kind of footy you expect from him. When people talk about accumulators, it doesn’t quite fit in with Macrae. He is more than that, but he needs support.

An early season injury to Josh Dunkley robbed us of the chance to see him in full flight, and as he works back from injury we should start seeing a lot more from him – I liked his effort in the first quarter, for what it’s worth.

That leaves one bloke – the captain.

In all honesty, Dogs fans, how do you rate Bont’s season to date? If it is registering as anything other than “disappointing”, I reckon your expectations are too low.

Coming off a season where he was anointed as the best player in the game by the 18 coaches, Bont has failed to produce anything even closely reflecting that standing. His influence has been minimal, and the way he’s being used… I’m not sure I am a fan.

This bloke is one of the best ten players in the league. At the start of the season you would have said top five, but he has drifted this year. He needs some support in the middle and he needs players to start laying blocks for him around the footy. I feel too much is being left to him by too many at the moment and he is starting to look like a player that is weary from putting the team on his back, particularly at stoppages.

I had such high hopes for the three-headed midfield monster. Over the last couple of weeks, I have seen those hopes slowly fade right away. Hopefully they can regroup in the second half of the season and make a run into finals resembling that of last year. Now that was some great midfield work.

 

LEANING INTO TACKLES

Righto AFL; I’ve seen enough of this now.

I’m not one to jump up and down and call for rule changes at the drop of a hat – I’ll leave that to Gerard Whateley. However, the amount of players dipping the shoulder into tackles at the moment is getting to the point of ridiculousness.

There were a couple of free kicks paid in this game where it was obvious that the guy with the ball was initiating the high contact. Whether he was dropping at the knees, or angling his body toward the tackler, it is basically an action to draw a free kick, and I bloody hate that.

I saw Ollie Wines pinged for tackling too high when his opponent dropped at the knees early on. I think it was Weightman. Bailey Williams is a bit of a master at it as well. Tom Rockliff completely ducked into one tackle and was rewarded. It simply should not be happening.

David King was adamant that the Dogs “dare you to tackle properly” by their style of play. I don’t like it at all. For starters, it is as though the players are not looking for an option that may actually create for their team and just want to take the tackler on, and secondly, there are already way too many free kicks being paid to have players trying to milk them.

How do you fix it?

I feel sorry for the umpires, as they get mixed messages – protect the head! But don’t pay free kicks when the players ducks or drops at the knees! How can they win?

The AFL players in general need to take ownership of this. It’s like flopping in the NBA, and it should be viewed similarly to diving in our own game. Players doing it often should be highlighted more, and not just the Selwood/Puopolo kind of blokes, either. Name and shame on a weekly basis.

 

Ten Things I Learnt After Round Nine

 

THE UGLY

 

BRUCE-LESS

It was only five short weeks ago that Josh Bruce was the toast of the Whitten Oval.

On a Saturday evening against North Melbourne, he made the Bulldogs’ recruiting staff grin from ear to ear with a commanding performance. In that game, he notched three contested marks amongst his six grabs and slotted six goals to be the most dominant forward on the park.

Things have changed. And not for the better.

Against the combination of the two Toms; Clurey and Jonas, Bruce was all at sea in this game. With one power forward doing all he could to drag his team over the line, Bruce put on a display that was the polar opposite for the Dogs. Unable to take a contested grab at all and only managing one mark for the whole game, Bruce collected two touches and looked like a player completely devoid of confidence.

Late in the game, he led hard at the ball at half forward, only to see the footy ricochet off his chest.

He was recruited as the support man to Aaron Naughton, but with the young Bulldog sidelined, Bruce has had to be the man in that forward fifty. He teased the Dogs fans with his performance against the Kangaroos, but since then he has returned numbers that read like a horror story.

He has averaged eight touches and just 2.4 marks per game over the last five games. Making his run even more damning is the return of just 0.6 goals per game.

Is it confidence? Is it poor delivery? Or is it just that Josh Bruce is not anywhere near being a number one forward? One thing is clear – if he doesn’t start performing soon, the Dogs may be better off with another small in the team that can make something happen. Right now, Bruce is offering bugger all.

At least Billy Gowers looked like he cared…

 

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

HOW FAR AWAY IS ROBBIE GRAY?

There were some serious signs tonight, weren’t there?

Whilst he hasn’t quite got the same spring in his step as previous years, he was a hair’s breadth away from finishing with a bag of four goals this evening. Playing deep forward, he looked dangerous and probably should have finished with a goal assist to go with his own two snags, after a delightful handball to the running Westhoff bounced through for a point.

I keep thinking we’re a week or so away from Robbie Gray breaking a game open completely, and every time I watch him I think it must be just one more week away. He is on the cusp of it – you can feel it, but the amazing thing is that Port have been able to go on this run without Robbie Gray being…well, Robbie Gray. If he finds that form soon, this team goes to another level.

 

WHERE IS CONNOR ROZEE AT?

Speaking of another level, we were kind of expecting Connor Rozee to be playing at a higher level this season, weren’t we? We were kind of spoiled a bit last season, so it may not be fair to have had those expectations, but I won’t deny it – they were there.

Like Gray, you get the feeling that he is building. He has moments, but he is yet to really have that kind of game where he just tears it apart. His attack on the footy is very good, and once he gets it, he looks lively. It just has not all fallen into place yet.

And maybe that’s a positive as well. Sitting 8-2 with Gray not being blindingly good, and his heir apparent a little down as well… the only way is up.

 

IF YOU COULD CHOOSE ONE PLAYER TO KICK INSIDE 50 FROM PORT, WHO WOULD IT BE?

I’d choose Karl Amon.

He hits the footy to the right spot time and time again. Modern footy is a congested mess at times and you need to give your forwards every chance to get a run and jump at it. We’ve seen so many players drop it right on the goal line, giving their forwards no chance, or they have a ping themselves.

Karl Amon puts it right where blokes like Charlie Dixon want it.

Interestingly, in the third quarter I saw Amon kick the ball inside 50 twice in a few minutes. Champion Data has him listed as having one inside 50 for the quarter. I don’t trust them at all.

 

SHOULD THE DOGS THROW JASON JOHANNISEN ONTO THE WING?

It’s worth a shot. You still get that electrifying run and carry if you can get the footy to him, but teams are so wary of him running off half back now that they sit on him and don’t allow him the clean air to get motoring.

His turnovers in this one were incredibly costly. One in the first quarter resulted in a goal to Robbie Gray, and the Port star was the beneficiary of a JJ turnover in the third quarter as well. I reckon Robbie might owe him a coffee.

When you think that the margin was just 13 points, how important are those turnovers in the grand scheme of things? Maybe it’s time to get creative with Johannisen.

 

HOW MUCH POTENTIAL DOES LAITHAM VANDERMEER HAVE?

Plenty. He is doing the hard stuff inside 50 to get shots at goal, and up until this week, he has hit the scoreboard, however with 0.4 for the game I am sure some people will have a bit of a go at him.

He’ll have the occasional weeks where he misses the mark, but for the season he has been a consistent goal kicker and a real find for the Dogs. There is no way I would entertain removing him from this side for a while yet.

 

OTHER BITS

 

How great was the Duursma mark with the flight of the ball. Not only was it incredibly courageous, but it was exactly the sort of thing to kick start Duursma, who hasn’t had that great run and carry since returning from his hamstring injury.

Doing your hammy at a young age is a sobering moment. It shows you’re not invincible, and it might be taking a little bit of time for Duursma to regain full faith in his body.

 

I felt for old “Splinter Dick” Woodcock, having his first shot at goal overturned by the score review. Yeah, it was the right call, but the sense of theatre… these review guys don’t have it.

Really quiet night for Trav Boak – uncharacteristically so. I was waiting for him to have one of those quarters where he restores the equilibrium in his game, but it just didn’t happen.

The Dogs couldn’t really free up Caleb Daniel to work his creative magic in this game. I’ve been really impressed with him in recent weeks, but without the space to work in, he became just another Dog unable to find opportunities inside to be creative. He still ran at 94% efficiency, but he didn’t hurt like he normally does.

I like Ed Richards, but I like Rhylee West more from what I’ve seen. Maybe the addition of West to this team would allow Macrae to drift more to the outside and take that wing role Richards occupies and does very little with?

How much better is it having one captain at Port? Tom Jonas just plays like a leader. He reminds me of the way Darren Glass played at West Coast when he was captain. Quiet, unassuming and BAM, he’ll spoil the shit out of anything that comes his way. He gets great support from Clurey, but there is so much to like about the way Jonas leads this team. After an error, Port have corrected it beautifully.

A lot was spoken about regarding the contested marking. At three quarter time, the numbers were a staggering 18-1 in Port’s favour. The Dogs took five in the last quarter – too little, too late.

 

Righto, that’ll do me. The Power get a mouth-watering Saturday twilight clash against the Tigers next. This is a marquee matchup and I wish we could have had a full house to witness it.

The Dogs lick their wounds, and maybe other parts of their body (I’m so envious that dogs can do that!) and square off against the Brisbane Lions. This has the potential to make or break the Doggies’ season. It becomes a must-win, and a must-watch contest.

 

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