Adelaide Oval was bathed in sunshine, providing a beautiful backdrop for a Saturday afternoon special, with ladder leading Port Adelaide hosting a Sydney Swans outfit undergoing a complete regeneration. For the casual football follower, this may have been one match to skip over given the space between the two teams on the ladder. However, this was an entertaining contest from start to finish. While for most of the game it looked like only one team was ever going to emerge with the four points, both sides came to play, and although not the most important game 2020 will ever see, Port Adelaide did enough to keep a determined Sydney at bay.
Here is the Mongrel’s review of the Power’s 26 point triumph over the plucky Swans.
THE BACK STORY
This Port Adelaide team has taken it all before them in season 2020, but despite maintaining a stranglehold on the minor premiership, many pundits don’t rate them as being as big a flag threat as other teams below them. Relying on their contested marking, and King Charlie dominating up forward, the Power have look shaky at times this year, especially when Dixon is blanketed. Putting that aside, the Power are still the ladder leaders just need to keep winning to ensure they get two home finals. Given that South Australia can still host football matches, Port can put themselves in a very good position should it earn the right to play finals at Adelaide Oval.
Their opponents today are on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. After playing in September year after year, the Swans plummeted down the ladder in season 2019. Realising that their list needed to be completely rejuvenated, Sydney has given opportunities to many of its youngsters, and the fruits of their labour are starting to bloom. Ruling Lance Franklin out for the rest of the season, the Swans are simply playing out the year, trialling players in different positions to see what they can do, and are setting themselves for another chance at the draft to further replenish its stable of young talent.
The first quarter started blisteringly from a Port Adelaide perspective, and the Power were up and about after Cam Sutcliffe took the advantage from a Robbie Gray free kick. From there it was all Port Adelaide, with Gray and Charlie Dixon making life difficult for Sydney’s defenders. For all their dominance however, Port couldn’t put enough scoreboard pressure on the Swans, who managed to hang in the contest despite having far less of the ball. Midway through the quarter, and my heart nearly came out of my chest, after my favourite player Zak Butters collapsed in a heap seemingly from nowhere. How it happened I’m still trying to figure out, but his toughness to play on after hyperextending his knee epitomises Port Adelaide in season 2020. The Power were dominant all over the ground, and deserved a bigger lead than the eight points they went into quarter time with after a Jordan Dawson major right on the siren.
Ken Hinkley would’ve been impressed with his charges in the first quarter, but no doubt demanded more. The Power responded to the message and produced a quarter of sustained brilliance all over the ground. Kicking four goals straight, Port Adelaide did what any ladder leading team would do, and that is kill a weaker opponent with pressure and precision. Not only did the Power put the Swans to the sword on the scoreboard, but their collective defensive work was brilliant, and they managed to keep Sydney scoreless, despite the inside 50 count being relatively close (12-9 in the Power’s favour). Setting up swiftly behind the ball, Port’s defenders were ready and waiting every time Sydney went forward, cutting off Swan forward thrusts and cutting through their pressure to launch attack after attack. Around the ball, Port’s midfield took the game completely away from the Swans, winning 30 clearances to ten to set up the forwards with ample good ball.
At half time it was John Longmire’s turn to demand more from his players, and again a team responded to its coach’s pleas. Sydney’s pressure rose, and along with some shrewd magnet moving from Horse, the Swans dragged themselves back into the game. For all the praise the Swans deserve for pulling themselves back into the fire, Port Adelaide shot themselves in the foot by simply not working hard enough. Too many senior players had no impact, which allowed Sydney to control the movement of the ball. The stats were damning for Port Adelaide, and the big stats of contested possessions, clearances and inside 50s all went the Swans way after Power domination in the first half. Sydney were down 83-46 in contested possession, but won the quarter by five; won five more clearances after being down by 20 in the first half, and put more ball inside 50 than the Power after losing the count 23-18.
Callum Sinclair was moved to full forward, which in turn helped Sam Reid in the air, and Aliir Aliir was effective in the ruck. Tom McCartin also found himself with a new role in the third term, playing as an intercepting centre half back. Taking four intercept marks, McCartin had control of the air and with Melican keeping Dixon out of it, was able to rebound superbly. Sydney had all the momentum, and a goal to Nick Blakey on the siren left the Swans only three goals in arrears heading into the final stanza. More issues occurred for the Power, with Brad Ebert clashing heads with Jackson Thurlow. It left the tough as nails Ebert with a giant egg on his face, but amazingly, Ebert returned to the field in the last quarter.
The Power needed a spark to kill off their opponents, and through Charlie Dixon’s power, Port got the goal they so desperately needed. What did not happen however, was the death of the Swans, who just kept on coming. Dominating the first half of the quarter with sheer work rate, Sydney generated scoring opportunities and spent the bulk of the quarter inside their forward half (at one stage the time in forward half stat read 86% to 14% Sydney’s way). Try as they might, Sydney could just never get close enough, and Port Adelaide’s defence held strong. It would take a special effort for the Swans to finally be killed off, and of course it was Zak Butters, whose dribbling goal whilst being tackled iced the game for the Power and took them back to the top of the ladder.
THE PLAYERS OF THE MATCH
It was almost the tale of two cities. Both of Sydney’s ends were undermanned, and as such, Port Adelaide’s dominance inside both 50 metre arcs shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Let’s start in the Power’s defence, and it was another unsurprising performance from the much vaunted back six. Everyone played their roles magnificently, but the players most deserving of praise are Darcy Byrne-Jones, Tom Jonas and Hamish Hartlett. As captain, Jonas was the leader, and despite having the least possessions on the field, he ensured that the Power’s defenders were always set up exactly as they needed to be. Amazingly, Jonas recorded the ridiculous stat of -13 metres gained. Yes, that’s minus 13. Byrne-Jones and Hartlett were the two rebounders, and each was vital in setting up Port’s forward thrusts. Byrne-Jones also played a stopping role, which limited his numbers somewhat, but he was still very good in his 100th appearance. Hartlett was the better of the two, his 20 disposals penetrated Sydney’s team defence superbly. He also took six marks and sent the ball inside 50 four times. Hartlett’s only blemish came in the final quarter, with an errant kick that could’ve been gobbled up by as many as four Swans, and he is very lucky it didn’t cost his team a goal. From a Swans perspective, it proved difficult to judge their forward line as no one player really stood out, although each had their own noteworthy moments. Sam Reid was the pick of the bunch with two goals, but aside from Callum Sinclair at times, Reid did not have a lot of help when the ball was in the air.
The middle of the ground was more even, but even though the disposals were very close (321 to 314), the Power registered 20 more clearances than their Swan counterparts. Luke Parker led the Swans for clearances with four, but the Power had six players with four or more. Tom Rockliff collected seven to go with 24 possessions, Ollie Wines had six in his 22, and Sam Powell-Pepper had five in his 20 (although he did drop off after a barnstorming first quarter). Karl Amon was up to his usual tricks on the wing, and his work in tandem with Hartlett was brilliant. Collecting 18 disposals, Amon ran all day, and sent the ball inside 50 five times, usually hitting up Charlie Dixon.
Looking at the skyscrapers, and it was a very even battle, but there was a feeling that Scott Lycett would’ve benefitted from having Peter Ladhams in the side. Callum Sinclair just gets the points due to his work when moved forward, but Port’s midfield read the ruck taps better than the Swans. From a Sydney perspective, the aforementioned Parker and Josh Kennedy were effective, with Parker’s four clearances and 12 contested possessions both team highs, and Kennedy gathering 28 disposals and five score involvements. The Swan that deserves the most praise however is Ryan Clarke, who was equal parts smooth moving and hard-nosed grunt. Gathering 20 possessions (at an elite 85% efficiency), Clarke also amassed team highs in score involvements (six), and inside 50s (seven).
As previously stated, the Swans are hideously undermanned, and without Dane Rampe, the task of stopping Dixon and his men is virtually impossible. Let’s quickly talk about the Swans, who battled hard under the enormous pressure. Jake Lloyd was again brilliant with ball in hand, gathering 31 touches streaming out of defence. Registering four score involvements, seven marks and six defensive rebounds, Lloyd has once again put forward a strong case to be selected in the All Australian team come season’s end. Lewis Melican fought hard and wasn’t helped by his teammates further afield, but he managed to keep Dixon and co. somewhat under control, despite the score that Port’s forwards were able to generate.
Speaking of Port Adelaide forwards, Robbie Gray was the clear best on ground. Amassing a team high 27 disposals (going at 81%), Gray snagged two goals in the first quarter, despite only having seven kicks for the day. Charlie Dixon returned to form with four goals and reminded the competition that it isn’t all about Tom Hawkins this year, and Xavier Duursma returned to the team and had a very good comeback, with 20 touches, five score involvements, four marks, four clearances, five inside 50s and four defensive rebounds in a complete performance. Of course, this is a Port Adelaide review, so I can’t go on without talking about Zak Butters. As the new president of his fan club (sorry Mr. and Mrs. Butters, but he’s mine now), I was very impressed with Butters’ toughness after the incident in the first quarter. Playing out the game despite looking uncomfortable at times, Butters clean ball use was a highlight throughout, and he is quickly becoming the best of the Power’s young trio.
THE NERVOUS MEN
This section is always tough. Port Adelaide were the victors and therefore every player should feel nervous about facing the axe. Conversely, the players that don’t always have the most impact tend to be the younger brigade, and in Sydney’s case, these are exactly the players that need to be persisted with.
For the losing Swans, five players in particular will go on to have far better games than they produced today, but mainly because each one hasn’t reached their absolute prime yet. Tom Papley always threatened, but for a player of his talent and standing in the game, Papley didn’t have his usual impact. Nick Blakey too has produced better performances, and his only real impact was the goal on the three quarter time siren. Despite both gathering 15 touches, both turned the ball over far too often, and each only went at 40% efficiency. James Bell was perhaps the most ineffective Swan, with just six possessions, just two being effective.
For the victors, a returning Todd Marshall and Riley Bonner would love their time over again, with both gathering less than 10 touches. Bonner wasn’t needed as much with Hartlett stepping up, but with Houston on the way back, Bonner can’t be putting up too many averages performances otherwise his place in the team will be under threat. Marshall too had minimal impact but with Dixon dominating it wasn’t as noticeable. Gathering just seven touches, Marshall only three effective possessions, and if Ladhams comes straight back into the team, it may be at the expense of Marshall.
It was a match that reached the typical conclusion, and Port did what it needed to do in beating an inferior opponent. It wasn’t enough to satisfy those that still doubt the Power and in reality those doubters will only subside when Port beats a contender and beats them convincingly. The Swans are limping to the line and simply counting down the weeks until their injury riddled 2020 is behind them. But this was about Port Adelaide. There are still areas of the Power’s game that need to be worked on, and their reliance on Charlie Dixon needs to be dialled back, but the Power have enjoyed a stellar 2020. Dan Houston and Peter Ladhams’ COVID breach was astoundingly stupid and an untimely setback, but if the team can recover, they are still on track to claim their second flag.
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