Another week, another four points for Port Adelaide.

And another week where the “experts” claim the team that has not moved from the top of the ladder is a rung below teams below them.

Yep, it has been a strange season.

Essendon threw the challenge down to the Power in the first quarter and in the second, Port Adelaide answered emphatically. With a five-goal blast, the Power stuck the plucky Bombers back in their box as the midfield started working and the stars up forward started to shine.

As the rain started to tumble, Port’s hardness and work ethic came to the fore. Tom Rockliff and Ollie Wines provided the grunt in the slippery conditions, whilst Travis Boak, Karl Amon and Connor Rozee provided the class.

Charlie Dixon looked like a monster early in the piece, but the wet conditions impacted his game in the second half.

Tempers frayed toward the end of the game, with Jake Stringer and Jacob Townsend starting to throw their weight around, but they were throwing cream puffs at the town hall by that stage. Port had already stepped on, and stepped past the Bombers, relegating Essendon to another season without success whilst all but cementing the top spot on the ladder one week from the conclusion of the home and away season.

The Mongrel has the big questions stemming from the Power’s 50 point win.

 

IF A GAME IS PLAYED IN THE WET, DO TOM ROCKLIFF’S EYES LIGHT UP?

Any Seinfeld fans out there?

If so, read on. If not, skip the next paragraph or two.

Remember when Kramer was on a train eavesdropping on a couple of blokes talking about a horse who just loves the slop? Loves it! The horse was a mudder. His mother was a mudder, and he was going to win this race in the slop without question.

Well, Kramer went and put a bet on and damn it… the horse loved the slop and won.

Remind me to check the radar next time Port play, and if it is going to be wet, throwing a few bucks on Tom Rockliff to pick up on the most touches on the ground could be a very wise bet.

Rockliff was in his element this afternoon, displaying his penchant for winning the footy in slippery conditions and bringing his teammates into the play around him. Never blessed with elite pace, Rockliff excels when those around him are forced to double grab, or can’t shoot off quick-fire handballs. If they have to hold the ball for longer than they usually would to make sure of the possession, Rockliff is on them like Joe Ganino on stray cigarette butts.

He lives for games like this, and loves nothing more than throwing his big body into the way to create space for a teammate and take an opponent out on the process.

 

AND HE IS NOT ALONE IN THAT REGARD, IS HE?

No, not by a long shot.

Port are blessed with three midfielders who are exceptionally strong in the contest. Boak is the perfect inside/outside player, Ollie Wines is a beast in close, and Rockliff loves the contested type of game where his physicality can be put to best use. Against a team that struggles to find someone who relishes the in-and-under kind of footy that was required in this one, the Port mids were always going to have a field day.

And they did.

With 85 touches of the footy between them, the Port trio of midfield bulls were too much to handle for an Essendon midfield with an abundance of players more suited to outside roles. I’ve written about it before and will touch on it below, but the Bombers desperately need someone who likes to win the footy at the coal face. For too long they’ve relied on those who will do it, but do not enjoy it at all.

When they’re up against Players like Rockliff, Boak and Wines, it becomes painfully apparent that they don’t have the one player who will take the responsibility of matching it head-to-head with the real big boys of the AFL midfield.

 

HOW MUCH BETTER CAN ROBBIE GRAY GET HEADING INTO FINALS?

Oooooh, he is close to doing some unbelievable things again. Can you feel it? Did you see a couple of glimpses today?

Keeping the footy in as everyone else stopped in the first quarter and finding Karl Amon for a shot at goal.

The goal on the run after the perfect front and centre at the feet of Charlie Dixon.

The brilliant tap on to set up the Travis Boak goal in the last quarter.

Robbie Gray is capable of taking over a game. he has done it before and Port fans would like to think he is capable of doing it again, but he doesn’t have to be the most dominant player on the park to have a significant impact as part of this team. He can just be Robbie Gray doing the occasional Robbie Gray things that both bring his teammates into the contest and break the game open simultaneously.

His last three games have produced  20.66 touches and 1.33 goals and a great combination of 8.3 score assists, including a goal assist per game as well.

Guys, a Port Adelaide team with Robbie Gray firing is something people haven’t really had to deal with in 2020. A couple of years ago, Gray was tearing teams to pieces, but with players like Connor Rozee and Zak Butters (when he isn’t suspended) running around the forward half, he hasn’t had to do that. If he can turn it on for a four week finals run, Port could bring opponents to their knees.

He may not be as light on his feet as he was. His moves, whilst still elite, may not have the same zippy, herky-jerky movement that completely bamboozles an opponent, but this version of Robbie Gray has the potential to be the decisive factor in Port Adelaide’s push deep into finals.

If he continues on the path he is on right now, Robbie Gray could play the cameo that Port need to hold aloft their second cup.

 

IS SCOTT LYCETT THE PERFECT OPPONENT FOR YOUNG MR DRAPER?

I was watching these two closely this afternoon.

I am a big fan of Lycett. I love the look he’s got going at the moment – as though he is straight off a wanted poster in El Paso, Texas. I love that he is a physical big man who doesn’t mind mixing it up, and I love that his tank is extremely underrated. Even though he teamed with Peter Ladhams today, the workrate of Scott Lycett is fantastic.

And it is those reasons that I also enjoy watching Sam Draper. He loves mixing it up and will engage body-to-body at the drop of a hat.I felt as though this game was like the master against the apprentice.

And the master came out on top.

Lycett’s ability to push back into defence and play the role of disruptor aided his defence for most of the night. It took huge effort to continually get back to stand in the hole and force Joe Daniher to reconsider his leading options.

When he went into defence, he’d also take responsibility for Andrew Phillips, who played the majority of the game in attack, spelling Draper at times.

Lycett provided a huge presence in the back half and even decided to go for a bit of a run at one point – two bounces down the wing with the wet footy! It wasn’t quite Justin Madden-esque, but it wasn’t that far away, either.

Lycett is the sort of ruck that can make a difference in a final. He can match it with the biggest and baddest rucks the AFL has to offer. Against old teammate, Nic Naitanui, Lycett has the body strength to go with him at stoppages, and his follow up once the ball hits the deck may be able to limit the Eagle’s individual clearance impact. Against Brodie Grundy, Lycett has the capacity to go with him around the ground, and against teams without prominent rucks, Lycett goes into aggressive mode and takes the game on.

If conditions were a little better, we may have seen a little more of Peter Ladhams up forward, but as we’ll get to in a moment, perhaps playing two rucks was not the wisest move by either coach.

 

IS JAKE STRINGER ANYWHERE NEAR FIT?

When you’re a professional athlete that is not in great shape, there is probably one thing you don’t want to happen to you while you’re playing footy.

You don’t want your top pulled off.

Well, it happened to Jake Stringer in this one, and whilst I do not want to start having a crack at a bloke for not being in pristine shape, Stringer looked far from his peak. Given his recent form, it made me wonder how far off being actually fit he is.

Since returning in Round 13, Stringer has averaged just 5.2 touches of the footy per game. Equally as concerning, he is averaging 0.6 goals per game in those four contests. He is having a heap of trouble getting involved and tackle count indicates he is not playing much of a defensive role either.

That tackle count amounts to just one tackle in the last four games. Not averaging one tackle – one tackle in total.

It is no secret that when on, Stringer is a force to be reckoned with. He is elusive and an incredibly tough matchup given he can mark the footy and do damage at ground level, but right now I actually feel Essendon should put him in cotton wool, give him the time he needs to get right for 2021 and stop trotting him out there when it is apparent that he is not right.

Again, this is not a knock on Stringer – I want to see him at his best, but right now it seems as though that is a long way from being close to the case.

 

WAS IT A MISTAKE PLAYING ANDREW PHILLIPS AND SAM DRAPER TODAY?

Yeah, Andrew Phillips could have probably pulled up a bit sore in the warm up, been replaced, and had about the same impact he had anyway.

As I said above, I like Sam Draper and think he will be absolutely capable of carrying the Essendon ruck division for years to come. It is obvious why they were so put-out when St Kilda came knocking for him a while back – they see the oak tree in the acorn.

But two rucks on a day when showers were forecast seemed a bit of a dumb move. And when you look at the result – three touches of the footy for Phillips, I reckon they would have liked to have their time over again about half an hour before the bounce.

 

AND TO BE FAIR, WAS IT A MISTAKE PLAYING PETER LADHAMS AND SCOTT LYCETT THEN?

Look… , maybe, but to a much lesser extent. Here’s why.

I touched on what I like about Lycett above, and having him out there nullified Draper’s preference of pushing his opponent around at stoppages – pushing Lycett is like trying to nudge over a building. It doesn’t happen.

But the difference between Peter Ladhams and Andrew Phillips is what makes me think Ladhams’ inclusion wasn’t the same mistake that Essendon made with Phillips.

Ladhams can actually handle the footy. He has good hands both in the air and at ground level and whilst eight touches are nothing to write home about, his second efforts were good and his ability to make a contest as a hit up target elevated him above Phillips at the other end.

Whilst both Ladhams and Phillips were included to provide a second marking option up forward to draw heat away from Dixon and Daniher, the former worked better than the latter. Ladhams was of benefit to his team. I cannot say the same for Phillips.

Still not my preference, and if Ladhams had of limped off in the warm-up with a tight calf muscle and someone like Boyd Woodcock had taken his place, I would have nodded sagely.

 

IF HAMISH HARTLETT WASN’T A FOOTY PLAYER, COULD HE BE A GREAT FANTASY CHARACTER?

I bloody love this name. I could see him on horseback, riding to save a damsel in distress, wearing a Zorro mask (as opposed to the shitty masks I have to wear every time I leave the house) and sporting a rapier.

Yes, Hamish Hartlett is a banging name – fit for a character straight out of the fantasy genre.

But he is a footy player, and with the wet ball, he was one of the most composed players on the ground in this game. Whilst players hacked and fumbled all over the place in the wet, Hartlett remained composed and registered zero turnovers from his 17 disposals, running at 82% efficiency for the game.

He is one of the players that really flies under the radar for the Power and will hold them in good stead when the heat comes on in a few weeks’ time. His coolness under pressure and fearlessness in the contest have made Port a real force off half back, complementing the roles of Jonas, Clurey and McKenzie and freeing up Darcy Byrne-Jones to free-wheel a little more.

I’m really glad he has been able to get his body right after it being such an issue for so long.

 

DID WE SEE SIGNS FROM CONNOR ROZEE?

Oh yes, we did.

I spoke about Robbie Gray not having the same zing to his evasive movements that he once did. Whilst I still think he has it in him, if he believes they’ve been stolen, because the way Connor Rozee moves is like a Robbie Gray clone from about six or seven years ago.

He has that amazing little jerky sidestep that puts his opponent completely off-balance, but what I really liked in this one, particularly early, was Rozee’s pressure to keep the ball locked in  the forward half. He did some of the heazy work in contested situations to go in, secure the footy and farm it out.

Four of his five first-quarter disposal came in the contest and his 28 pressure acts give a good indication that his workrate is right where it should be – the rest will come along nicely soon enough.

Many speculated that if Port Adelaide were to take the next step, it would be Connor Rozee pushing them in that direction. He hasn’t been the one – it has been a collective effort of veterans and some other young players upping the ante, but Rozee still has the capacity to elevate this team to a new level.

As finals approach, Ken Hinkley would be very happy with what he saw from his young star in this game, and if not for a couple of errant shots at goal, we might be talking about just how good Rozee was in this game.

Maybe we’ll save that for finals, huh?

 

HOW MUCH OF A BLOW WOULD IT BE TO LOSE ADAM SAAD ON TOP OF THE MCKENNA LOSS?

I am on record as stating I don’t think the McKenna loss is that substantial. I honestly thought there was a ledger that needed to be squared with him every week whereby he would do two good things and you’d have to put up with one idiotic thing as well. He didn’t want to be there and being gone means the feeling around the team is automatically better.

But Saad… I am not sure how Essendon could replace a guy of his ability, legspeed and consistency.

In our weekly defensive rankings (and overall leaderboard), Saad is the only player that has challenged Jordan Ridley as the Bombers’ best defensive player, and he was right up there again this week in terms of his impact.

Saad produced 20 touches at 85% efficiency despite the conditions not being conducive to accurate disposals. He had six rebounds as he continually drove the Bombers out of trouble and had just one turnover for the game.

I fully expect the Bombers to re-sign Saad in the very near future. At 26 years old, he is at the peak of his powers right now, barely misses a beat and is worth the investment. If Essendon are looking to retool to contend, I would think Saad would have to be an integral part of any plans Ben Rutten has.

If not, then the Bombers’ loss will definitely be another team’s gain.

 

SPEAKING OF RUTTEN, HOW DISGUSTED WOULD HE BE WITH THE LACK OF ATTENTION TO DETAIL IN DEFENCE?

I’ll just highlight one point before getting back to Port.

We jump to the last quarter in a game your team is losing. It’s gone and the season is basically done. You learn a bit about your players in moments like this.

Charlie Dixon gathers and hits Robbie Gray lace out inside fifty. He holds and then pops it over the top to Motlop who marks  and then turns inboard to find Ollie Wines all alone on a better angle.

Three marks inside 50 uncontested in a row.

Guys, I have seen games where entire teams don’t take three marks inside fifty!

As a former All-Australian defender, that moment had to eat away at the core of who Rutten is as a person. As the coach in waiting, that would be vision I would tuck away and pull out to use at a later date. Completely unacceptable, irrespective of the score line. It showed a distinct lack of pride and effort, and when I reckon a few players are playing for their spot on the list next season, it gave the new coach plenty of ammo to show them the door.

 

HOW MUCH MONEY WOULD I HAVE TO PAY YOU TO STAND BETWEEN SAM POWELL-PEPPER AND THE FOOTY?

It’s a rhetorical question, of course, but you’d want to be compensated pretty bloody well.

SPP is an x-factor on this Port Adelaide team. He is the sort that can turn a game with just his physicality. There were several occasions where he threw himself into the contest today and it completely disrupted the play of the Bombers. He crashed into Saad in the first quarter and created a chance for Charlie Dixon to have a snap at goal without earning a stat for himself in the second as well.

SPP will always walk a fine line. There will be times when he doesn’t impact the play for a little too long and you start wondering where the hell he is, and there are other times when he is bouncing around like a pinball on speed and it looks as though the game is revolving around him.

The funny thing is, on a team like Essendon, SPP would be the perfect recruit. He is a pack scatterer at ground level and would make room for the Merretts and Shiels of this world to collect the footy a little easier. If there is one thing Port has an abundance of it is players that can stand up in traffic, and the way Powell-Pepper attacks the ball and the man, I would not want to be the one having to stand in his way.

 

And that’ll about do me. Another week – another win for Port. They are ticking along beautifully, and whilst Garry Lyon and Nick Riewoldt pontificate about other teams, I reckon Ken Hinkley and his boys would be pretty happy ticking over at the top of the table. It gives Hinkley a tremendous motivational tool to use to galvanise his team.

“They don’t believe is us!”

“Let’s show this group of blowhards what we can do!”

Port will have their opportunity to make some experts eat their words in a few weeks’ time, and I cannot wait to see how they respond.

 

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