In a season where everything has been consistently turned on its head, Port Adelaide provided the one form of status quo we desired.

Whilst other team rose and fall around them… or under them, more to the point, the Power sustained a level of high-quality football, going from start to finish on top of the AFL ladder. It’s quite an accomplishment for a team that didn’t qualify for finals in 2019, and in defeating Collingwood in a tough encounter, they have sounded a warning to the rest of the competition.

Do not take this team lightly.

Because that’s what the competition has done to date. They’ve waited for Port to fall over, and they’ll continue to wait as we head into the finals in a couple of weeks. They’ll ponder how Geelong can/will/might beat the Power. They’ll reflect on Tom Clurey being stuck alone on Hawkins Island without Tom Jonas coming across to help. They’ll look for reasons to continue to undersell what Port have been able to do in 2020.

And I sincerely hope it comes back to bite them.

Port have remained on top of the ladder all season for a very good reason – they’ve been the best  team all season.

And when they were challenged in this game, they responded as such.

Here are The Mongrel’s Big Questions stemming from Port Adelaide’s win over Collingwood.

 

DID WE JUST SEE THE KEY TO PORT WINNING THE FLAG?

I mentioned above the isolation of Tom Clurey on Tom Hawkins the last time the Cats and Power tangled.

Do you really think we are going to see this again in the first week of the 2020 finals series? If we do, you can personally drag Ken Hinkley out into the middle of Adelaide Oval and spank him.

He may like it.

However, when you look back at the Cats’ demolition job on Port, the questions leaps out – why didn’t Tom Jonas jump across and take on the man that would go on to win the Coleman this season? It made sense, right? Clurey was copping a hiding, yet Jonas was held off.

But he went to the best forward tonight, and he shut Jordan de Goey down.

The Collingwood spearhead was coming off nine goals in his last two games, but against Jonas, was rendered relatively useless. De Goey finished with seven touches and one goal – that coming courtesy of some Scott Pendlebury brilliance through the middle, but Jonas owned the contest against him. De Goey rarely looked dangerous, with the lift doors closing on him as soon as he took possession of the footy, and Jonas wearing him like a second skin in aerial duels.

The numbers do Jonas no justice in this one, but what we should be doing is looking at his opponent’s output prior to tonight and what he was able to conjure against the Port Adelaide leader.

Many will look to Dan Houston, Tom Rockliff, Robbie Gray and company when discussing the best players on the park, but when you have a player holding the biggest goal scoring threat on the opposition to just seven touches, it would be remiss of you not to include Jonas in the equation.

And when Port faces the Cats in the first week of finals, I reckon you might see him go straight to Tom Hawkins, and plant himself square in the middle of that island they’re always talking about.

 

HOW LITTLE DO NINE TOUCHES TELL OF THE SAM POWELL-PEPPER STORY IN THIS GAME?

Oh man, this guy is a joy to watch.

At one point there was a loose ball at half forward and he put his head down, put the big ones in and ran straight at it. Coming the other way was Darcy Moore and I genuinely feared for a second that a) Powell-Pepper was going to kill Moore, and b) be suspended for it.

Luckily, the collision was offset somewhat by both players bracing and keeping their intent on the footy, but if there was one bloke coming the other way with a contested ball on the line, I would have to have to back myself against SPP.

He provided the heavy work for the Power in this game, using that body as a battering ram to win the footy for his team. Physical clashes with John Noble, Taylor Adams and a number of others saw the ball go from a likely Magpie possession to in dispute in no time, flat.

Nine disposals does his contribution no justice at all. It was the little things he did that mattered. The contests that he split and the tackles that he stuck. With 23 pressure acts, SPP proved his value to this team, and in the process had his teammates walking taller.

He is a huge asset heading into finals.

 

SHOULD THE PIES HAVE STUCK WITH CALLUM BROWN INSTEAD OF JAIDYN STEPHENSON?

I don’t like kicking a bloke when he’s down, but that first half from Jaidyn Stephenson was an absolute nightmare for the former Rising Star winner. This was real “deer in the headlights” stuff from Stephenson, who looks anything but the confident, quick and elusive forward he was in his first season and a bit in the league.

Suffering from glandular fever before this season, he has been unable to recapture the form or fitness that made him such a threat earlier in his career – it seems so strange to say “earlier in his career” when we’re still so early in his career!

Sitting on the sidelines for this game was Callum Brown, who may have made a bit of a difference to the Magpies outfit. Where Stephenson simply froze when contact was imminent, Brown is the type of player that loves to duck, weave and squeeze his way out of tight spaces. Yeah, sometimes he tries to do a little too much, but at least he’s trying something!

Stephenson improved after half time, but let’s be honest – he could not have got much worse. I reckon Cal Brown would have been watching this game with interest, knowing that after the first half, he will walk back into this side for the Elimination Final against West Coast, and have the chance to make a name for himself in finals.

Stephenson had his chance to secure that spot today, and he was unable to.

 

COULD THE DARCY BYRNE-JONES AND DAN HOUSTON COMBINATION PROPEL PORT PAST GEELONG?

They performed at their optimum in this game, with Houston playing one of the best defensive games of his career.

At one point it seemed as though the Collingwood midfielders were picking Houston out. Six of his eight intercept marks came in the first half, and he was looking on track to register the single-highest game of the season in that category. However a couple of difficult spills mean he will have to share it with… someone. Maybe I’ll update who that is, maybe I won’t.

He finished with 14 intercept possessions and added 23 disposals as he once again provided Port and Ken Hinkley with the absolute luxury of playing him off half back.

Houston was accompanied by the get-and-go brilliance of Darcy Byrne-Jones, who gathered his standard 20 touches and added seven intercepts of his own.

I know I am talking a bit about Geelong here, but this is all relevant now – they have some very good intercepting, running half backs of their own. Tom Stewart and Zach Tuohy have the potential to tear a game open, and a huge factor in this finals matchup will be whether the Geelong half backs or the Port half backs are able to get on top and control the footy.

Houston and DBJ have slightly more composure than their Cat-counterparts (due mainly to Tuohy being a little more run-and-gun) but if it gets down and dirty, I’d back the Cat pair.

How this defence v defence duel plays out will be riveting. Port were unbelievably good in this one, and it was the support efforts from players like Jarrod Lienert that made them so good. So it is with Geelong – players like Mark O’Connor and Jed Bews can become vital.

As good as some of the forwards and mids are, this game will be decided by how good the defences are. And Port will need Houston and Byrne-Jones providing more of what they did tonight to see them get over Geelong.

 

IS TOM ROCKLIFF BUILT FOR FINALS FOOTY?

Well, we really don’t know yet, do we?

Rocky is about to write a page of his own history against the Cats. Coming from a Brisbane team that was weak at the time, and joining Port when they were not firing on all cylinders, Rockliff’s AFL journey has not been a successful one.

Until now.

With the chance to strut his stuff in his first-ever AFL finals appearance, Rockliff is playing inspired football. With Port’s midfield strength such a huge part of their arsenal, Rockliff just registered his third-straight 30+ disposal performance, but those numbers are not the ones that are jumping out at me.

In the past three games, he has notched 25 clearances and lay18 tackles. He has added 30 contested touches and his bullocking work in the contest has complemented the hard-at-it nature of Travis Boak and Ollie Wines. Make no mistake, Rocky is a driven man this season – he sees what is possible with this Power team, and it is something that has eluded him for his 12 seasons in the league.

The young Port players should be taking a look at Rockliff, listening to him and coming to understand just how important playing finals is. For some, it just doesn’t happen. They play ten years in the league, are gone and their team is languishing mid-table or worse, and they’re left wondering what happened to the AFL dream.

Rockliff is now in a position to live his AFL dream. There was a period where it looked as though he may never achieve finals success, but with a double chance, and some of his best footy in Port colours over the past few weeks, the former Lion is ready to unleash everything he has.

 

COULD MASON COX PINCH A GAME IN THE WEST?

He certainly looks as though he is rounding into form, and with a couple of excellent grabs in what were slightly slippery conditions (not bad for a Brisbane game), I am looking forward to see what he’s capable of with a dry footy.

It looks as though Jeremy McGovern won’t be able to get back until the second week of the finals, and if that is the case, it’ll be up to Tom Barrass and Will Schofield to lock down the big man. If he can clunk a few marks, as he did in this one, we may see the Eagles defence go into a bit of a panic.

Cox has been maligned since showing what he was capable of against the Tigers that one great day in 2018. It’s been a long while since then, and much has changed, however if he can reproduce a game even similar to that day against Richmond, the Pies would be up and about.

His five contested grabs in this one were a season-high, and with nine big contested grabs in the past two games, maybe he is warming up to something big?

 

HOW GOOD WAS PENDLES IN HIS MILESTONE GAME?

He’s a classy unit, isn’t he? Just always looks composed and balanced with the footy, and brings his teammates into the game with ease.

I love watching Scott Pendlebury play, and as he passed Tony Shaw as the Collingwood player with the most V/AFL games in history, you get the feeling that he has plenty left in the tank.

To get an indication as to his influence, you need to look in one area in particular – score involvements. The Pies only scored ten times in this game; five of them had Scott Pendlebury involved. If we drill down a little more, the Pies kicked just seven goals for the game – Pendlebury directly assisted on three of them.

He is a maestro with the ball in hand, a star of the “biggest club in the land”* and he continues to play footy at the highest level, making it look easy in the process.

In my view, he is the greatest Magpie of the modern era, but I’ll leave it to those who have seen more to state whether he is the greatest Magpie of all time. He’s still got a bit in the tank.

 

DO YOU PLAY TODD MARSHALL OR JUSTIN WESTHOFF IN THE FIRST FINAL?

There are reasons coaches get paid the big bucks and internet footy writers get paid so little. Calls like this are one of them.

There is a heap of sentiment around the career of Justin Westhoff – I have to admit, I want to see him get another chance to end on a high note. I want Ken Hinkley to look across at the bearded, gangly-looking bloke, wink at him and give him another shot, but in order to do that, it would have to be at the expense of Todd Marshall.

Is that something that is on the table? Or is Mitch Georgiades the preferred option over both blokes?

Marshall had the unenviable job of squaring off against in-form defender, Darcy Moore in this game. As expected, he was soundly beaten, registering just six touches for the evening. He did snag a very important goal in the last quarter to add some stability to the Power, but on the whole, it was a less than convincing outing.

Do you stick with Marshall, whose story is a great one, itself? Do you place your faith in a club legend to rise to the occasion and make a difference in a huge final? Or do you bypass them both and bring in a guy with springs in his feet in the hopes he has his breakout game on the huge stage?

Ken Hinkley will be weighing things up over the next ten or so days as his club gets themselves ready for a fully-fledged assault on the flag. What do you say, Port fans… does The ‘Hoff deserve one last shot? Can he conjure something special and help propel the Power onto further greatness?

Or has his time passed?

 

CAN ROBBIE TURN IT ON IN OCTOBER?

He’s been building the last month or so, hasn’t he? Just honing those skills, sharpening up those in-tight handballs and reflex gives to teammates. His hands look cleaner, and his ability to hit the pack and win his own footy seems to be back to close to his best.

With finals looming, Robbie Gray looks set to burst back onto the national stage and remind those who may have forgotten about him just how brilliant he can be.

He notched another 25 touches in this one, complete with an impressive seven clearances as he darted around the packs and lost his opponent in the process time and time again. This is the fourth time in the last five games he has notched 20+ touches and though he didn’t hit the scoreboard this week, he did provide a nice little goal assist to am Powell-Pepper.

We’re not seeing the Robbie Gray that kicked four in a quarter in a Showdown. We’re not seeing the guy who won the AFLCA Player of the Year award back in 2014. BUT… what we are seeing is a veteran who realises that this is a golden opportunity to make an indelible mark on this football club.

Gray is a champion of Port Adelaide already. When they look back on his career and see the three best and fairest awards, the five Showdown medals and the four All-Australian selections, they’ll know that Robbie Gray is an all-time great…

… but add in some finals accolades and it elevates him even further. I’m looking forward to seeing what Finals-Robbie can conjure, and if he can inspire the debut of Finals-Connor as well, that’d be a bonus.

 

CAN THE PIES BOUNCE BACK FROM HERE?

Look, I wouldn’t say anything is out of the question in this weird season, but heading to Western Australia and facing the Eagles on their home deck is a monumental task. They’re without Steele Sidebottom, have ruled out the return of Jeremy Howe and have a few players down on their best…

… but it would be a famous win.

The Pies went over there in 2018 and gave the Eagles a scare. Of course, that result was closer weeks later in a ripping Grand Final, but there would be some belief in this Magpie outfit heading to Perth. Without McGovern, and perhaps facing an underdone Shuey and Yeo, maybe they feel they could get hold of the Eagles and sent them tumbling out of the race.

It’ll take something incredibly special, but this is the AFL Finals, and it is the place where the extraordinary can sometimes happen.

 

ARE THERE ANY HINKLEY HATERS LEFT?

They’d be pretty quiet right about now, but you just know they’re hiding away, waiting for something to go wrong so the knives come out.

But as it stands, how can you fault what this bloke has done in such an important season for the club? In the 150th year of Port Adelaide, he has taken this team to the top of the ladder and kept them there for the whole season. It has been a masterful display from the Port coach, and though people have been throwing around other names for the coach of the year award, there is no question in my mind that it should go to Hinkley.

He came into this season knowing his job was on the line. It was finals or bust, according to many. Well, he has exceeded the loftiest expectations in the home and away season – now it’s time to ram home just how good he, and this team are.

My team is gone, and has been for a couple of months. If there is one team I want to see win it all, it’s Port. I want to see it for Rockliff. I want to see it for Boak. I want to see it for Jonas and Robbie Gray. But most of all, I want to see it for Ken Hinkley so he can look a few reporters right in the eye and say with his eyes what he cannot say with his words.

Go Port.

 

ANY QUICK BITS FOR US, YOU OLD MONGREL?

Yep. I’m really not liking how quick on the trigger the umpires are in awarding downfield free kicks for lunging tackle attempts as a player disposes of the footy. We’re talking a split-second between the ball hitting the boot and the tackler making contact. In some cases, the tackle is impacting the kick and the umps are still awarding the kick downfield. It’s soft – stop it.

I really hope Port do not add Orazio Fantasia to this team in 2021. I know he flirted with Port last off-season before running back to Essendon, but he wants out this season and has been a disaster for the Bombers recently. Steer clear.

Loving that Zak Butters is back for finals. Both myself and fellow-Mongrel, Matt Oman love the way he goes about it and when the pressure is dialled up in finals, having his clean hands and no-bullshit attack on the footy will be vital.

I have really liked what I’ve seen from Isaac Quaynor over the last month. there were a few who jumped up and down when Lachie Sholl was snubbed for the Rising Star award, but I watched Quaynor’s game that week, and he was excellent. the Pies have really found one here.

I’m submitting my AA team for The Mongrel Team’s combined All-Australian side. I’m opting for Darcy Moore over Jacob Weitering. I just feel he’s been both great defensively and has offered the run out of defence Weitering hasn’t. Plus, I am not sure Jordan Roughead does the same amount of heavy lifting for Moore than Liam Jones does for Weitering.

 

And that’ll do me. Be proud, Power fans. This was a great win to cap a great season. And hopefully, great things await in the finals.

 

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