You have to hand it to the Tigers.

Deep in hostile territory, playing the best side of the home and away season, and they pulled out what has to be one of the best wins the club has experienced in the modern era.

When you think about it, their winning finals in recent years have been big wins. They have destroyed teams in Grand Finals in 2017 and 2019. They gave GWS a belting in the 2017 prelim and ran over the top of the Cats in 2019, but this game – this was a knock-down, drag-out affair and it took every bit of guts and determination this team could muster to get the job done.

Port Adelaide were good, and would be rueing some early misses and opportunities that went begging, but in the end, the team that was hardest for longest came away with the win and moved into another Grand Final.

How good is this Richmond team?

They have the opportunity in a week’s time to put their name up alongside the Brisbane/Hawthorn/Geelong teams that everyone holds in such high esteem. They may not play pretty footy, but if you were to pick 22 blokes to go into a trench with you, you’d be hard-pressed looking past the team that Richmond puts on the field every week.

There is a mountain to get through in this one and I am just the man to get through it.

Let’s jump right into The Mongrel’s Big Questions.

 

HOW GOOD WAS TOBY NANKERVIS’ LAST QUARTER?

It was right off the top shelf in terms of Nankervis performances. It was warrior-like, it was reliable, it was gutsy and it was a mix of game-changing and game-saving.

Drifting back into defence, the big Nank took two huge intercept marks late in the game to relieve the pressure on the Tigers. Allowed to contest without a direct opponent, Nankervis ate up any long bomb from the port mids, who admittedly did their forwards no favours at all with their delivery in the last ten minutes.

Nank not only delivered in the air in the last quarter –his hard work at ground level continued. He led the game in tackles, with ten to his name – an outstanding effort from anyone on the park, let alone one of the biggest guys out there.

Whilst people were quick to praise Scott Lycett for his work prior to the last break, it was Nankervis who made the last quarter his own. With five possessions, nine hit-outs, four intercepts and one ripping tackle, it was the best quarter of footy from Nank all season.

And what a time to produce it!

And it leads me to my next question…

 

WHY WAS NANKERVIS ALLOWED TO ATTACK THE CONTESTS UNOPPOSED IN THE LAST QUARTER?

I am sure there are plenty of Port fans asking that question, given how influential Nankervis’ presence inside defensive fifty was for Richmond.

We cannot blame Scott Lycett for this – he had his instructions and he stuck to them. He was the man given the role of intercepting the release kick from the Richmond defence – he was part of the Port Adelaide wall, and as such was instructed not to follow Nankervis down to create even more congestion in the forward line.

Lycett stuck to his role, did okay, but in light of the impact Nankervis was able to have, I reckon Ken Hinkley would like his time over again on this decision. Lycett’s third quarter was excellent, but the thing about Nankervis is as follows.

He is not going to win a sprint, but at the end of the race he is going to be giving you exactly the same amount of effort as he was in the first five minutes. He is a workhorse – a complete competitive beast that refuses to relent. Sometimes you may get the better of him, but it is never, ever due to a lack of effort on Nank’s behalf.

Port Adelaide and Ken Hinkley made a decision to allow the big Tiger a free run at the contest inside defensive fifty. Not that it was the only thing that cost them the game, but it was certainly one of them.

 

CAN DUSTY WIN YET ANOTHER GARY AYRES MEDAL?

Had a chat with someone right after the game tonight – “yeah, Dusty was okay” was his response when I asked how he thought Martin went.

It’s amazing, isn’t it? Two goals, 21 touches and six score involvements from the midfield in a game that didn’t see players rack up huge stats (Wines led all players with just 24) and he played “okay”.

He is not judged in comparison to other players – more often than not he is judged on the amazing form he has already displayed.

Again in this game, it was Martin’s ability to get the ball inside 50 quickly and with penetration that put the Tigers in the position to score. Matched up with Darcy Byrne-Jones around the ground, Martin was able to out-muscle him inside 50 early, and create enough space at times to win possession.

Was DBJ giving Martin a little too much room at times? Yeah, probably, but it really seems at times that unless you have a genuine tagger who is exceptionally good at his job (de Boer/Jacobs) Dusty will just do what he does, irrespective of who plays on him.

In paying attention to Dusty, the Power lost a bit of Byrne-Jones’ run and carry, and though he was far from disgraced, is it fair to state that the net result was a loss for Port? Dusty’s stats are a bit off his best, but DBJ was well down on his regular output. Did Port lose too much by having DBJ tail Martin around the ground?

Regardless, Martin will probably feature in the top five Tigers yet again, and with two Norm Smith Medals and two Gary Ayres Medals already hanging up somewhere in the Martin residence, Dusty heads into next week’s Grand Final with the chance to do what nobody has ever done – win a third Norm Smith… and a third Gary Ayres medal.

I will have to wait on our player ratings and coaches votes to compile scores in our own Mongrel Player of the Finals Award (Hell, we may one day call it the Dustin Martin Award, the way he’s going) but I dare say this performance could see him hit the lead.

But he was just okay, remember?

 

DID TRAV BOAK LET HIMSELF DOWN A LITTLE IN THIS ONE?

Just a tad.

That shot at goal in the third quarter could have really given Port some momentum. I’m not sure he’s had a worse kick all season, but he picked a really bad time to unleash whatever that was.

I was pretty unimpressed with Boak’s delivery by foot all evening. Too many sprayed wide and gave his forwards little chance of making an impact. Whilst by no means disgraced, it was not one of his better games for the season and he just appeared unable to find enough space to execute properly.

On the occasions he did have a bit of space the implied pressure seemed to get to him and he uncharacteristically missed the target.

He still notched 20 touches, but I don’t think he would be too proud of his ball use in this one.

 

HOW DO WE RATE NOAH BALTA’S GAME?

Really highly.

I thought he was absolutely fantastic for the Tigers in not only matching Dixon in the air, but claiming some big one-on-one wins against him as well.

Putting this out there – at 20 years of age, Balta should not be able to out-muscle Dixon and take contested marks. But he did. Twice.

It is a cardinal sin for forwards to be out-marked. It renders your small forwards redundant and gives the defence an easy release from defence, but Dixon allowed Balta to beat him more times than he was actually able to beat his opponent. For me, that is a clear win to the defender.

Dixon did kick that beautiful long goal from just inside 50 early in the last quarter, but on the whole, Balta was supreme, using his body to spoil just as much as he did his fist. That Balta is doing this kind of stuff at 20 makes you wonder just how good he can be – we have already heard the comparisons to one of the best of the modern era – Rance – but there is a lot of water to flow under the bridge before we go giving him those kind of accolades.

Right now, he is a very good young defender and with either Tom Hawkins or one of Hipwood/McStay to contend with next week, Balta has the chance to really put his stamp on this season as the year he well and truly arrived on the scene.

 

DID PORT PLAY ONE BIG MAN TOO MANY?

Looking at the output of their talls, you’d have to say yes.

In wet conditions, you had Lycett who plays regardless of conditions. You have Dixon, who is in the same boat, but then you have the pair of Ladhams and Marshall, and I am not sure either one of them did enough to truly justify their spot.

Yes, Ladhams kicked a vital goal late in the piece, but he was atrocious in the contest early in the game and could not get his flailing limbs to do much of anything worthwhile. He handed the ball back to Richmond multiple times due to undisciplined free kicks and really didn’t have much of a say in proceedings.

The curious one is Todd Marshall. Had a nice little contested win in the first quarter to get the Power rolling to their first goal, but after four touches in the first, added just two for the rest of the game and was a complete non-factor.

It is quite sad that you had a guy who has played well in the wet before, on the sidelines and now in retirement. Justin Westhoff may have provided a little more than Marshall did – he may not have, too, but I doubt he would have provided less.

The Power could have done with another small out there tonight, and either of Ladhams/Marshall would have been an appropriate out.

 

WHY WOULD YOU NOT PLAY SOMEONE ON NICK VLASTUIN?

Hey, great question, mongrel.

Thanks mate.

From the opening minutes when Nick Vlastuin drifted in front of Charlie Dixon at half forward to take a chest mark, it became apparent that Ken Hinkley had opted not to play a defensive forward on Nick Vlastuin, despite the success of Brisbane’s Cam Rayner a couple of weeks ago.

Why, I cannot begin to tell you, as for me, Vlastuin is one of the most damaging half backs in the competition and when he is allowed to drift across and intercept inside 50 deliveries, the Tigers cut their opposition off at the knees.

And that’s exactly what happened in this one.

Despite Port players topping the list of interceptors for this game, it was Vlastuin’s ability to get back and secure the last line of defence that alleviated the pressure on Richmond at telling times throughout the game.

With nine intercepts amongst his 11 disposals, Vlastuin’s presence inside defensive fifty meant that Dixon/Marshall/Ladhams were going to have no easy time of it.

Looking at the Port forwards, I am having a hard time working out why someone like Steven Motlop would not be handed a job on Vlastuin. As I speculated in our last-minute preview, Motlop rarely plays two good games in succession – three is almost out of the question. He was coming off five goals in his last two games – a poor outing here was always on the cards. Why not deploy him as an agent of chaos to disrupt one of the keys to Richmond’s game?

It would be easy to call me Captain Hindsight here, but I was calling for this way before the game started – Motlop needed a role that didn’t involve attempting screamers with the wet footy and giving away free kicks. He needed something to sink his teeth into.

Instead, it was Vlastuin taking a bite out of the Power. And I think we all saw that coming.

 

WAS SHAI BOLTON THE BEST SMALL FORWARD ON THE PARK?

Now, this is an interesting one, because at the other end, you had Connor Rozee, who had a brilliant third quarter and kicked a couple of goals in a low-scoring affair, but the work of Bolton across half forward for the Tigers was excellent.

Earlier this season, we speculated as to what role Bolton would take on once Dion Prestia returned and the half forward line looked like the best fit – this game was the evidence of that. He was first to the footy on multiple occasions and was equal-leader for score involvements for the game.

Bolton’s herky-jerky change of direction and ability to draw the heat and dish to teammates enabled the Tigers to get some good looks at the big sticks all throughout the game. With Prestia vitally important in the last quarter with his ball-winning ability, Richmond now seem to have the mix just right at the exact right time of year.

Bolton as the floating half forward creates a world of problems. He is slick, evasive and incredibly difficult to bring down in a tackle. With the Grand Final in his future, he has the potential to be the standout forward again – I reckon he was two straight kicks away from being hailed as best on ground in this one.

 

WHO STOOD UP IN THE LAST QUARTER?

I touched on Dion Prestia in the section above, but I did not do him justice.

When the Tigers needed someone to win a clearance, Prestia stood tall. Racking up just 19 touches for the game, Prestia added seven of them in the tense last stanza – six of them were contested and four of them came in the way of clearances.

You could argue that Prestia hasn’t been at his best since his return, and nobody would dispute that, but the thing with this Richmond team – they have blokes who have moments. Tonight, Prestia had quite a few of them, and the last quarter was littered with the kind of Prestia moments that would warm the hearts of Tiger fans.

Unspectacular yet incredibly solid, the 2019 Best and Fairest’s ability to extract the footy and get things going his team’s way was one of the vital components in the Tigers’ win. After a trying, injury-affected season, Prestia found his feet in this game, and his return to form came at exactly the right time for his team.

Kane Lambert had a quiet one, but once again, it was moments that determined how his 2020 prelim performance will be remembered.

How he slotted that goal through a stampede of legs has still got me stumped. A centimetre either way and it touches either a Port defender or Jack Riewoldt as he headed toward goal. A little later, a deliberate free kick resulted in a beautiful curling kick round the body from Lambert to slot his second of the quarter and extend the Tiger lead.

It wasn’t quite “cometh the moment…” stuff, but it was just another indication of the myriad ways this Richmond team can hurt you.

Lambert just hurt Port in the worst possible way – on the scoreboard.

 

WHO STOOD DOWN IN THE LAST QUARTER?

I hate writing this after the third quarter he had, but Connor Rozee was virtually unsighted in the last quarter.

He looked like he could have been the game breaker in the third quarter, winning some very important contests and propelling Port forward, but Hinkley had him deep to start the last quarter and he found it difficult to get into the game again.

He had one touch in the last as the Tigers took control, and I have to wonder whether a move into the middle may have been the string to pull for Ken Hinkley?

Jason Castagna struggled in this game for the most part, and whilst many will have a bit of a whack at Pickett, I reckon “George” needs a bit of a rocket as well. Whilst Rozee was “virtually” unsighted, Castagna was completely unsighted in the last, and after just two touches in the third quarter, failed to have anything even remotely resembling influence on this contest.

There are a couple of others as well, but these may have been tactical misses rather than the fault of the player. We’ll get to them in a minute.

 

DOES MARLION PICKETT GET A SECOND GRAND FINAL RUN?

Based on the first half of footy, you’d have to think his position in the team is tenuous. He was unsure of himself, he fumbled and dropped marks… he looked like a VFL player out there running around with 41 AFL players.

He got better after half time and really, was pretty good in the last when the heat was on, but only six of his 13 touches were deemed effective and though he registered three tackles, there would have been a couple of broken tackles thrown into the mix as well if those stats were available.

Of course, they’re not, because Champion Data have them and our shitful news outlets that have access to these things never publish them…

… but I digress.

Who do you prefer in this Richmond team? Would you prefer the version of Marlion Pickett we’ve seen over the past month or so of footy, or would you be tempted to get Caddy back out there to have a crack at another flag.

Some might think it a little unfair to remove Pickett for the biggest game of the season – if it were me, I’m not sure I would take the risk on him fumbling and bumbling his way around the contest in a Grand Final. Live by the sword…

 

WAS THERE ANY OTHER WAY FOR BRAD EBERT TO GO OUT?

Disheartening news that Brad Ebert retired came through after the game. You could tell something was up as the players embraced him after the game.

But it was a classic, gutsy, team-first effort by Ebert that saved a Jack Riewoldt mark inside 50 that sent Ebert to the bench and became his last act on the footy field. It was as though we needed one last reminder as to how good and how courageous he has been throughout his career.

The way Ebert happily accepted his role in this Port Adelaide side in a time of change and in a time that success was not forthcoming should be used as an example for players far and wide. A very good midfielder, Ebert was given a role as a forward – he took to this role without pouting or complaining. There were no demands to play his preferred position or trade requests – he was a Port Adelaide soldier playing his role each and every week.

This week, he was sent into defence and he played his part brilliantly again. In his last game of football, Brad Ebert gave us one last act of complete commitment to remember him by, and he did it whilst being one of Port’s best.

He has been wonderful for that club. He will be greatly missed.

 

DID DYLAN GRIMES JUST PLAY AN EXCELLENT FIVE-DISPOSAL GAME?

Oh yes, did he ever!

Grimes was huge in keeping the Tigers in the game in the first half, and completely owned Peter Ladhams early in the piece.

I’m sitting here, praising this bloke and I look at the stats – he didn’t touch the footy in the second half. Not one possession, but his help defence, his bodywork and his presence inside defensive fifty makes his teammates walk taller.

Grimes picked up three free kicks in the first half – all against the lumbering Ladhams as he positioned himself beautifully and just waited for Ladhams to make a mistake… which he did. Often.

When you look at this game as numbers and stats, so much of what Grimes did in the first half will be lost. At quarter time, I thought he was close to best on ground. At half time, he would still have been in the top five players on the park, and though he was not as influential in the second half, he’d already done the hard work to give the Tigers a look at their third flag in four years.

 

WHO WON IN THE GUTS?

It’s an easy one to answer, right? Just look at the clearances.

Usually, I’d argue against something so black and white, but it is hard to dispute that the Tigers mids had their work boots on for this encounter.

Coming into the game, I felt as though Port had the midfield grunt to match the Tiger strength, but for the entire game, Port managed just four centre clearances. That’s it.

Richmond countered with 11 of their own. These came despite a 19-30 hit out disadvantage, with Cotchin, Martin and Prestia just wanting the footy more. Those three combined for six centre clearances as the Tigers refused to allow easy access to the footy, and worked hard in the clinches to negate Lycett’s ruck work.

Cotchin’s second and third efforts at stoppages were excellent, with the Tigers captain leading by example once again. He led the game with 13 contested touches, one ahead of Travis Boak, though both guys absolutely hacked it by foot.

 

WHAT WAS WITH THE ‘DELIBERATE’ FREE KICKS?

I don’t know the exact number of deliberate free kicks that were paid in this one, but I guess we would have been nearing about ten for the game. Of these, I reckon three or four were legitimately there.

We saw one paid against Port for kicking the footy off the ground up the line, which was appalling. Worse, Shai Bolton was pinged for desperately releasing a handball whilst being tackled to the ground – I’d love to know what other option he had.

It was as though the AFL had a bit of a slow week and decided to clamp down on deliberate out of bounds as yet another “rule of the week” exercise that they’ve been screwing around with all season, and I reckon there were decisions supporters of both sides could rightfully be pissed at in the wash-up.

Of course, the big one resulted in Kane Lambert snapping round the corner on a deliberate free kick. That top from Hamish Hartlett went about a metre and a half out of Tom Rockliff. I wonder had Rockliff thrown a hand out and got a touch on it whether the umpire would have thought differently?

I’ll give them one thing – the decisions were bad, but at least they were consistently bad.

 

DID THE GAME END ON THE RIGHT NOTE?

After a week of media crucifixion, the last gasp hope for the Power – a long ball inside fifty, fell into the arms of the waiting Tom Lynch.

After being reported and fined for the most innocuous knee to the shoulder/chest you’ll ever see, Lynch was slammed in the media, on social media and anywhere people talked footy. They called him a dog, a sniper, a grub and as the siren sounded, the footy was in his hands. Safe and sound.

I thought Clurey did a pretty good job on him for most of the evening, but to see Lynch with the footy to end the game after heading down back to do exactly what he ended up doing… must have been gratifying.

Here at The Mongrel Punt, we don’t buy the shit a lot of people are selling, and prefer to make up our own minds, so when we think of Tom Lynch and the way he plays the game, we prefer to think about him crashing packs, taking contested grabs and kicking vital goals.

And when we think about Tom Lynch, the person, we prefer to look at this kind of vision, below, and Lynch taking time in what should have been a moment of celebration to console a distraught little Port Adelaide supporter.

Say what you want about him, but this speaks volumes to me.

 

 

IS THE FORM OF JACK RIEWOLDT A CONCERN?

Hmmmm, seems like we were having the same conversation a year or so ago then he bobbed up, kicked five in the Grand Final and all was well. Remember that?

Jack is no longer the number one forward target. he draws a bit if heat and attention away from Tom Lynch now, and that is his role. He still contests really well in the air, brings the ball to ground and is rarely outmarked. If he had to carry this forward line each and every week we’d either see a) a very different player, or b) have a little more to question, but as a secondary forward, he is doing exactly what needs to be done.

 

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE HOLDING THE BALL RULE?

It’s all over the shop. Some are being paid with no clear opportunity to get rid of it, some are being paid when the ball is clearly dislodged in a tackle (the Duursma one was terrible) and then, less than a minute later, something similar is allowed to play out without a whistle.

I know I am preaching to the choir here, but the AFL have really cocked up this interpretation this season. They have oscillated wildly between too lenient and too harsh and have never really got it right.

Dispossessing an opponent and being rewarded with a free kick is one of the basics of the game – we need to get this right and we need to have it fair and balanced. It seems the more technical they get with their assessment of any situation, the more likely it is to be incorrect.

Is it too much to ask for the AFL to forget implementing new rules and start focusing on getting the core rules of the game correct?

 

ANY QUICKIES, MONGREL?

They’re all quickies with me, my friend.

Zak Butters’ hands were so clean early on. He looked as though he could play a game-breaking role for the Power, but he drifted right out of the game after half time.

Xavier Duursma had his best outing of the season in this one. I am sure many will reflect on his dropped mark, but there were so many other little things he did that were worthy of praise.

Daniel Rioli, that stupid 50 metre penalty aside, was very good for most of the night for the Tigers. 13 touches and six tackles, as well as clean hands and some quality ball use had him playing one of his best games for the season.

Loved Tom Jonas’ game. A captain in more than name, definitely. His sliding take and dish in the second quarter, and tackle on Tom Lynch in the third were genuine highlights.

Interesting the way Port attacked Bachar Houli every time he got the footy. He is pretty used to having a lot of time when he gets the footy, but Port players came from everywhere whenever he went near it. To see him run at 60% efficiency is a rarity, particularly when you combine it with just 15 touches.

And I still LOVE the ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ opening to the game at Adelaide Oval. It’s getting better every time I see/hear it.

And that’ll just about do me – calling this a massive win for the Tigers is like calling Joe Ganino a bit of an idiot. This embodied everything Richmond is, and has been for the last few years. A famous win in club history.
 
For Port, their 150th celebrations did not end the way they’d hoped, but it was a fantastic run and with a core group of young stars and a new-found belief in their style, 2021 ain’t that far away.

Embrace The Hate – Tom Lynch Comes Of Age

 

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