The Port Adelaide Power withstood an early attack by the Kangaroos to put their foot down in the second quarter, with four goals in five minutes to blow the game open.
Led by their former captain, Travis Boak, and recruits, Orazio Fantasia and Aliir Aliir, Port were way too much for North Melbourne, carrying a nine-goal advantage into the last quarter to run out 52-point winners.
It was an impressive beginning to the season for Port, who had the luxury of starting Tom Rockliff as the medical sub, whilst the Roos will have some positive takeaways, coming up against one of the best teams in the caper, and a few negatives to concentrate on as well.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
He’s like a fine wine, isn’t he?
I ask because I don’t drink wine and some of you may actually know. Despite spending the last quarter hobbling around up forward after taking a knee to the thigh late in the third, Travis Boak was far and away the best player on the park, and similar to my good self, did his best work early so he could relax a little later on…
… I’m not sure what that says for the rest of the article.
At quarter time, there were three players who could lay claim to being the best player on the park, but skip another quarter, and just one man could legitimately state he was the top dog.
Boak walked off Marvel Stadium with 21 disposals and seven clearances to his name, powering his Port Adelaide team to a commanding seven-goal lead with the brand of football that has become synonymous with his name over the past three seasons.
His transformation from ageing half-forward back into one of the elite midfielders in the game is a shining example to any nearing 30 years of age – if you want it bad enough, and put the work in, you can continue to get better.
Two blokes had more of the footy in this one, but none had the impact of the former captain, as he had the perfect mix of inside/outside footy. His 12 score involvements included two goals of his own and two direct goals assists as he continually hurt North on the scoreboard, and it was a shame he copped the knock that limited his impact late in the game. A 33-34 disposal and three-goal game was definitely on the cards prior to it.
THAT NEW BLOKE UP FORWARD
I was asked during the game whether I’d prepared my apology to Orazio Fantasia. I have to admit… I’m starting to consider how to phrase it.
Over the last couple of season, I lost a bit of faith in Raz. He looked like a player that simply did not want to be at Essendon… maybe because he genuinely didn’t want to be there? But in Port Adelaide colours, he made a ripping debut for the club, kicking 4.3 and dishing another off to Xavier Duursma to stamp his authority on the contest.
He was quiet early, with former Bulldog, Lachie Young doing a good job on him, but he exploded in the second quarter, slamming home three goals as Port turned the screws on the battling Kangaroos.
Fantasia found himself matched up against Jack Ziebell at points and looks to be relishing the delivery and opportunity he is receiving with the mob from Alberton.
As for my apology… well, my questions about Fantasia stem from his application at Essendon. The early results (AAMI cup and Round One) indicate that a happy Fantasia is a very good Fantasia, but I would prefer to wait until the honeymoon period is over before I start prostrating myself at the feet of the new small forward god. The season is a marathon – not a sprint. You don’t hand someone the keys to the city after one game, no matter how good it is.
I’ll revisit my stance on Fantasia once we get a fistful of games under his belt as a Power player. Until then, we’ll just say that this outing was very, very impressive.
WINES DINES ON WEAK MIDS
When you look at the sheer size of the Pot Adelaide mids compared to their Kangaroo opponents, the difference was quite shocking. You had blokes like Boak, Wines, and even Rockliff coming off the bench against Simpkin, LDU and Jaidyn Stephenson.
So, is it any wonder that Port won the clearance battle, and won it in a way that saw decisive breaks out of the guts, and resultant shots at goal?
Nup, didn’t think you’d be surprised.
You see, the thing is, it is not about the number of clearances a team wins – it is often about the quality of those clearances, and in this game, Port possessed far more composure and polish with the footy in close than North.
And the strength of Ollie Wines at those stoppages played a huge part in it. Even when he was not winning the footy, himself, his ability to simply occupy important territory and prevent the opposition from a) getting neat the pill, and b) having any chance of making something happen with it, were vital to Port’s success.
Whilst Boak’s seven first-half clearances were on everyone’s lips, it was often Wines bustling and bullying his opponents to clear a path for his fellow former-captain. IN many ways, it was men against boys in the middle in terms of power, and Wines looked like the biggest, strongest bloke out there.
With so much conjecture about his future at stages in his career, Wines’ re-commitment to Port last season spoke of a maturity and a settled spirit, and his play in the wake of his extension should buoy those at Alberton.
He had ten score involvements in this one and sent Port inside 50 on eight occasions, giving his forwards the one-on-one contests they desired. Another complete game from the man with the interestingly-shaped head.
THE WET BLANKET
So, who do you single out if you want to praise one of the Port defenders?
Do you talk about Aliir and how he built a wall across half-back, repelling attack after attack?
Do you talk about Tom Jonas, who took on the role of stopping Cam Zurhaar and did it so well I forgot Zurhaar was playing?
Or maybe the run and carry of Dan Houston off half-back?
Hell, the Port Adelaide defence looked watertight at points in this one. Working cohesively, they were able to shut down and rebound the haphazard North Melbourne forward forays with apparent ease. Miles Bergman and Ryan Burton looked at home, whilst Darcy Byrne-Jones continued where he left off last season.
This Power back six looks to be stronger than the 2020 incarnation, which I found to be one of the better units in the game. They are built to be tested in big games, and though you don’t want to look past Essendon in Round Two, it is the Round Three and Four encounters against the Eagles and Tigers that are starting to look mouth-watering at this point.
THE BIG FELLA
A quick shout out to Scott Lycett in this one. He often gets left out of the conversation when people talk about top-tier rucks in the league, but after watching him match it with a fella who is rarely left out, Todd Goldstein, people should perhaps start giving Lycett a little more credit.
He was combative, tackled well (particularly on Davies-Uniacke), and hit the scoreboard after drifting forward to mark strongly.
I have vivid memories of Lycett beating up Max Gawn in 2019 that made him one of my favourite ruckmen. Tough and uncompromising, you could love to have him in the clinches with you.
STEVO A RAY OF HOPE
If there was a positive for the Kangaroos, it would be the four-quarter performance of Jaidyn Stephenson.
He has started 2021 like a man with a point to prove, and didn’t stop running or contesting for the entire game – something a few of his teammates should take note of.
He finished with a game-high 32 touches, seven tackles, and five clearances in his first full game as a genuine midfielder. The only thing missing from this performance was a scoreboard impact, with Stevo finishing with 0.2, but David Noble will be pleased with the result from his recruit.
HAS THE GAME PASSED HIM BY?
I don’t know what Dom Tyson is doing out there for North Melbourne. Seriously, do you?
With 14 touches and repeated mistakes, the return of Dom Tyson to AFL footy did not go too well. His attempted punch away on the boundary, instead of taking possession of the footy should have set alarm bells ringing – the fact that a man who has built his reputation as a ball-winner would opt NOT to take possession of the footy tells you everything you need to know.
I suppose it is fair to say that Tyson has a spot in the team only because Ben Cunnington, Trent Dumont and Jed Anderson’s absences, because he looked like a far cry from the player North were hoping he’d be.
We could put it down to rust if you like, but I saw nothing from Tyson in this game to suggest he will be a regular part of this 2021 North Melbourne outfit.
BAD KICKING IS…
This is clutching at straws a little, but I am searching for a negative for Port to write about. So, I’ve plucked this one out.
Charlie Dixon’s set shot kicking for goal is a worry. I have more faith in him when he has a shot in general play than when he lines up from that 35-45 metres out range. He just misses too many of them.
In a game like this, it doesn’t seem to matter too much – Port were always going to win after that five-minute blast in the second quarter, but Dixon is a bloke who could go on to win a Coleman if he converts, and the shots he is missing should be bread and butter for a man of his skill.
Not to mention, they tend to cost teams big games, and the way the Power look, they’ll be playing in some pretty big games as the season progresses. Under the roof, in perfect conditions, Charlie should have had four goals next to his name in this one.
THE TURNOVER KINGS
With 20 disposals at 82% efficiency, you may be tempted to sit back and think that Shaun Atley had a good game. I mean, the numbers tell you he did, right? He made eight out of every ten disposals count.
Nup… I am not buying it. Not at all.
Atley plays in a position where his disposal is a vital part of the North Melbourne setup. As such, he has to ensure he finds a teammate with his disposal, or the game can break open the other way, but aside from safe kicks, Atley does nowhere near enough with the footy.
His kick across the ground to Curtis Taylor early in the last quarter completely missed him and allowed the Power to swoop. Unfortunately for Taylor, the swooping also included a massive knee to the back of his head, which basically finished off his afternoon.
Right now, Atley has 214 games to his name. He has made a tidy little living by doing the bare minimum as a half back in a competition where players in that role can dominate games. Yet, he’ll be in the side next week, because that is simply what happens at North Melbourne.
Between him, Kayne Turner and Jared Polec, the Roos succumbed to the pressure of Port when they had the footy. More concerning, however, was the way they wasted the footy when the pressure was not on. In tennis, they keep a stat on unforced errors – basically mistakes the player makes just because they’re not up to scratch. North would have absolutely filled that stat up today in this game. Yes, Port dialed up the pressure in the second quarter, but by not hitting targets and giving the Power a chance to disrupt any, and possibly all North attacks for a ten-minute period, they resigned themselves to playing out a game they were destined to lose.
HOW DO YOU STOP ALIIR ALIIR?
You have to beat Aliir at ground level, because you’re not going to do it in the air.
The only times he big fella looked in any way vulnerable in this game was when the ball hit the deck. He is a monster of a man, and hits packs with intent, but once the ball hits the turf and becomes a bit of a scramble, Aliir can be prone to being a little bit clumsy.
Allow me to use the analogy of a penguin. In the water, they are agile, swift and get where they need to be quickly, but once on land, they become a little awkward. If you’re gonna catch a penguin, you don’t try to jump into the water and swim after it – you wait until it waddles around on land for a little bit and use its lack of mobility in that circumstance to nab it.
Teams need to be a little smarter when matching up against Aliir. Perhaps going small and taking him on at ground level is the key to taking him down? God knows… bombing it into the air and hoping he doesn’t mark or spoil does not work.
ARE NORTH GETTING ENOUGH FROM JY SIMPKIN?
Last season, I had some North fans up in arms about a lack of recognition for Jy Simpkin. At the time, I thought they had a bit of a point, but the more I’ve watched him, the less inclined I am to agree that he will be carrying a midfield, one day.
He reminds me a bit of Jaeger O’Meara at Hawthorn – good as a secondary mid, but when asked to carry the load, he isn’t able to. Not yet, anyway.
Fingers crossed that Ben Cunnington gets back into this side quickly – his presence allows Simpkin a little more room to move and thus, become more dangerous. As it stands, Simpkin is handy, but he is nowhere near the level required to be the number one mid on this Kangaroos team.
WHAT HAPPENED TO LDU?
I’m glad I asked.
He finished with 20 touches for the game, which you’d think was a decent day’s work for a young midfielder, right? Well, I suppose it was, but when you consider that he had 12 touches in the first quarter alone, it kind of puts the rest of his afternoon into perspective.
Two things happened to LDU, and their names were Ollie Wines and Willem Drew.
These two players feast on the contest and were simply better at extracting the footy than their opponents. Not only that, but in Drew’s case, anybody that looked like they were going to win the footy for North were hit with a wall of tackling pressure.
We all know what Wines can do – he is a beast of a man and incredibly hard to move when he puts his head over the footy, but people are sleeping on Willem Drew, and have been for a while. Not me – I have been a wake-up to him for a couple of years, now.
Drew is the kind of player that relishes the contest and will happily finish with more pressure acts than possessions on a weekly basis. He led the game in tackles, with ten, and his attack on the footy, using his body as a battering ram, is why he was starting in this lineup.
I was asked by one of my fellow Mongrels during the game why Drew was getting a run over Tom Rockliff, and I reckon Drew’s defensive efforts speak louder than any reasons I can give. Midfields need players whose sole objective is not winning the footy, and Drew provides this for Port. He is the kind of warrior that can make a difference in big games, and if I were playing against Port, I’d hate to have him on me – it’s mean every touch I got would be earned the hard way.
Very quick whistle on a “dangerous tackle” from Kayne Turner on Xavier Duursma. Watching the vision back, Duursma appears to accentuate it a little and Turner even managed to prevent his head from hitting the deck. Poor, reactionary call, that one.
The North forward duo of Larkey and Zurhaar were completely impotent in this game. Returning 16 touches and two marks between them, their scoreboard impact amounted to … 0.0.
Not good enough.
How could I review a Port game and not mention Zak Butters? Fellow Mongrel, Matt Oman, would have me drawn and quartered… which sounds only slightly less appealing than having to play on someone with the talent and instinct Butters possesses. His contested mark against Jared Polec in the third quarter gave an indication onto the two players.
Butters wanted it. Polec did not.
Another game full of intelligent little tap-ons from the Power, with Robbie Gray and Charlie Dixon both responsible for deft little touches to advantage their teammates. Good teams do this well, and have for years, so when you see Port pulling this stuff off regularly, you know you are watching a team that is completely in sync.
Nice cameo in the last quarter from Tarryn Thomas, but he can look a little laconic when the footy needs to be won in the contest. My jury is out on him being a star at this point. Could go either way.
And that’ll do me – might be enough for Port to sit atop the ladder to start the season again after Round One unless we get a big result later on Sunday. Solid win by the Power – should have been by 4-5 goals more, if we’re being honest.
Did you like this style of AFL writing? This is what we do at The Mongrel, and we pride ourselves on diving deeper than anyone else. Want more, click the image below and join us… join us… join us….
Come on… click the image below and help an old mongrel out.