It was difficult not to be excited about this game, heading in.

These two teams, irrespective of who made the Grand Final, felt as though they were the two best sides of the season in 2020. They split their games for the year, with the Tigers doing it when it counted most at the business end of the season. However, the contests were both highlights of the strange 2020 footy year.

As I awaited the bounce for this Round Four clash, I found myself genuinely pumped to see how it would unfold.

I was not let down.

The wounded Power managed to hold on to register a two-point win over the premiers in a pulsating last quarter. The Tigers came hard and challenged Port to respond. They looked the better team late in the piece, with the injuries taking their toll on the home team, but a mark to Robbie Gray inside 50, and yet another instance of the ice running through his veins, saw him slot the goal to give the Power the lead back. And they held it until the siren.

Many have predicted one of these teams to reign supreme when all is said and done in 2021. Based on this game, no one would be disappointed if it came down to the Tigers and Power for all the marbles in September.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

 

 

THE GOOD

 

THE OLD MASTER AT BOTH ENDS

I am sure there will be those who question the diving, rushed handball by Robbie Gray that gave Port clean possession from the kick in and helped in their efforts to save this game.

Don’t question it. It comes under a couple of categories, but questionable isn’t one of them. It sits under the category titled ‘composure’. Whilst others may have been tempted to try to keep the footy in play and avoid a potential deliberate free kick, Gray was well-aware of the rules. He was within the confines of the top of the goal square, had pressure all around him and simply did exactly what he knew he was entitled to do.

It also sits under the category with the heading ‘intelligence’, with Gray summing up the situation, the scoreboard and the fatigue of his teammates around him. he bought them time and he bought them possession.

And it positions itself nicely in the category known as ‘footy IQ’, of which Gray has an abundance. There was no one else assessing the situation quite like him at that point. Having just made a huge difference, he took it upon himself to go where the action was – where he could make the biggest impact. And he did.

After once again demonstrating his skill under immense pressure, slotting the goal to give Port back the lead, Gray’s efforts to get back down the other end of the ground and rush through the footy to further save this club that he has been so good for, for so long, rammed home just what an absolute professional he is.

Looking at the Port team coming into this year, and really, into this game, they looked stacked for small forward talent. Gray had Zak Butters and Connor Rozee as his heirs apparent, and the Power went and added Orazio Fantasia to the mix. However, as the game progressed, three of the four tyres keeping this Port small forward vehicle moving had blown out, leaving just Gray to make a stand.

Butters went down with a high-ankle injury, Rozee was hobbled with a nasty corkie and Fantasia rolled his ankle twice. After all this time, and all the help the club enlisted to take the burden off Robbie, it was suddenly back on him again.

And he acted the way he always has – reliably, and with complete and utter polish.

With his game-winning and game-saving efforts, Robbie Gray wrote another chapter into his book of accomplishments for this club. Where does he rate as an all-time great – not just for Port Adelaide, but in terms of the AFL era?

He’d have to be right up there.

At 33 years old, Gray picked up not only the most important goal of the night, but added three direct goal assists to his tally – his unselfishness bringing his teammates into the game. He is a class act, and when Port needed someone to step up and make a stand in this one, it was Gray answering the call again.

 

THE ENGINE ROOM

I watched the centre bounce contests with interest tonight, just as I have the last few times the Power and Tigers have locked horns. Again, the duo of Ollie Wines and Travis Boak gave Port a significant edge in these contests, combining for 12 clearances and 56 touches.

Wines shouldered the load in the first quarter before Boak kicked it into gear in the second, with the Power having a 9-4 advantage in clearances in that quarter. Where the Tigers seemed to be able to hurt Port when generating run from defence, the Power preferred to attack from the clearances, giving their forwards a good look at the footy with quick forward 50 entries.

Richmond really looked to be lacking the presence of Dion Prestia, who acts as a circuit breaker for them in situations like this. He is able to get first hands on the footy and extract it as well as anyone on the list, and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. Trent Cotchin battled hard, but even he, with all his experience, struggled to match the Port duo at stoppages.

Toby Nankervis eventually seemed to give up on tapping the footy to his mids and started clearing the footy, himself, in an attempt to get the Tigers rolling, and it worked to a point – more on him later.

I can vividly remember watching Port last season and thinking that their clearance work would worry Richmond and it has occurred again this year. The Tigers will adjust, and they will eventually get Prestia back to right the ship, but with Boak and Wines plonking themselves in the middle for stoppage after stoppage, their influence will be something Damien Hardwick must combat if the Tigers are to get past Port again this season.

 

ALIIR V RIEWOLDT

How do you score this one?

Both guys had periods where they got on top, and really, with a couple of minutes left, Riewoldt had the chance to kick his fourth goal and give Richmond back the lead. Sadly for Jack, his kick at goal was close to his worst of the season thus far, not making the distance from 45, and handing the Power back possession by way of the rushed behind.

But for Riewoldt’s shots at goal, and a couple of really wily possessions to set up teammates, Aliir had periods of dominance where he took intercept grabs and killed contests in one-on-one situations with the Richmond forward.

Riewoldt is a great user of his body to create space and clunk marks, but against Aliir, he found it difficult to move the big man off the spot enough to gain an advantage. Aliir played a very serviceable role inside defensive 50, and his attack on the contest, though a little unruly at times, has to be commended.

Whilst Aliir would attack any contest full-chested, he lost his feet a couple of times, and that enabled the Tigers to collect the footy and convert without the pressure.

If Riewoldt had kicked the goal in the dying minutes, you’d give him the nod. Three goals and three goal assists are probably all you can ask for from a man who is supposedly making way for Tom Lynch, but Aliir’s periods of physical dominance on contests drags this one back to being as close to a draw as you’re gonna get.

 

NANK ANSWERS AND LYCETT ASKS SOME MORE QUESTIONS

We had two pretty fantastic contributions from the big men in this game, with each playing fairly wide of each other, enabling their opponent to slip back inside defensive 50 often.

I’ll start with Nankervis.

My notes have Nank taking six intercept marks in this game as he continually drifted back into the hole and made things difficult for the Port big forwards. Not only did Charlie Dixon have David Astbury, Nathan Broad and Noah Balta to deal with – he also had Nankervis propping 15 metres in front of him to get his big body in the way of any footy that dropped short.

And it worked a treat.

Nank finished with 22 touches (the third-highest total of his career), whilst managing nine intercepts and six clearances.

Across from him, the combative Scott Lycett refused to be outdone. They played different roles, so the numbers don’t match up – Lycett’s influence came via presenting as a forward target and pumping the footy inside forward fifty on four occasions. He notched 20 touches and picked up most of his footy through the guts.

Both of these big guys would not be in the top bracket for big men, but sit solidly just underneath the top tier. That said, on tonight’s performance, either of them could be viewed as one of the best rucks in the league and no one would really dispute it…

… unless you decide to watch Nank’s inboard kick to Grimes miss the mark and cost a goal to Rozee. That was a horrid mistake and it certainly opened the door for the Power at a point where the Tigers seemed in control.

 

THE NEW WING ORDER

You guys know I love keeping an eye on the outside runners, as I compile a wingman rankings every Monday for our members – join if you haven’t… what the hell is wrong with you?

Anyway, one player I have been particularly interested in over the last 12 or so months has been Karl Amon.

There was a time a while back when I was watching him and I was a little concerned that he was not going to find his feet at AFL level. He was slight, would get knocked off the footy too easily and seemed to get a little… hmmm, spooked by contact. I hope that’s a fair assessment.

Anyway, fast forward to 2021 and the version of Amon that runs the wings now would be in the top bracket of power runners in the game. He has improved his strength and on several occasions, waded through consecutive tackles in this game. That was a facet of his game I was previously unfamiliar with, which indicates to me that he is putting in the work in the off-season.

He started the game like he’d been shot out of a canon, collecting plenty of the footy in the opening minutes before settling into his groove. You probably won’t see this mentioned elsewhere, but no one runs as hard defensively from the wing as Amon. He is forever the first player back to aid his back six and as a result, you see him bob up down back as part of handball chains or defensive exits.

With him on one wing, and Xavier Duursma on the other, the Port pair were able to take the points against the inexperienced trio of Marlion Pickett, Jack Ross and Will Martyn, all of who cycled through the position. You have to question the selection by the Tigers on this occasion – Josh Caddy was the medical sub in this game, leaving the Tigers a little underdone on the wings, particularly without Kamdyn McIntosh available. I did like the defensive pressure of Pickett, who puts his body into the contest all the time and never gets plaudits for it, but the run and carry of Amon and Duursma were too much for him to handle in this game.

 

SHORT BACK – NO SIDES

Are teams ever going to wake up and get someone to put the bumpers up on Jayden Short?

Sure, he may have “only” kicked one running goal in this game, but he was continually sneaking down toward attacking 50 to set up for a shot at goal in this one, and Port were simply allowing him to do so.

Short had an uncharacteristic game last week, missing targets as often as he hit them, but he was back in the groove this week, nothing 800+ metres gained whilst running at 84% efficiency. He added ten intercepts and ten rebound fifty disposals to pick up a nice defensive double-double as he powered the Tigers’ run from defence.

 

BURTON KNUCKLING DOWN

I kind of feel like there would have been a point during the week where Ken Hinkley asked his defenders which one of them thought they could take a crack at Dustin Martin when he snuck forward, and both Tom Jonas and Ryan Burton weren’t paying much attention at the time so they didn’t realise everyone else took a step back, leaving them standing out the front of the group.

We all know that didn’t occur, but what did happens was that Tom Jonas took early responsibility for curtailing Martin up forward and Burton stepped up late to do the same.

What resulted was the second week on the trot where Dusty was stifled inside forward fifty.

You’ll have to excuse his last quarter goal, as that came about by way of a stoppage, nad introduced Lachie Jones to the good old “don’t argue” in the process, but when caught in one-on-one contests, Burton more than help his own.

Not only did Burton stand up when it counted, he was able to find plenty of the footy, racking up 11 intercepts amongst his 21 touches for the game.

After an excellent stint at Hawthorn, injuries have somewhat limited Burton’s ability to contribute and improve at Port, but the way he attacked the contest in this game, and his ability to not only find the footy, but find it in the contest (15 contested touches) would be enough to have Port fans once again feeling like they emerged as the clear winner in the Wingard deal.

 

PLAYING HURT

I know I mentioned it above, but recognition has to be given to both Orazio Fantasia and Connor Rozee for battling it out despite injuries that I am sure were considered as a way of activating the medical sub.

Rozee looked very proppy after a cork to the thigh in the first quarter, and lacked a lot of his second efforts as a result. Fantasia rolled his ankle, went off and got treatment and then had it caught under him again, limping off a second time.

Some players have the capacity to play through pain, and I have to admit, I did not think Fantasia was one of those, but he gutted it out for his new club, and deserves to be commended for it.

 

 

THE BAD

 

BAD KICKING IS…

… bad football.

You know, I know it, and the Port Adelaide Power know it after squandering multiple chances in the second quarter and doing what you don’t do against Richmond – giving them a sniff.

Misses from Motlop, Amon, Georgiades, Boak, Dixon and Gray allowed Richmond to enter half time with a deficit of just seven points. It should have been more like 20-24 points and in the context of the game, a match-winning lead.

Georgiades was forced wide to get his hands on the footy, which may account for his inaccuracy, but when you’re playing against a quality side like the Tigers, you simply cannot leave opportunities like that on the table, because you will come to rue it.

Can you imagine the way Port fans, and everyone connected with the club would be feeling had Jack Riewoldt kicked truly late in the game to give the Tigers the win? Smiles would be wiped off dials all over the place. Port got away with one in this game – their inaccuracy almost cost them, and whilst “almost” costing them is fine in the wash up, it is a dangerous habit to get into to allow your opponents to hang around in a contest when the chance to put them away becomes available.

 

 

THE UGLY

 

THE TOLL

The Port Adelaide Football Club has built through the draft, with the combination of Connor Rozee, Zak Butters and Xavier Duursma all arriving in the much-publicised 2018 National Draft.

Rozee went at pick five, Butters at pick 12 and Duursma at pick 18 as the Power picked up three pillars to build around.

As we enter Round Five, two of those pillars have significant cracks in them, and one has just undergone repair. This was Rozee’s return game, so he was always going to take a little while to readjust, but a knock to the thigh slowed him considerably.

He will most likely be fine to take on the Blues next week, but injuries to Butters, Duursma and perhaps even Fantasia could see the abundance of talent at Alberton diluted a little for that game.

This game was a war of attrition, with bodies flying in everywhere and casualties seeming to befall the Power more significantly than Richmond.

A Power line up without Butters, Duursma and Fantasia is a lot less imposing than the side with them. Together, they create a chaotic web of forward movement and excitement. Butters throws his body in as though he has zero regard for his own safety, whilst the goal nous of Fantasia and hard run of Duursma are difficult to duplicate.

Sometimes it is difficult to get up after a game such as this – Richmond have been the yardstick for a few years now and the Power threw everything at them. They’ll have an extra day’s rest on their side before the next round, and watching a few of those boys leave the field this evening, they will need every single bit of it.

 

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

WHO CAME UP WITH THE IDEA OF ‘NEVER TEAR US APART’?

Whoever did it, give them a bloody medal.

I know Liverpool does “You’ll never walk alone” and they do it bloody brilliantly, but the way Port fans have embraced the concept and made “Never tear us apart” part of their club ethos, enabling the home crowd to be part of the show, itself… just a wonderful decision. Makes for a fantastic pre-game spectacle.

 

WHAT DID WE MAKE OF BACHAR HOULI’S RETURN TO THE SIDE?

A bit hit and miss. Too many fumbles for my liking, but he still managed to find plenty of the footy in his first game since the Grand Final.

Houli finished with 26 touches at 77% efficiency in his customary role across half back, but the rust after so long on the sidelines was evident, and the clean hands were just not present. You’d say, given his tentativeness, around a 5.5 or 6 out of ten is about as good as you could give him.

 

AND THE MAN-CHILD MAKING HIS DEBUT… HOW DID HE GO?

I saw a bit of Lachie Jones during the preseason, and distinctly remember thinking he looked like that one kid with the moustache that was somehow allowed to play at Under 14 level. How did you get to that size, with that bulk at 18?

Well, he turned 19 just in time for this game and hit it at full pace. Whilst the handle wasn’t quite there at points, the intent was abundantly clear – he is going to run at the footy in a straight line, and if you happen to get in the way, I hope your insurance is paid up.

Already getting the cheers from the Port faithful, he returned their support with 17 disposals and eight intercepts in an impressive debut for the club.

If only he’d nailed that tackle on Dusty…

 

AND THE TWO TIGER DEBUTANTS?

Tough game for them to start their careers. The rundown tackle on Will Martyn shows he was not ready for the speed of this game, and Rhyan ‘Nigel’ Mansell was not quite as quick as his namesake, and had four turnovers from his nine touches.

Both need a few more runs before assessment – you cannot judge a bloke on his first game in a losing team.

 

HOW WOULD YOU RATE CHARLIE DIXON’S GAME?

Not overly high at all.

At times, it appears as though Charlie is his own worst enemy when it comes to having an impact in a big game, and this was a pretty big game. He ran under the footy at times, lost the ball in flight at others, and made mistakes in his effort to make amends for the initial cock up.

Well covered in the air, Dixon had just one touch inside attacking fifty for the game, as Noah Balta had his number, and the held defence came in over the top whenever Charlie looked to have better position.

Concerningly, seven of his 11 touches were turnovers.

The good news is that the Port won without getting anything from him at all, so there is room for improvement as a team.

 

WAS TOM LYNCH ANY BETTER?

Marginally.

Lynch actually got some touches inside forward fifty, although that could also be seen as an indictment on him being unprepared to work further up the ground. Any way you slice it, eight touches and two marks are not what the Tigers envisioned from their big man heading into this one.

I’d have both him and Charlie Dixon at three or four out of ten, maximum.

 

ANYTHING TO WORRY ABOUT FOR THE TIGERS? THEY’VE LOST A COUPLE ON THE TROT, Y’KNOW?

Yeah, I know. They ran into a buzzsaw in the Swans last week and were a kick out of winning on the road against the team most closely matched with them last year. They’re warming into the season, and will no doubt play their best footy in the second half of the year.

Yeah, Port were good, and all credit to them, but you’re not losing any sleep yet if you’re a Tigers supporter. Nothing to see here… please disperse.

 

OTHER BITS

 

Great start to the game by Steven Motlop, and it was wonderful to see him actively gut-running from half back get on the end of the disposal chain inside 50. Has the penny dropped with this bloke now? He has always had all the ability in the world, but I had never seen him string together games where he had an impact.

That’s three out of four games in 2021 where he has been important, but the pragmatist in me keeps saying “don’t trust him!”

How do you feel about Motlop?

Zak Butters was well on the way to votes again before getting hurt. The way he attacks a contest… wow! There is a touch of kamikaze about him. He might go down, but he’ll take one or two with him on the way.

Nice return to form from Kane Lambert, who offers so much more playing half forward and working up the ground than Daniel Rioli does. Where Rioli is flashy, Lambert is reliable. Where Rioli goes missing, Lambert digs in. I’d love to see him get more time as a floating forward – he could provide a lot more substance than others in the role, particularly when the Tigers are getting bigger all from Jason Castagna.

Speaking of Castagna – he has the worst tattoos in the game. He looks like he was the first to fall asleep at a friend’s place and they took out the sharpie as punishment.

One of my favourite unsung players is Willem Drew – how good was it to see him hang onto that contested grab on the wing with time running down? He was taken a couple of years before the Port Adelaide trio I wrote about above, but his combative nature and commitment to the defensive side of the game means he will never get the same recognition.

Also, he has a name like a cigar brand… so suck on a Willem Drew.

Is Todd Marshall a walk-up start in the Power team next week? Yep – Peter Ladhams will head on out, I reckon.

Very interested to read a tweet from the Duursma camp stating they do not think it is an ACL injury… fingers crossed.

 

And that’ll finish things off. A great win by the Power, undermanned as they were, but bloody Richmond… they just keep coming, and this had all the hallmarks of a classic Tiger win before Robbie Gray stepped to the plate.

Would love to see these two teams mix it up again in September. And maybe even a rematch before then.

 

 

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