I was a big believer in both Carlton and Port Adelaide coming into this game. To me, Port have looked like the most complete team in the competition, outside of one night in Perth. Meanwhile, Carlton have claimed two comprehensive wins on the trot against reasonable opposition.

This looked like the pick of the two Saturday night games and I set myself for a ripping contest.

The first half did not quite live up to expectations, particularly the early part of the second quarter. It was contested and sloppy. Carlton looked particularly poor for the majority of it. They had patches of play where they took the game on and looked a quality side, taking the ball through the corridor. Unfortunately, these patches didn’t last very long. The game still felt like the Blues were in it, but they were never able to really challenge the Power and make them sweat.

The Port pressure, particularly in their forward half, was immense and they reaped the benefits. Robbie Gray was sublime. Liam Jones, the Carlton intercept king was barely sighted. In the end it truly came down to efficiency. Carlton simply blew their chances, and not just their set shots at goal, of which they missed several simple ones, but also delivery inside 50. Often described as “the most crucial kick in footy” the Blues just lacked cohesiveness. Whether it was a long high footy, or a Carlton forward not leading to the correct space, they just lacked that level of connection the Power were clearly operating with at the other end.

The third quarter just drove this point home even more. Even with mercurial moments by the likes of Eddie Betts, players like Aliir Aliir continually found a way to get a hand in on the footy. It was enthralling, but also confidence-sapping. Carlton would fight tooth and nail to try and gain some ground, only for Port to seemingly waltz into their next goal immediately after and stretch the lead. They just seemed far more deadly with the ball in hand. Port Adelaide looked like they couldn’t miss and Carlton looked like they could barely hit. The Blues would kick two goals and five behinds for the quarter. Port Adelaide kicked six goals and one behind. The margin had blown out to 43 points and the game was over.

The last quarter had no bite left in it and the Power effectively parked the bus and didn’t put the foot on the throat. Frankly, I don’t blame them. They’d come in with a couple of their best 22 already out, and then had a few players suffering niggles, ala Hamish Hartlett. The Blues scored some junk time consolation goals to make the scoreboard look a little more respectable. Let’s just hope that Port aren’t searching for a couple of extra percentage points at the end of the year.

But anyway, let’s get into the stuff that mattered…

THE BEST STUFF:

 

OLLIE WINES:

The Raging Bull. An absolute monster in the middle. So many times Wines fought through the tackle in the contest. It’s always good when a player knows their role and their skillset, and I think Wines is one of those players that knows exactly who he is. Wines is the player I want fighting for the footy for me in a one-on-one in the mud at the feet of the ruckman. I am certain he is one of a group of Port Adelaide players in the midfield who has done nothing but think about that second half against the Tigers in that Preliminary final last year, and how to improve himself to not permit any team get on top of the Power in a big final this time around.

 

ALIIR ALIIR:

The name so nice you have to say it twice. Can anyone explain why Sydney let this guy go? He finished 2020 and told the Swans he wanted to go to the Power because they offered him a long-term deal. But why hadn’t the Swans? It is a decision that will continue to be questioned throughout this year as Aliir stars for the Power. No matter the history, it is a move Aliir has definitely enjoyed, as he is playing his best ever footy at the Power. This game was just his latest installment.

Allir continually thwarted Carlton’s attempts to find a teammate inside forward 50. But before I rattle off his impressive numbers there was one instance I wanted to highlight, from the second quarter. Carlton took possession of the ball forward and it landed in the lap of Gibbons at half forward on the fast break. Gibbons steadied and kicked long to the only two players inside the Carlton forward 50, Tom Clurey and Harry McKay.

Clurey spoilt the footy and wrestled with McKay for the crumbs, but it was Aliir who made the play on the footy. Aliir had pushed from the centre circle from the contested situation to help out his teammate. He was clearly the first back to assist and cleared the ball. In the process, he had passed at least half a dozen players. It was a telling moment as Carlton were trying desperately to force their way back into the contest, but through his efforts, Aliir had yet again proved his worth for Port Adelaide, who must think they’ve found an absolute steal.

For the Blues, it must’ve felt like playing against an old Bombers team with legendary defender Dustin Fletcher patrolling the backline. I’m not saying Aliir is on the same level as the Bombers champion but that his innate ability to get his hand or arm in the way of a Carlton handball, or in a marking contest is very similar to the way Fletcher used to release those “Go-Go Gadget” arms and halt an opposition’s foray forward when he seemingly had no right to.

Aliir would finish with the impressive stat line of 17 disposals (94% efficiency), eight one-percenters, 11 intercept possessions, and about a dozen instances of “he-got-a-hand-in-there”.

 

WEITERING V DIXON

This was a really good match-up. In the end I called it for Weitering. He simply had Charlie’s measure tonight. I think it’s telling that Dixon’s two goals came in two instances where he did not have to contend with Weitering. One where Weitering left him to try an intercept the footy at an earlier contest, and the other while he was off the ground under the concussion protocol.

Dixon had 13 disposals, kicked the two goals, had seven score involvements and took four contested marks. Meanwhile, Weitering finished with 14 disposals, eight rebound 50’s, 11 intercept possessions and eight one-percenters (Majority of them spoils).

I don’t think Dixon will be losing a lot of sleep over this, as the Power won the game and he did his part to contribute, but Weitering is definitely still firming as a lock for an AA key position slot.

I also have to mention Dixon’s outrageous mark early in the game where marked the ball by sticking up a single arm while holding Weitering off with the other. You’re just not meant to be able to do that against one of the league’s best defenders. It deserved a goal to finish the play, but it wasn’t to be.

 

MARSHALL & GEORGIADES

It may not be fair to combine these two, but I often consider them very heavily linked in their roles. To me they’re the Lenny and Carl to Charlie Dixon’s Homer.

In reality Dixon didn’t have to win his match-up with Weitering as the pressure was off him with these two young guns firing in a big way. I would say it was more Mitch Georgiades in the first half of the game followed by Todd Marshall’s huge third quarter. Both were fantastic throughout but those were the periods when they really stood out.

The extra benefit of Georgiades and Marshall firing was that it kept Liam Jones honest. No matter which one he switched to, he had to become an actual defender and was not allowed to zone off as he had done in previous weeks. This rendered Jones ineffective. The best part about this is that not every team has a quality defender at the level of Weitering and if they can continue to be dangerous, Dixon would be salivating at getting some genuine one-on-one contests after dealing with up to four defenders at a time over recent years.

The three-pronged attack absolutely devoured the Carlton defence, particularly in the period when Weitering was off the ground and matchups were being thrown around. Port will be buoyed by the performance of the big men and will be keen to keep them together to continue to develop that chemistry.

This is probably unfortunate for Peter Ladhams as I think adding him to the side makes the Power a bit too top heavy. I don’t think Ken Hinkley is going to want to over-do the height. He’ll either need a dip in form from one of these two or an injury to force his way back in. to the team.

 

SAM WALSH:

There won’t be much more appreciation of Carlton in this review. But I could not leave out some love for Sam Walsh. A bit of polarizing figure for some, Walsh was the Blue’s best player tonight by a street. He lead the team in disposals, contested possessions, score involvements and clearances. He was second for tackles, disposal efficiency, and inside 50’s. When you think about that combination of stats, its either a testament to how good Walsh was, or how poor his teammates were.

To lead your team in contested possessions and still be in the top two, in your team, for disposal efficiency is crazy. Combine that with a big goal in the first quarter, and Walsh was the clear standout. In this game Walsh looked every bit of the elite midfielder Carlton fans want him to rise to this year.

 

THE GOOD STUFF:

 

TRAVIS BOAK:

The skillful warrior.  He was tagged early in the game by Ed Curnow, who did a respectable job, keeping Boak to 11 disposals in the first half. However, Curnow wasn’t paying as close attention to Boak as the game went on. The scoreboard situation forced a change to the way Carlton played if they wanted to try and get back into the game.

Still, while being followed Boak did not let that detract from his game and simply focused on winning the ball at the contest and farming it out to other players. Although, once the shackles were off, Boak exploded.  He continued to fight for the ball in close and also began getting on the outside. He amassed 18 disposals in the second half, also finishing with a game-high 17 contested possessions. A truly balanced inside and outside game.

 

EDDIE BETTS:

In a hard night for the Blues, Eddie provided a spark at times, that looked to potentially inspire them. We all know he hasn’t got the leg anymore, but the creativity and energy Betts offers this team is invaluable. It’s likely that without Aliir Aliir in the Port Adelaide side, and his damn “go-go gadget” arms, Eddie likely would’ve been the spark as some more of his clever taps would’ve worked out in the Blues’ favour.

 

ROBBIE GRAY:

I speak often about David Mundy and Shaun Burgoyne aging like fine wine. It seems Robbie Gray wants to put himself in the Grange category. Gray did most of his damage in the first half but it was enough. There was no need for any heroics on the final siren this time, so Gray simply adjusted his timing. Three first-half goals from him put the break between the two teams. You’d take that every week from Gray if given the choice.

Who would’ve thought he’d still be rocking around making quality defenders look silly with elite skills? Robbie Gray is the ultimate assassin at the moment. No longer getting 25-30 disposals, he only needs a metre of space and the footy in his hands about a dozen times and he will slice you up. See his wonderful gather and spin in the last quarter when he outclassed Liam Jones and another Carlton defender. Gray’s only issue was that the only Port player ahead of him down the field was a hobbling Hamish Hartlett. A quick kick to the space in front of him was not ideal upon reflection. Put a healthy player in Hartlett’s place and it’s a certain goal thanks to Gray’s brilliance.

 

KARL AMON:

Cracking game by Amon. Port Adelaide really benefited from his run and delivery. Probably not well known by non-Port Adelaide supporters, Amon has seemingly taken a step up this season to fill part of the hole left by the departure of Brad Ebert. When the game lost part of its sting in the last quarter Amon was having none of it and continued to make Carlton players look slow and disinterested.

 

THE NOT SO GOOD STUFF:

 

LIAM JONES

I’m wondering if Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson will pay a visit to Ikon Park this week after reports of a class four vapour.  Because that player running around in the Carlton number 14 was a complete ghost tonight. I’m not a usual detractor of Jones, I had him B.O.G. in last weeks match against the Suns. His efforts over the last two weeks have been phenomenal. However, in this game he was beaten comprehensively by a mixture of opponents and really couldn’t get near the footy, particularly in the manner we were quickly becoming accustomed. He even let Dixon add another goal to his tally when Weitering had to be taken off under the concussion protocol. You’ve got to do better by your mates Liam.

 

SAM DOCHERTY:

Had an absolute mare tonight. Dropped marks, smothered kicks and poor handballs. Docherty is the ultimate team player and has fought incredibly hard to re-establish himself following back-to-back knee reconstructions, so I’m definitely not faulting his effort. This was just a night where not a lot went right for him. Move on to next week.

 

THE OTHER STUFF:

 

HAMISH HARTLETT:

Nick Dal Santo summed it up perfectly in the last quarter. There are games when you can’t get near the footy, and there’s times when you can’t away from it. This was the latter for Hartlett. He copped a big corky in his thigh early and played on to ensure the Power were able to keep their rotations going as they used their sub on Houston (Shoulder).

Now, we get to the last quarter and Hartlett has slowed to effectively a hobble and he has arguably some of the most frustrating few minutes in footy for a player.

First, he’s set-up under a hospital handpass by Ryan Burton and subsequently smashed by Weitering, who displayed no mercy. Then he would push forward and be the option ahead of the footy for Robbie Gray after some aforementioned brilliance to outshine two Carlton defenders. Gray instinctively threw the ball on his boot to get it in Hartlett’s vicinity for him to run on and kick a goal. The only problem was Hartlett could barely run. Couple that with the unpredictable bounce of the Sherrin and poor Hartlett had to watch Weitering canter away with the footy as he couldn’t apply any effective pressure. Thankfully, he was relieved of his duties shortly after and sent to the bench to begin his recovery. Kudos for the effort Hamish, sometimes the footy doesn’t go your way.

 

MATTHEW COTTRELL:

I didn’t mind the game of Cottrell. I think his efforts and running capacity are first class. I’ll definitely be following his development closely and I think he has a promising future at the Blues as a hard-running wingmen. He needs to be able to find the footy a bit more and reward all his hard running, but most youngsters need to do that. He did partially do just that when he snapped that miraculous goal midway through the last quarter. Some more of that Matthew, please.

 

HARRY MCKAY

 

I didn’t want to put McKay in the “not so good stuff” as this is more a question than an outright mark on his poor performance. There are just times when McKay has the opportunity to attack the footy and then doesn’t.

Early in the last quarter a high ball into the goal square had a Power player is camped under it. McKay took a few steps to hit the contest and take a mark but then just pulled out. Most likely because he saw a teammate also approach from the other side, but really, as the big key forward you have to hit that contest.

There were a couple of similar instances further up the field where McKay was set to hit the footy and then just didn’t. I think it’s only a matter of one of the coaches getting in his ear and saying “You’re the key forward. We need you hitting these at 100%. Don’t worry about anything else, just attack the footy”. After his performance two weeks ago, he should still have confidence in what he can do when he focuses on that.

 

THE WRAP:

 

CARLTON:

A very disappointing performance for the Blues. Coming off two strong wins and playing at home against a top side and they never really fired a shot. Yet they remained relatively competitive until the last ten minutes of the third quarter. The road ahead does not get easier for them as the play Brisbane next Saturday evening and then the Bombers in a big Sunday afternoon clash. I’m still a believer in Carlton, but they’ll need at least one win out of the next two if they’re going to be a shot for finals.

 

PORT ADELAIDE:

The Power keep rolling. Outside of the blip in Perth they have looked the team to beat, in my eyes. They host the bi-polar Saints next week. Who knows which St. Kilda will turn up? They follow that up with a trip to the Gabba against the Lions. Despite a couple more knocks and injuries I expect the Power to keep banking these early season wins and prime themselves for another deep September run.