Sunday night footy at the Adelaide Oval promised… well, very little considering where both Port Adelaide and St Kilda stand in the pecking order so far in 2021, and to the shock of literally no one, we got what was expected.

After finishing minor premiers in 2020, Port Adelaide haven’t skipped a beat, unless you’re counting what happened against the West Coast Eagles in Perth a few weeks ago. But four wins from five starts was encouraging in the lead up and against a vulnerable St Kilda side, and much was expected of Port to do the Saints in quite comfortably.

If you were watching the game, you could argue that the 54-point margin that separated the two sides by full time probably flattered the Saints. The Power were clinical when they needed to be and got win number five on the board in an emphatic display.

So it leaves the question: Where the hell are the Saints at? Losses by 75 points to Essendon, 86 to Richmond last Thursday night and now a 54-point loss to Port Adelaide. Season 2020 feels like a distant memory to so many right now, but none more so than the Saints. They look a lot of things right now – lost and broken are probably the most applicable.

Yes, they’ve had quite a few injuries at the start of the year, and I thought they’d have a hard time starting things off, but I didn’t think they’d be in the bottom four with just two wins to their name.

But anyway, let’s try and break this performance down as best we can in another Mongrel review.

 

KARL ‘THE KILLER’ AMON

It was less than three years ago that Karl Amon was on the outer at Port Adelaide and it looked seemingly likely he was on his way to Hawthorn along with good mate Chad Wingard – remember that one Hawthorn fans? Port fans will most likely remind you, and so will anyone else with half a footy brain – myself included.

Point is, that here we are in 2021 and Karl Amon is looming large already after six games as one of the league’s most improved players. Probably won’t be recognized outside the four walls of Port Adelaide, but he is standing out like dog’s bollocks now.

The wingmen can often get a bit of a bad wrap – I know I have a gripe with those that don’t want to go in for contested ball – Brad Hill looking at you – but the primary focus of the outside players is to run, provide links with their ball movement, hold themselves on the outside and deliver it inside 50 like it was silver service. So far this year, Amon has been very, very good at that and his influence on this contest is what separated Port and the Saints for most of the game.

By half time, he had himself 26 disposals and 13 marks – some players would be thankful if they got that in four quarters of footy let alone a half. He is very smart in terms of where to run, making sure he holds his line and is often sure of his disposal. He’d finish with 34 and 15, along with 555 metres gained and half a dozen rebound 50s as well.

I’ll await arguments from fellow Mongrels and you loyal readers about Most Improved, but for now, he’s my early nomination.

 

DICTATING PLAY

If there was one constant that I was noticing throughout the match – in particular the first half, because that was when the game was still in the balance – was that Port were very methodical in terms of controlling the ball. By full time, the disposals count, the marks count and the uncontested possession count were ungodly tipped in favour of the Port chaps: +149 disposals, +66 in total marks and +141 uncontested possession.

Quite a number of these were due to chipping the ball around the defensive half until there was an opening through the middle of the ground and then it was the licence to go for broke. Between Tom Jonas, Aliir Aliir and Ryan Burton, that’s 38 marks and 75 disposals. These three were cool, calm and collected anytime the ball was down Port’s defensive 50 – and it was down there plenty of times.

Oddly enough, the inside 50 count was deadlocked at 52-apiece. The difference being St Kilda’s inside 50 entries were a lot sloppier than that of Port Adelaide. I noted down at various points the entries made by players such as Zak Jones, Brad Hill and Dan Butler as very, very poor. I’m more than certain that there are other players that are just as guilty, but those were just a couple of examples that I saw of St Kilda’s poor ball movement – Max King didn’t stand a chance.

There’s one more thing that I’ll highlight here and that’s the centre clearance count. In overall clearances, there wasn’t much in it, but the Power dominated clearances from the centre bounces 16-6 – Ollie Wines may just rival Karl Amon as the best player on the ground, because he was the main culprit of this dominance.

Out of his eight clearances, six of them came from the centre bounce. It wasn’t like it was the only thing he was doing either – he had himself 36 disposals, seven marks, five tackles, six score involvements, two goal assists, seven inside 50s and four intercepts.

 

DOUGAL V CHARLIE

If you read my stuff week in and week out, you know that I’m a fan of battles within battles and this one I thought was an entertaining one, all things considered.

If there is one small weakness at Port Adelaide from the past 12 months, is that they can be very focused on getting the ball to Charlie Dixon inside 50. There’s good reason; he’s got sticky hands and his kicking for goal has been an improvement in comparison to past years, but it also makes it a bit more predictable for the defenders to get around him.

Considering how easily Port were pumping the ball inside 50, Dougal did a very good job in keeping him to two goals. Quite a few defensive efforts were almost at the point of heroism. He did also have plenty of assistance in the form of Callum Wilkie and Hunter Clark coming in to help crash the pack and commit to the contest.

But take nothing away from Dixon, because I thought he was still able to get a lot out in this contest. Leading up the ground, he took a few contested grabs from around the middle of the ground as a bail-out kick and a few times he managed to get one-on-one with Howard he made him and the Saints pay with his contested marking – he finished with two majors from five contested marks and 11 disposals.

As for the Doooooooog, he had himself 17 disposals – all of them kicks at 82 per cent efficiency, as well as six marks, 474 metres gained and a team-high nine intercepts. In contests like this, I’d give the spoils to the winning side, but I feel both players played really strong games.

 

FLASHY FREDDY

I’ve liked a lot about what Micky Frederick is doing over at Fremantle, very quick, quite handy with his disposal and always threatening around the goal, which made the debut of his brother Marty just that little more highly anticipated… Ha, Micky and Marty – sounds like some kind of old-school slapstick comedy duo.

But make no mistake when I say that there is no laughing matter about how Martin Frederick plays his footy. He’s been on Port’s list for the past couple of years, but the way he played in this one suggests that he has a future in the AFL. Plenty of moments he popped up with the footy in his hands and was often doing something very constructive – hardly wasting his disposal.

It’s not often you see debutants get 23 disposals and six marks, but that’s what Marty ended up with, he also had himself eight intercepts, three inside 50s and five score involvements going at 95 per cent efficiency. I love that he doesn’t hesitate to take the game on, much in the same fashion his brother in the West is doing at the moment and he proved to be quite elusive when he was on the run.

My only concern with him is where are Port going to find the room for him once the likes of Lachie Jones, Xavier Duursma and Zak Butters come back into the side?

 

THE FEEL FOR STEELE

For as bad as this season has started so far for the Saints, one of a few rare constants in this team is Jack Steele. Call it a breakout 2020 campaign or a coming of age, Steele was rewarded for his stellar form with co-captaincy alongside Jarryn Geary this year and has absolutely thrived in the role, especially in the absence of Geary, who is still nursing that broken leg.

There’s probably a select handful of Saints’ players that could hold their head high after this game and Steele is at the top of the list: 27 disposals, seven tackles, four clearances in another strong performance – the one blip was that 50-metre penalty against him in the second term; it was bad, but it wasn’t as bad as the one Ben Long gave away five minutes earlier. Don’t get me started on him…

But the one question I have for the Saints is where the bloody hell is the help?

Seb Ross played himself a very good game – he’s a real blue-collar kind of midfielder, no-nonsense and always finds a way to get his specific role or job done and he did a solid job in this one: 31 disposals, 10 marks, eight tackles, six clearances and 511 metres gained.

But the input from the midfielders wanes extraordinarily after these two, and that’s not even counting Rowan Marshall’s performance in the ruck for most of the game.

Brad Crouch had the 18 disposals and six clearances but looked significantly down in terms of impact. Jack Billings had the 14 disposals, Zak Jones had the 10 and Brad Hill earned his paycheck with another meagre 10 disposals.

What’s Jack Higgins’ role in the side? Playing forward? Get him in the guts! Hunter Clark is one I think can find another level in his game playing in the middle as well. Jack Bytel – I had no idea he was playing until I saw his name and stats on the sheet post-game, only the six touches – what was he doing?

The Saints’ fortunes lie in their ability to win the footy at the source, Jack Steele is a phenomenal looking man and is just as good at playing footy to boot, but he can’t do it all week in and week out. Something’s got to change for next weekend at selection – injuries or not.

 

OTHER BITS

Rowan Marshall’s numbers – 23 hitouts, 16 disposals, seven tackles, eight marks, a pair of clearances and one goal. Scott Lycett had more hitouts and more disposals, but I thought Marshall’s efforts around the contest made him one of St Kilda’s best.

Thought Dan Houston’s start to this contest was bloody as good as any – had himself the 12 disposals and was featuring prominently in the clearance count early. Finished with 32 disposals, eight marks, four clearances – two of them coming from centre bounces.

I reckon we’re seeing a small return to form from Connor Rozee – and I mean 2019 form here. Kicked 2.1 from 18 disposals and four marks and also had four inside 50s and eight score involvements. If I see Kenneth attempt to move him into the middle again, I’ll give him a real serving.

Speaking of players getting back into form, Orazio Fantasia is having himself some start to the year – 11.7 heading into this game and added another 3.3 for his troubles. He looks a lot fitter, more capable of covering ground and is currently on track to bettering his career-best form in 2017 when he kicked 39.22

How many more games does Ben Long have in this team? Only the six disposals and gave away a very silly 50 metre penalty as mentioned above. Not the first time he’s done it this season and won’t be the last time he does it either unless he gets demoted to Sandringham.

Whilst on 50 metre penalties, Mitch Georgiades’ two goals both came from the Saints’ conceding fifties – but I thought his leading patterns are extraordinary for a second-year player – took six marks. Played a strong key forward game.

Another Saint I’ll be very critical of is Jake Carlisle – only five disposals playing ruck sometimes and sometimes as a key forward. I don’t even know where he’s playing and I’m certain he doesn’t either.

Have I touched on Travis Boak’s game yet? David Mundy gets a lot of praise for being an old bloke who is still playing good footy, but Boak’s doing it just as well – 27 disposals, seven clearances and 1.1 on the night.

Some positive reinforcement for the Saints is Jack Sinclair played well – I’ve been critical of him at times, sort of as that player that’s got athletic attributes but does very little. But I thought he worked harder than most – 16 disposals, five tackles, five marks, 441 metres gained off the half back line mostly.

Miles Bergman on the wing for Port looked very handy – 16 disposals, seven marks and over 250 metres gained. These kids: Rozee, Butters, Duursma, Bergman, Georgiades, Jones and Todd Marshall to name some – have yet to reach their prime and are already proving themselves to be very good additions to this Port side.

And on that very scary note, it’s time to call full time on this review.

For Port Adelaide, they sit at 5-1 and entrenched inside the top four. A few big games coming up for them, with Brisbane next week at the Gabba who were looking back to their best before the news surfaced of Lachie Neale’s ankle injury forcing him on the sidelines for the next little while. They do also play Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs following that, so some interesting games ahead for Port.

As for the Saints, at 2-4 and in the bottom four, they need some form of response – they do play Hawthorn and the Gold Coast in their next two weeks and both of them loom as must-wins. If they can get themselves back to a square ledger at 4-4 then who knows what happens from there on in. But they need to get a lift somewhere somehow.