This had the potential to be the game of the round – two contenders battling it out on a Saturday night with high stakes.
For the Lions, it was their step back into contention. After a 1-3 start, the club put together back to back wins over the Bombers and Blues, but it was the real test against Port that loomed large.
And for Port, this was their chance to hit the road and overcome that handed them their first loss of the 2020 season at the same venue.
However, we didn’t get the tight contest and we didn’t get to see much at all from Port Adelaide. This was a lesson from the Brisbane Lions, who moved to four wins, announcing in no uncertain terms that the poor form that plagued them to start the season was now just a memory.
Both teams were missing prime movers, with Lachie Neale and Travis Boak sidelined, and was always going to come down to which team wanted it more.
That team was Brisbane.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
THE BIG DADDY OF AFL DEFENDERS
About one or two players per round achieve the defensive double-double. It is when a player records double figures in intercepts, one-percenters and rebound fifties. Only one man has ever achieved a defensive triple double, with 10+ in each category, but Harris Andrews recorded the eighth defensive double-double of his career in this one, placing him in clear fourth place on the all-time list and one behind Daniel Talia in third.
Andrews blanketed the Port Adelaide spearhead, Charlie Dixon, to the point where it made the big Port forward look completely out of sorts. Andrews took contested grabs (two) and killed anything he couldn’t get both hands on. His seven intercepts in the first quarter left no doubt as to his intentions, but it was refreshing to see him go up with the sole intent of wiping out a contest at times as well.
The criticism of Harris in the media is that he has given up too many goals to his direct opponents this season. For me, it was more that he was trying to outmark an opponent all the time instead of destroying the contest as he has proven to be so good at over the years.
When you consider that Andrews rarely left defensive fifty, and was directly responsible for winning or halving 23 Port Adelaide marking chances, it makes you wonder what, if anything, was going through the heads of the Port players kicking the ball to their forwards, or in this case, to their forwards’ opponents?
Andrews was solely responsible for cutting off or bringing to ground almost 40% of the Port Adelaide forward entries in an outing that left no doubt as to his standing in the game amongst key defenders. It was a comprehensive defensive annihilation.
Charlie Dixon was just the poor bugger who had to try to stop the machine known as Harris Andrews in this game. He tried. And he failed.
THE DANGER RETURNS
There was no sulky version of Charlie Cameron in this game. No pouting. No hands on hips. No forgetting to chase his man (for the most part). This was the version of Charlie Cameron the people pay to see, and he put on a show for them in this game.
Cameron had a dangerous look about him right from the outset, and seemed to feed off the pressure of the Lions. It was as though they extended him an invite and he got all excited about attending.
Cameron started this nice little run last week, with a great little performance against Adam Saad that rendered the offensive-oriented Blue more than a little redundant. This week, he was lively again, and but for a very good score review, could have had three for the third quarter.
An excited Charlie Cameron inside 50 breathes life into the Gabba crowd. You can hear the noise level rise whenever he goes near the footy and he feeds off the interaction with the hometown crowd. Once Ryan Burton went down with what is being reported as a rib injury, Cameron’s eyes lit up. He sensed an opportunity and took it with both hands.
With no obvious matchup for him, Cameron had a ball and over the last two weeks looks to have rekindled his love for the game. As a neutral, it is bloody exciting to watch.
THE WINGMAN PECKING ORDER
In our weekly wingman of the year column (released every Monday for members – cheap plug!) we’ve been keeping a close eye on the exploits of both Hugh McCluggage and Karl Amon heading into their clash, and the hope was that they would go head to head for the most part.
Well, it turns out they did, which brought a smile to an old wingman’s dial.
These blokes have taken very different paths to get where they are now. McCluggage was a high draft pick and seemingly destined for greatness at AFL level. Of course, there is a mountain of work that has to go into getting to the level he currently sits, but it seemed as though he was always going to get there. He has class, poise and wonderful balance and looks like a match-winner.
Karl Amon is a little different. There was a period not too long ago where people were wondering if he had what it takes to play at this level. He was slight, easily knocked off the footy and tended to throw the footy on the boot and hope a little too readily. Taken at pick 68 in 2013, he took a while to find his feet at this level, but he definitely found them.
Both are incredible endurance athletes and their battle was always going to have a significant influence on the outcome of the game.
Whilst Amon worked hard for his 20 touches, his shots at goal all missing let him down. Finishing with 0.3 for the evening, I don’t think even the most one-eyed Port supporter could consider him the winner in this battle. McCluggage was just too good.
Clug hit the contest hard, and with ten touches in the first quarter, the dye was cast. He meant business, and whilst Amon was serviceable, McCluggage was a star, picking up 30 touches for the game (the third time in as many weeks) and leading the game in metres gained.
With Mitch Robinson cracking in on the opposite wing, the old firm of the Brisbane wingman combo was too much for the Port duo of Amon and Miles Bergman.
Bergman did have some good moments – his work at ground level and his body positioning in one-on-one contests was excellent, but it is difficult to outwork Mitch Robinson. For the record, I also liked the work of Jaxon Prior when he covered for McCluggage on the wing, as well. Hard runner and good hands on the kid.
On the night, the Lions double act got the job done, with McCluggage the showstopper and you have to wonder whether this will be the season a wingman forces the AA selectors to actually play someone in position in their team?
FILLING THE VOID
Ugh… sounds like Radiohead song…
Anyway, with Lachie Neale down and out for the nest however-long, much was speculated as to how the Lions covered his production in the middle. It was a large load to place on the shoulders of Jarryd Lyons, but with a little help from his friends, he was able to generate a heap of run from the centre, and from stoppages around the ground.
Whilst Lyons did not dominate, he did lead the game with seven clearances, followed closely by Hugh McCluggage, who demonstrated that he can be just as good on the inside as he can on the outside. With the Big O and Scott Lycett cancelling each other out, the midfield was left to fight for the scraps at ground level and after coughing up the first two clearances of the game to Willem Drew, the Lions mids knuckled down to business.
The Neale-less Lions were able to win the clearance battle Over the Boak-less Power despite some tough in-and-under work from Ollie Wines and stamp their authority on the contest. I liked the move of Zac Bailey into the middle at times to add more grunt – he has been knocking on the door for a more meaningful role in this team for a year or two now – maybe it is time for him to stop knocking and just kick the damn door down. He’s ready.
THE ROSE AMONGST THE THORNS
It would be difficult to find a Port Adelaide player that clearly won his position in this game… if not for Aliir Aliir.
Matched up mainly on Eric Hipwood, the big fella had his way across half-back – not to the same level that Harris Andrews did for the Lions, but he was still ultra-impressive in the way he stopped the run of Brisbane on multiple occasions.
He is a powerful man, and very hard to knock off the spot once he establishes position – Hipwood did manage to get the better of him once, with a nice hip and shoulder as he was off-balance to win possession, but the victories for Hipwood were few and far between.
A bit of credit, though, must go to Hipwood and Chris Fagan. Hipwood’s leading started to become longer, and more searching in the second quarter, dragging Aliir further away from the hot zone inside 50 as he tried to prevent his direct opponent getting a touch. I am surprised that Port didn’t switch out more often to afford Aliir the opportunity to plonk himself inside defensive fifty in a similar fashion to Andrews…
… but I guess that is just good coaching from Fagan to recognise Aliir’s influence and combat it intelligently. Not sure what it says for Ken Hinkley in that regard, however.
I am not going to take this opportunity to whack Orazio Fantasia at all. He was the victim of two things in this one. The first one was a disastrously poor series of inside fifty deliveries from his midfield, and the other was one of the best mid-size defenders in the game, Brandon Starcevich sitting in his back pocket all evening.
Actually, it wasn’t all evening – Starcevich got a bit loosey-goosey in the last quarter, which allowed Raz to pick up four of his total seven touches for the night.
But by that stage the game was toast, and some of the Lions were out to have a bit of fun.
Starcevich is just 21 years old and is already making life miserable for forwards. Every time I watch him, I see a little more to like about his game. He is tough, hard at it and getting stronger in the contest. And above all else, he just goes at the contest and doesn’t play for free kicks – it’s actually quite a rare commodity in the AFL. He doesn’t throw his head back, or accentuate contact – he just plays. You have to love that!
THE SECOND, THIRD AND FOURTH OPTIONS
If I told you that a Port Adelaide forward came out in this game and had 22 touches, laid six tackles and took six marks, you would think they had a pretty good game, right?
That guy’s name was Toddrazio Georgarshaltasia.
The backups to Charlie Dixon, who was murdered by Harris Andrews all game, did not fire a shot between them. Todd Marshall looked like a timid lamb when attacking – and I use the word “attacking” very liberally – the contest. Mitch Georgiades spent his time looking as though he had just a passing interest in the game, whilst Orazio Fantasia had his worst outing for the season, soundly beaten by Brandon Starcevich.
In a game where the Power needed someone to step up, the players that have been earmarked as the second and third talls going forward, and their recruit that has been so good this season all fell over. It was a beatdown by the Brisbane defence of Marcus Adams, Ryan Lester and James Madden that perfectly complemented the shutdown roles of Andrews and Starcevich.
The Power looked spent and started playing lazy football. They played “every man for himself” at points and failed to lay little blocks or hip checks to allow easy passage to the footy for a teammate. They reverted back to the Under 12s style of play where everyone goes for every ball and occasionally, someone gets it.
One person would be watching the performances of Marshall and Georgiades with a bit of hope. Peter Ladhams may get another shot at a role in the forward half in the coming week – it would save Dixon having to move to the ruck and tire himself out, and let’s face it – he couldn’t be any worse than the pairing of Georgiades and Marshall in this one. Even when you consider the wet weather, they were toilet-water-bad.
The injury to Ryan Burton (something that is a little too common with the bloke, for my liking) really set the cat amongst the pigeons in the Port Adelaide defence.
You see, Burton was charged with the role of curtailing the elusive and dangerous Charlie Cameron, and once he went down the Power resorted to… errrr…. they went to… they really didn’t do much of anything.
Ken Hinkley kind of sat there for a while, pondering what to do, and in the meantime, Charlie Cameron got the time and space he needed to insert himself into the action.
Hinkley opted for a “coverage by community” style of defence on Cameron, with Tom Jonas being left to mop up the mess on occasion, and you could just about see Charlie licking his lips in delight. Repeatedly, he worked up the ground and then led hard back at goal, receiving the footy in advantageous spots and converting.
He was incredibly dangerous all through the third quarter, with players sagging off him in order to get the casual handball or lazy intercept on the last line. He repaid their lack of faith with a three goal second half that really could have been a four or five goal half. He started to look like the Charlie Cameron of years gone by.
But what else could Port have done? Who else did they have that could match up on Cameron? Maybe there was someone else they could have given some experience to.
“Hey, Boyd Woodcock… I want you to go to the back pocket and do not, under any circumstances, allow Charlie Cameron to get goal side of you.”
“Hey, Hamish Hartlett…”
“Hey, Marty Frederick…”
“Hey, Steven Motlop…”
The Power were getting belted and at that stage, it was Charlie doing the belting. And still, it persisted for the entire third quarter. It was ugly in every sense for Port, but the inaction in the coaching box to curtail a guy that looked as though he was ready to take the game over was very concerning.
Port’s collective defence has been wonderful over the last couple of seasons, but when an integral part goes down, such as the one bloke capable of defending the opposition’s best small, you have to address. Ignoring it leads to… well, it leads to the third quarter in this game.
HOW GOOD CAN WILLEM DREW BE?
Right now, Travis Boak is the man in the Port midfield, and he will remain as such until he chooses to no longer play that role. But waiting in the wings is Drew, who looked every bit the part of a solid young star in the making.
A little older than Port’s celebrated threesome of draftees (of which two were missing in this game), Drew has flown under the radar, but with 32 touches and nine score involvements (in a team that had 19 scores), he demonstrated significant influence. I’d love to see him get a bit more midfield time this season.
WAS THAT GRANT BIRCHALL’S BEST GAME FOR THE LIONS?
He looked pretty comfortable across half-back, didn’t he? Maybe his body was feeling good, or maybe the distinct lack of genuine pressure allowed him to find the space he was not finding against other teams.
He and Daniel Rich did as they pleased with the footy, combining for 46 touches and 16 rebound fifty disposals and they did it at a combined 80% efficiency. A nice night to be a half-back flanker for the Lions.
WHY WAS PORT’S PRESSURE SO POOR? NAME NAMES!
For starters, there is genuine pressure and there is half-hearted pressure which amounts more to a player thinking “I’m in the immediate area so that must mean I am pressuring him” kind of mindset.
No, just being there isn’t enough. That kind of crap do-nothing but just be a body to avoid is the stuff we saw from guys like Dan Houston, Hamish Hartlett and Connor Rozee in this game. They were happy to cruise along parallel to the player with the ball, but not commit the body. Interestingly, all three are coming off injuries – I wonder whether there was any self-preservation in the way they played?
Irrespective, their “style” did not aid the team in terms of applying pressure on the ball carrier at all.
Not sure there is an ongoing place for Sam Mayes in this Port Adelaide team. Three turnovers from eight touches as the sub, and some of the basics just not executed well at all.
Love the combative nature of Ollie Wines. Like it a lot better when he has Trav Boak to bounce off, though.
Really quiet outing for Darcy Byrne-Jones in this one. Not sure we’re gonna see a repeat of last season in terms of AA selection for him. I thought it was a strange one at the time.
I’m not going to whack Dan McStay this week… rejoice! He is what he is, but I thought he made some really good defensive efforts in this one and added to the potency of the Lions’ pressure game.
A more subdued effort from Dayne Zorko in this one – just played footy and cut the crap, by the looks of it. No feigning for 50m penalties. No acting like a jackass… just playing footy like a club captain. Refreshing from him.
Finally, massive respect for Charlie Cameron in two instances during the game. Firstly, stopping mid-play to apologise to an opponent he accidentally clipped, and secondly, he didn’t try to con the umpires with a celebration after snapping a goal that he knew was touched. Shook his head, set up for the kick in and went back to work. Cannot say how much I love this version – “Gentleman” Charles Cameron, Esquire.
And that’ll do me – next week, the Lions get the Dockers in what should be a tough game on the road, whilst the Power head home for the Shoooooowdown. Really, they should win it, but on this game’s form, nothing is guaranteed.