Oh, you could cut the tension in the air with a knife before this game. It was the type of game that journos salivate over.

You see, there had to be a loser, and when the stakes are high, as they were in this top-four contest, there was always an angle to work. The promo on Fox Footy offered no ambiguity in that regard, with screenshots of the Demon players with cracks appearing on the screen – oh yes, in case you hadn’t noticed the Dees had a couple of hiccups over the past month, and were now in need of a win. These blokes were here to tell you all about. And then there were Port Adelaide, who were always going to face the “why can’t they beat a top eight side?” line of questioning if they didn’t get over the Dees at home.

Yep, the stories almost wrote themselves, and I am sure you’ll be reading about these angles all weekend and into next week if you’re a Port Adelaide fan, given the Dees were just too damn good on this occasion.

I’ll leave the fanciful theories to those who need to sell newspapers to appease their employers. Instead, I’ll just cover what happened in the game, itself, if that’s okay with you guys?

It was a very solid win for the Melbourne Football Club over strong opposition. We had marquee clashes in the midfield and in the Port Adelaide forward line, with Boak, Wines, Petracca, Oliver, Dixon and May all taking centre stage at points, but there was so much more to this game than superstar performances.

Let’s dive in with The Mongrel’s Big Questions.

 

WAS THIS THREE VOTES AGAIN FOR CHRISTIAN PETRACCA?

It would be pretty difficult to go past him. Who else would be in contention? Tom McDonald? Steven May? Clayton Oliver? Maybe Christian Salem?

Games with 30+ disposals and three goals don’t happen along that often. We’ve seen Marcus Bontempelli crank a couple of these out over the course of the season, and people have been doing backflips over his output, so rather than search for reasons not to award Petracca the Best on Ground award, perhaps we just shake our head, marvel at how good a player he is and start wondering about who was second?

Deal!

It is interesting watching this bloke play footy – he shows you a little something extra every time you see him. He knows how to keep you interested, doesn’t he? Just gives you enough that you know you want to see more and tune in again next week.

Yet, somehow, he is not a tease. Not anymore.

In this one, it was his little couple of steps to dance out of trouble in a contested footy situation that caught my eye. He wasn’t lurching all over the place like a fish trying desperately to get back into the water – more just hopping out of harm’s way to allow himself, or a teammate the opportunity to get a clear disposal.

The other thing is – he refuses to be taken off his feet in the contest. It’s as though he was taught at a very young age that once you lose your feet, you’re out of that contest, and the next one. He remains upright, wins the footy anyway, and then as quick as a cat with enormous thighs, he’s right there at the next contest whilst the players who dived at the ball in the initial contest are still picking themselves up off the deck.

It was evident in a contest against Connor Rozee, where Port’s young star lunged after the football and ended up on his stomach. Petracca just calmly extracted the ball and dished to a waiting teammate.

His composure has improved immensely, and as with most good teams, his confidence in teammates to win the contest and get the ball forward was painfully (in Port’s case) evident in this game. Two of his three goals came running into the open goal from point-blank range – he flat out worked harder and smarter than everyone else on the ground.

So, at points in this review, I may make a case for someone else to be recognised for their work in this game. They’re all playing for second behind Petracca. He was, in short, the man in this game.

 

OR WOULD YOU HAND IT TO OLLIE WINES?

No, I just said everyone else was playing for second… but damn it, Ollie Wines refuses to give in, doesn’t he?

Though Port have a number of issues they’ll be forced to confront – namely lack of a permanent second marking forward option, a misfiring small forward crew, and a discipline issue – but you cannot point any finger of blame in this game anywhere near Ollie Wines.

In the battle of the men with enormous thigh muscles, Wines matched Christian Petracca in the middle for the most part, but it was his opponent’s scoreboard impact that edged him out in front.

Wines had 33 touches and five clearances as he continued to his run of excellent form, but against the combined might of Petracca and Clayton Oliver, he and his teammate Travis Boak, were left just a little short.

The Power actually ended up with an 11-9 centre clearance advantage, but the quality of those clearances makes for a different story. Max Gawn was able to feed both Petracca and Oliver clean footy at centre bounces, whereas the Port duo were forced to fight and scrap for their touches, which resulted in less-effective disposals.

Wines fought bravely, but the odds were stacked against him in this one.

 

WHY DIDN’T THE WILLEM DREW TAG ON OLIVER KICK IN EARLIER?

They started together at the first bounce, but following that it seemed as though they ran their own races.

At half time, Ken Hinkley had seen enough and decided to give Drew the run-with role on Oliver in the second half. It was effective enough, holding the Melbourne champ (and he is – I’ll get to why) to just five touches in the third quarter after he amassed 20 in the first half. Oliver would add six in the last quarter to finish with 31 for the game, but Drew is one of the more underrated defensive mids in the game, and I was quite shocked that Hinkley didn’t give him the shutdown job right from the first bounce.

Oliver had seven of his 11 clearances in the first half, and whilst I am certain he would have picked up a few irrespective of who was playing on him, it is always that little bit harder to find the footy when there is someone whose sole purpose it is to prevent you from doing so.

This was a missed opportunity.

 

IS STEVEN MAY THE BEST DEFENDER IN THE CAPER?

Tough question, with no definitive answer.

I will say this – he is the most important aspect of the best defence in the competition, and if that makes him the best, then so be it. Playing on Charlie Dixon, May ruled the roost early, following his opponent as far as the half forward flank as Dixon tried to draw May away from defensive 50. After a few trips up the field, May started handing over just before the duo reached the wing, which had a two-fold effect on the Power.

If Dixon did manage to drag down a grab, he would look up to see his direct opponent lurking 50 metres down the ground, ready to pick off the next kick. If he didn’t mark it, well, he was out of position and May was still 50 metres down the line waiting for whoever grabbed the footy to kick it forward.

It must have been causing a few headaches for Ken Hinkley.

The Melbourne defence was so well set-up that Port had no winners on the night, save for a third quarter wake-up call from Mitch Georgiades that threatened to pull them right back into the game. With Georgiades playing as the deepest forward and looking active on the lead as well as taking a massive hanger on Max Gawn’s head, Port started to look as though they had some genuine structure. Dixon continued to lead May away from the footy, which gave his young teammate a clear run at the footy.

Of course, whilst Georgiades had a purple patch, Port’s other young star, Todd Marshall, turned in another stinker, which left Port’s forward line ostensibly playing a man short. Throw in the ineffective Connor Rozee and the disappointing Steven Motlop, and you have the makings of an inept forward half.

May will not have numbers that cause you to sit up and take notice of his game in this one – six intercepts and six spoils to go with 21 touches are a nice night’s work, but it was his ability to nullify the influence of Charlie Dixon that gave the Dees the ability to be a little more dashing out of defence.

 

WILL CLAYTON OLIVER JOIN THE 400-CLUB AGAIN?

It’s looking like he could.

Oh, what is the 400-club? I’m glad I asked. You see, Clayton Oliver is already a member, but this season he is looking to become a dual member of the club. Only two other players since contested possessions have been kept as a stat have managed to join the 400-club. Those players are Josh P Kennedy and Patrick Dangerfield.

Back in the good old days of 2018, the Dees’ finals run saw Clarry clock up 405 contested possessions for the season, at an average of 16.2 per game. This year, Oliver is on pace to top that, assuming the Dees get a double chance and play at least two finals… and they will, right? Right?!?!

Averaging 16.7 contested possession per outing, Oliver looks set to start to bridge the gap between himself and Kennedy’s record three 400+ contested possession seasons and level Patrick Dangerfield in the process. The highest total recorded was Dangerfield’s 430 back in 2017, but with Oliver showing no signs of slowing down (he had 21 contested touches in this game to take him to 267 for the 2021 season), we may just see history made.

And I reckon it could not happen to a nicer bloke.

Three years ago I stated that when all is said and done, Clayton Oliver will sit alongside Melbourne royalty as one of the best to ever play for this club. The more I watch him, the more I am content with that assessment. He is a star.

 

Bumper sticker

 

 

DOES SAM POWELL-PEPPER TRY TO DO TOO MUCH?

I’d never question the bloke’s effort, but what I would do is question the decision-making, and I’d question it often.

SPP is the sort of player that can turn a game. His aggression at the ball and his ability to crash packs and earn the tough footy make him a valuable asset to Port Adelaide, but in the first quarter, I was thinking that Ken Hinkley may have thought himself lucky that he had lost his hair a while ago, because the reversed free kick against Powell-Pepper would have had him tearing handfuls of it out.

Seriously, there is no more idiotic move in the game of football than giving up possession in an act of faux-toughness when your teammate has the footy and you’re looking at the possibility of scoring as a result. Powell-Pepper decided to “fly the flag” for teammate Zak Butters – a bloke highly capable of flying his own damn flag if the need arises – and in the process, lost possession of the ball and lost the 50 metre penalty that Butters had already been awarded.

It was an early momentum shifter, and the type of act that really just makes you shake your head and wonder whether SPP is all there. He has been a bit of a lightning rod for controversy over the last few years at Port, and whether it was justified on other occasions, I don’t know, but I know it was pretty damn justified in this one.

For the remainder of the game, Powell-Pepper was pretty good, but it is a shame that his largest contribution to his team in this one was such a negative one.

 

WHO WON THE BATTLE OF THE RUNNING MEN?

As some of you know, I have a weekly column assessing the game’s best wingmen, and two of the top ten this season as the power runners for Port and Melbourne, in Karl Amon and Ed Langdon. Initially, I thought we may see these two go head-to-head on a wing, but whether via circumstance or a deliberate tactic, they played on opposite sides of the park in this one.

Langdon found himself opposed to Port youngster, Miles Bergman for most of the game, and whilst Bergman will develop into a very good young player, this match-up had red flags all over the place for me. Langdon would be in the top handful of elite runners in the game. Amon would not be far away in that category, either. I’m not sure where Bergman rates, but I am guessing over the course of a game, it’s not near those two!

On the other wing, Amon ran opposite a few opponents, including Angus Brayshaw, who is a very difficult match-up for many, as he keeps his space well and forces his opponent to take risks, James Harmes and James Jordon.

So, rambler… who won?

No need to be nasty… Amon was one of Port’s best. He ran hard all day, hit the scoreboard early to get the Power rolling, and pumped them inside 50 eight times whilst accumulating a mammoth 831 metres gained.

Yep… but he hacked at the footy a little too much. It was largely due to the relentless Demon pressure, as he was forced to throw the ball on his boot without looking (another time was due to a terrible handball from Darcy Byrne-Jones that could have got him killed, but more on that later…).

On the flipside, Langdon was more measured. He still powered up and down the ground, but he played more of a defensive role than his counterpart, often drifting back inside defensive to relieve the pressure on teammates. He only laid one tackle (Amon had five) but it was a damned good one, running down Travis Boak, as Todd Marshall stood there like a mute, failing to tell him he was red hot.

Given they played very different roles, it makes it tough to discern who was more effective. It would be easy to go with the bloke whose team won, as I am guessing most people reading this will be of the Demon persuasion, however, Amon was probably marginally better overall on the night. Sure, he kicked like a mule at times, but his gut-running and ability to find the footy were admirable. He gets his hand raised… just.

 

IF THERE WERE A COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR AWARD, HOW MUCH WOULD TOM MCDONALD WIN BY?

I mean, I know he’s never really been gone, but at one stage last season, he looked absolutely GOOOOONNNNNEEE, if you know what I mean.

He was on the trade table with no takers, and I reckon there’d be five or six teams right now kicking themselves, or maybe their cat, for not taking a chance on him. He just looks hungry for the footy, is presenting well, has hands that look like the footy belongs in them, and when the Dees were challenged in the third quarter, it was Tom McDonald that stood up and delivered two telling blows to settle his team down and keep the scoreboard ticking over. And no… it wasn’t out of bounds – if you think it was, open your other eye.

You hear a lot about players through the media – oh, he’s changed his diet, got a personal trainer and is having weekly enemas… I may have made that one up… but what seems to be the major change is his willingness to compete, and that should speak volumes about this man.

He has entered the 2021 season with a point to make, and he is making it at the expense of defenders all over the league. As a lead-up target, he had 19 disposals, three goals, two goal assists, ten score involvements and a partridge in a bloody pear tree! He had a bit of everything, and if word about his diet is correct he’d eat that partridge and wouldn’t give it a second thought – long live the carnivores!

There are a vast number of reasons that the Dees are playing great footy this season, but the career renaissance of Tom McDonald has to be front and centre when discussing where they’ve improved. In packs in this game, he looked like a man amongst boys and played the type of game I am sure Port supporters were hopeful that Charlie Dixon would.

Another fantastic outing for TMac… in a way, I feel proud of him.

 

WHAT THE HELL WAS WRONG WITH CONNOR ROZEE?

Michael Hibberd was probably the main thing wrong with him, but apart from the aerial contest where he collided with his teammate, Charlie Dixon, Rozee looked completely out of sorts, and truthfully, apart from a couple of games, has all year.

Whether he is carrying a constant niggle (his knee was strapped up in this one) or is just lacking confidence, it looks as though something is up with him, and if Port is going to do anything this season other than hit the finals and make up the numbers, they will need their young star playing with passion and getting his hands on the footy.

Six touches for a player of his talent… something smells off.

Other than his five-goal blast against the Cats in Round 13, Rozee has faced four other top-eight teams this season. His goal totals in those games – one, and that was in this game. He has been held goalless against the Dogs, Eagles and Lions. I know the Cats game wallpapers over plenty of things, but that should be enough to make you sit up and take notice.

 

WHAT THE HELL WAS RIGHT WITH KYSAIAH PICKETT?

Everything!

He was deadly in this game, swooping on opportunity like Joe Ganino on cigarette butts outside Coles.

He was dangerous with the footy, slotting two of his three snags on opportunistic gathers from around 50 metres out, but he was also a real handful without the footy, laying nine tackles to trail only hard nut, Jack Viney for the game.

The game looked to come easily to Pickett in this one. His instincts are near perfect when he collects the ball anywhere within range, summing up the situation in a split second before launching at the goals and making Port pay. His pressure around the contest was top-notch, and due for release for tomorrow is the sixth version of our X-Factor Rankings for our Inner Circle Members. In it, Pickett features prominently, but would be higher placed still if this game’s numbers were added to the mix.

He had four tackles inside 50 to lead the game and, in short, was everything to Melbourne that Connor Rozee was not to the Power.

 

Stubby holder

 

 

DID BEN BROWN DO ENOUGH?

Geez, I am not sure. If it was, it certainly wasn’t easily noticeable. I mean, Sam Weideman was able to bring the ball to ground easily enough (because he was dropping marks inside fifty… boom-tish!) so if that is your pass mark, you’re setting the bar pretty low.

Brown finished with no goals from ten touches and four marks, but did lay three tackles inside 50, so it was good to see him applying pressure.

As it stands, it is harsh to judge a player by one game, so I reckon he gets another run next week against the Hawks to see if he can hit the scoreboard. The good thing is I don’t immediately remember him being beaten aside from one contest where he was pushed under the footy by Tom Clurey, and he was also robbed on a contested mark inside 50 at one stage, as well.

Give him another run and allow him to play himself in, or out of the game.

 

IS DARCY BYRNE-JONES DOWN ON CONFIDENCE OR JUST MAKING REALLY STUPID DECISIONS?

Maybe both?

There were a couple of occasions in this game where he just sold a teammate down the river with an ill-informed handball or short pass that left his mate no option but to throw the footy on his boot blindly or be tackled.

He was a far cry from the player that surprised many with a selection to the All-Australian team in 2020, and with his average disposals per game sitting just at 20.3 per game, I doubt we’ll see him repeat the performance come the end of the season.

DBJ has been lacking that run-and-carry, and dare that made him special in 2020. He is more reactive and less likely to take the game on, at least to someone on the outside looking in.

 

HOW MUCH DOES THE ZAK BUTTERS INJURY HURT?

Me, personally?

Not much.

My counterpart, Matt Oman, who may be the biggest Zak Butters fan who does not support Port Adelaide?

Well, I think the Mongrel team will have to check in on him and make sure he is okay.

Butters is a game-changer. He was a hit rusty early on in this one, but the signs were good. The knee injury looked innocuous, but Port will be ultra-cautious with a commodity as valuable as Butters. I hope he gets a few games under his belt before the real stuff starts.

 

IS THIS THE WIN THAT IGNITES THE DEES’ RUN TO SEPTEMBER?

Road wins against a top four side… they don’t get much bigger. Though I am sure some will downplay the achievement by trotting out Port’s record against top sides, the fact remains that they came, they saw and they conquered.

As I wrote about in the intro, journos were sharpening their swords, ready to slice up the Dees if they faltered here.

They didn’t.

They stood up to the pressure. They threw it back at the Power, and they emerged as winners. That’s your story, and yes it is exactly the type of win that sets teams on the path to a big September.

 

IS THIS THE LOSS THAT SEES PEOPLE JUMP OFF PORT?

There’s been a lot of jumping off in the last week. They’ve jumped off Richmond. They’ve jumped off West Coast, and if they jump off Port, tell me… who will they jump off next?

Port will play finals – they’re too good not to, but I would be lying if I said this loss didn’t sting them. They may have needed it for their own confidence, or they may not have – I am not on the inside of the club – I don’t know. But this club is finals-bound, and all it takes is one win in September to start the ball rolling, and all of a sudden, those who jumped off will be clamouring for a spot back on.

If a team is in the mix at this point of the year, only a fool writes them off, and that could apply to Richmond, West Coast and Port Adelaide.

 

So, in the wash-up, a great win to the Dees – and hey, you will have noticed that I didn’t put any restrictions on this article – usually, any of my stuff goes behind the paywall for 15 or so hours. Pretty nice of me, huh? You could join the Mongrel to get this stuff early, as well as the Midfielder Championship Belt Updates, the Wingman of the Year weekly column, 4 x Good, Bad and Ugly reviews and a couple of standalone columns each week. I’d really appreciate tour support – these sites aren’t free to maintain. Link below. Cheers

 

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