My guess is that you’re reading this for the same reason I’m writing it, right? You love footy, you love your club and you love everything that is unique to our great game?

You love the high-flying marks, the roar of the crowd, the scintillating run and the see-sawing nature of a thrilling game of football. How am I doing?

Well, you’ve got to hand it to Ken Hinkley and Brett Ratten – through the first three quarters of this contest, they had their teams do everything in their power to ensure you were going to get none of the stuff that makes you love footy. It was a horrid contest – a defensive-oriented slog in perfect conditions under the roof at Marvel Stadium. Sure, it had its moments, but they were few, and very far between as the Saints and Power played the majority of this game between the arcs.

But I am also guessing you’re not here to read doom and gloom about a game of footy, right? I mean, it’s not as though we live in a time with a shortage of doom and gloom in our day to day existence (thanks idiot removalists from NSW), so why dwell on the negative?

Let’s focus on the positive aspects of the game and throw in a couple of unsavoury bits as we go.

Here, ladies and gentlemen, is The Mongrel Punt’s good, bad and ugly of Port Adelaide v St Kilda.

 

 

THE GOOD

 

ROAD WARRIORS

Each week, here at The Mongrel Punt, we compile our Road Warrior Ladder to assess the best road teams in the game. At the start of this round, we had the Port Adelaide Power in a tussle at the top with Melbourne, and offered a chance to take outright top spot, they took complete advantage.

Port have been magnificent on the road this season. Sure, it matters who you play as much as where you play them, but when presented with the chance to head interstate and pick up a win, Port have now completed that task on five occasions.

It is at home that they’re finding the going tougher.

Against a St Kilda side desperate to give themselves a chance at finals, Port did what they needed to do to secure the four points, and in the process jumped into the top four again. There will be some tests upcoming for this team, as the road to the flag goes through teams such as Geelong, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, and though these teams have fixed Port up already this season, the Power holds no fears about travelling at all in 2021. Yes, their home record against good teams may be a worry, but on the road, this side knows how to get it done.

 

PLAYING LIKE THE BROWNLOW MEDALLIST

It’s not just the 36 touches that should impress you when it comes to the game of Ollie Wines this week. Port fans have been a little spoiled in terms of the way he goes about it this season – he has been a complete bull in the middle and has well and truly repaid the faith after a year or two at the club that did not really go the way either party expected.

In 2020, Ollie Wines turned the corner, and in 2021, he is looking every bit like the best, and most consistent player in the competition.

Circling back, it was the little things that made Wines’ game the standout in this contest. His contested mark down the line was important in the last quarter . His smother in open play in the same quarter set u a scoring opportunity for Sam Mayes. And finally, his bodywork, using that bulk to fight through contact, and tackles, highlighted just what a powerful beast of a midfielder he has become.

His tag team with Travis Boak is one of the most potent one-two contested footy punches in the game, with Wines now taking on the bulk of the heavy work and Boak, for so long the number one man, slotting into the supporting role more often than not.

We have heard many sing the praises of Jack Steele and the way he carries the St Kilda midfield, and yes, he is thoroughly deserving of the plaudits, but if you’re looking for the standout player in a finals-bound team this season, there are only a couple of genuine options. One is Marcus Bontempelli, and the other is Ollie Wines, and if these two are not sitting at one-two in the Brownlow at this point of the season, I don’t know what the umpires are looking for when they vote – mark this one down, three votes – O Wines.

Again.

 

THE BEACONS ARE NOT LIT – ST KILDA CALLS FOR AID

What, you don’t like Lord of the Rings references? We cannot be friends…

Max King and Tim Membrey stood out as the two beacons of hope up forward for St Kilda in this one, and as such, it was tasked to Trent McKenzie and Tom Jonas to curtail their impact. And they did that in an incredibly effective way.

McKenzie owned Max King in the air, using deft bodywork and superior strength to simply move the young forward out of position, seemingly at will. The former Sun was far too good for the beanpole, working him under the footy and refusing to allow him a clean run at the contest for the most part.

King managed to work up the ground on occasion, and was able to glove four contested marks – usually enough to see a key forward have a significant impact on the game. But where was he taking those marks? And where would he have liked to be taking them?

King had one disposal inside 50 for the entire game, with McKenzie completely owning the contest where King should be at his most dangerous, and in the last quarter, when the Saints desperately needed someone to stand up, King’s stat line reads like a horror story – zeroes across the board – marks, kicks, handballs, tackles… nothing.

McKenzie’s captain, Tom Jonas continued to do exactly what he has been doing for years; shutting down his direct opponent and making life tough for every forward in the vicinity. Tim Membrey was his assignment for the day, and the Port skipper handled the role with ease, matching Membrey stride for stride on the lead, and pressuring him to the point that he was unable to become a factor inside 50 for the whole contest.

Membrey was restricted to one touch inside 50, matching the output of King, and was soundly beaten by Jonas at ground level as well.

The two Port defenders got excellent help from Ryan Burton, and Aliir Aliir as they shut down the main avenues to goal for the Saints.

King did get one goal to his name, following a blatant throw from Dan Butler that was permitted by the umpires, but all-in-all, this day belonged to Jonas and McKenzie. When you can hold the two key forwards to just two touches inside fifty between them, it is pretty difficult to fault.

 

ON A WING…

Quite the run of form from Karl Amon in the last three weeks, and he did some of the dirty work in this game to add to his already impressive season out on the wing for the Power.

With ten tackles for the first time in his career, Amon provided defensive pressure as well as scoring punch for Port, dropping back inside defensive fifty to help alleviate the pressure, as well as working through the middle of the ground and hitting the scoreboard.

There is an argument that Amon was the best avenue to goal Port had in this game in terms of their smalls. Without Connor Rozee, Zak Butters, Orazio Fantasia, Steven Motlop, and Robbie Gray, this Port team was left with only Boyd Woodcock as a small forward, so it was incumbent on Amon to push hard forward to create options in attack.

And that he did.

Amon finished the game with 2.1 as he ran onto several loose balls and opened himself up as a handball target, but really found himself in the position where he could have ended the game with four goals. Given the licence to venture forward more by Ken Hinkley, Amon may have opened a few eyes in terms of his true capabilities inside forward fifty in this game.

Whilst you would love to have Gray and the others mentioned back in the Port forward line to give them some real bite at ground level, the work of Amon to fill the void in this game was admirable, and his last three weeks have seen him average 27 touches and a goal per game.

Not bad for a bloke who was really seen as a fringe player just a couple of seasons ago – he has done the work and is now reaping the rewards.

 

THE ANSWER

I’ve been asking the question for a while now, and there is only one bloke that continues to give me an answer. Todd Marshall or Mitch Georgiades as the second forward in the Port Adelaide forward line – who gets the nod?

At 19 years of age, the jury is in on Georgiades and he gets the nod. He just looks like a genuine footballer, whilst Marshall still appears tentative and unable to impact the contest consistently. I understand that there will be ups and downs for Georgiades, but he is already a boy in a man’s body, and he has the type of hands you’d dream of if you were a key forward.

Marshall, on the other hand, appears to be a man in a boy’s body, and although he slotted in late with a nice mark, it was the younger forward that made the difference in this game.

I suppose the next questions is whether the Power play both Marshall and Peter Ladhams in the same team? I’m not sure you get away with those two plus Dixon and Georgiades all in the same forward line in an ongoing capacity.

 

THE RUCK, MAN

I loved the way Paddy Ryder attacked the contest early in the game. Both in the air and on the deck, Ryder looked intent on making a statement that he was going to control the ruck duels against his former running mate, Lycett.

The pairing of Lycett and Ryder at Port was a failure, and with Ryder making way, you can understand how he’d want to make a statement. Though Lycett ended up with more of the footy in the first quarter, it was Ryder, in tandem with Rowan Marshall playing the forward ruck role, that took control.

Ryder and Marshall had nine disposals and 11 hit outs to Lycett and Ladhams’ seven and ten as they demonstrated just how important they are to the St Kilda structure.

It is no coincidence that the Saints struggled when Ryder and Marshall were out of the team – you are guaranteed a contest when these two are on the field, and though Lycett battled on manfully, he was taking on two established ruck monsters, and had his colours lowered.

Ryder led the game in hit outs with 28, and Marshall enjoyed a little more freedom drifting forward, finishing with two goals from his 19 touches. Lycett battled hard, locking in nine tackles to go with his 17 touches, but the old two against one equation, and a couple of late-game errors from Lycett tipped the balance in favour of the Saints.

 

 

THE BAD

 

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO DAN BUTLER?

He took the league by storm last year, didn’t he? Offloaded by Richmond, he entered the season with a point to prove, and by god, he proved it with a season that was pretty unlucky not to be rewarded with an All-Australian selection.

And now 2021 has rolled around and we have seemingly switched out a player that looked like he would bleed for the red, white and black, for whatever Butler is this season.

Believe it or not, Butler’s disposals per game average is around the same mark as it was in 2020, however, when you factor in 20% less game time, you start to understand how significant his drop off has been.

The big one, obviously, has been the lack of production in front of goals from him this season. Sure, he picked one up this game, but on the whole, he has seen his scoring cut almost in half on average. From 1.53 goals per game in 2020, Butler has struggled his way to 0.82 per game this season. It may not sound like much, but he is also down half a tackle per game inside 50… and as much as his goals and score involvements were celebrated last season, it was his pressure inside 50 that was his greatest strength.

It seems he has forgotten about that aspect of the game.

If we want to look at a play that captures Butler’s 2021 in a nutshell, we jump to the last quarter. He is streaming through the wing and half forward, with Brad Hill riding shotgun. He has one-on-ones ahead of the ball and opts, instead, to kick a checkside pass to somewhere central in the forward 50… straight to a Port defender. It was a golden opportunity to score on the break, and he had players ready to support him, but his indecision… or to put it a little more bluntly, his stupid decision to be a little bit more creative than he could pull off, saw him turn the ball over.

If you’re looking for a forward pocket on your 2021 All-Disappointing team, you’d be hard-pressed to go past Dan Butler.

 

 

THE UGLY

 

COMPOSURE? WHAT’S THAT?

If you want to see a team dig themselves a hole, take a look at some of the turnovers coming out of defensive 50 in the last quarter from the Saints.

Panicked, lazy and thoughtless, some of their disposals to clear the area were begging to be eaten up and scored against on the re-entry.

I know that most people that read our columns are looking for little tidbits to take away that you just don’t get elsewhere in analysis, but this one is the simplest one you’ll get. Re-entries inside 50 are the easiest way to score in the league. Yes, they are classified as turnovers, but in that area of the ground 50-70 metres out from goal, gaining possession of the footy allows you to take advantage of a defence in disarray.

In those instances, you have mids trying to make position to receive, defenders trying to run off their opponents to create, and rucks starting to move back up the ground. The only ones that really hold their positions are the forwards, so when the ball is turned over in the 50-70m space and comes back in, you catch a defence stranded on an island of chaos, and it hurt St Kilda badly in the last quarter.

Brad Hill was the main offender. In a two minute period, he appeared as though he’d forgotten how to kick, turning the footy over on two disastrous kicks that lead to shots by Charlie Dixon and Sam Mayes. Yeah, he gets out of jail because they both missed, but those kicks were symptomatic of the way the Saints attempted to clear the area. Hill was trying to be too cute – others were rushed and panicked. It played right into the hands of the Power, who eventually took advantage and made their opponents pay.

 

KILLING IN THE NAME OF…

Did you enjoy the first half, or first three quarters of this game?

Pristine conditions, two good sides, the potential to create a fantastic game of Aussie Rules football, and instead, what we got was a slog – a slow, safe, conservative slog. The reasons for this were obvious – for Port, there was a top four opportunity on the line, and for the Saints, a chance to move into the eight beckoned. And neither coach wanted to be the one to allow the other to break the game open.

And so we got what we got – both sides simply refusing to make courageous kicks into the corridor, and hugging the boundary at every opportunity. The kicks into the attacking fifties went not to the top of the square unless it was so congested that it didn’t matter – no, they went to the deep pockets where they could spoil the ball over the line and set up for a stoppage.

It was defensive coaching at its worst, and in a way I am glad there was no crowd there to witness it, because the supporters of the game deserve a better standard of footy than these two sides dished up under the instructions of their coaches.

As we walk away from this game, there will be two schools of thought. Port fans will be content with picking up four points on the road – a win is a win and good teams, they say, win ugly. The Saints will look back at this as a missed opportunity, but you have to wonder how the game could have played out on a fast track if they were a little more inclined to take the game on and take a few chances.

In the bigger picture, we have this game that is wonderful – I genuinely love AFL football, and every season we have people trotting out new rules and tweaks to make the game better and more free-flowing. The issue is, coaches don’t want their teams to lose, and will coach them accordingly. If that means the game is ugly, then so be it – their job is to win.

And we’re all the worse off for it.

 

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

WHO WON THE DOUGAL V CHARLIE CONTEST

This is tough one.

On the surface, it appears as though Howard wins, right? Aside from that last goal to Dixon, Howard had his number at the contest, limiting the big fella to just two marks for the contest. Howard, to his credit, had six one percenters and four intercepts, with his main focus being to restrict the overhead ability of Dixon.

But in the way Dixon hit the contests and caused spillages, both inside 50 and further up the ground, makes me think that it is not as cut and dried as it seems.

In the end, you’re looking at a forward whose job it is to mark, kick goals and/or bring the footy to ground. He was successful in only one of those areas, so in that regard, he is 1/3 of where he needed to be. So Dougal does get the points against his old side.

 

DID YOU LIKE LEO CONNOLLY’S FOOT SKILLS?

Looks like it hasn’t been coached out of him just yet, huh?

His kick into the corridor to open the game up, and the sizzling pass to Rowan Marshall on the lead were two of the best kicks of the game, and in a game where safety was the first, second and third option, seeing a young fella take the game on and trust his skills was remarkably refreshing.

 

IS BEN LONG BETTER AS A FORWARD?

Yes, and even though quite a few St Kilda supporters lament his over-aggressiveness at times, he has that type of mongrel about him that you just cannot teach. He made good position and was ignored on several occasions, and if the Saints mids can lower their eyes in the next few games, I reckon we’ll see him hit the scoreboard pretty consistently.

 

DOES EDDIE MCGUIRE HAVE SHARES IN MILES BERGMAN?

Geez, he was pumping his tyres up, wasn’t he?

Bergman did a few nice things in this one, and I am betting he won quite a few fans with his courage to stay on after getting a stinger in the shoulder in the first quarter, but in terms of being the best young player on the park… I’m not entirely sure he deserved the praise being lavished on him by the excited Ed.

And for the record, I really like McGuire as a commentator – seems to love what he is doing.

 

IS MARTY FREDERICK A DEFENDER?

I’m not sold yet.

Not at all. He looked a little out of his depth in the first quarter, and his missed tackle was the main reason Dan Butler was able to snag his only goal of the game. I’m not sure whether the long-term plan is to have him as a defender, but he is currently playing in a position that makes small mistakes seem really big.

 

OTHER BITS

 

As of the end of this game, we’ve seen three games this weekend and multiple dangerous tackle free kicks paid. Amazing that, of all the tackles executed, the most dangerous of all of them saw Mitch Georgiades land heavily on the tackle, Daniel McKenzie.

It was a great tackle by the Saint, but the awkward landing, and the pressure of Georgiades forearm and weight across his chest and shoulder amplifying the impact with the ground. It was a nasty fall, but a reminder to the powers that be that you can legislate all you want, but sometimes there is going to be injuries in this game. And sometimes, they’re completely accidental.

Port get Friday Night Footy next week against the Pies, all things going well. You’d hope they would be able to knock this one over without too many issues, but if the game is close heading into the last quarter, the Pies have been finishing fast lately. They may get Rozee and Xavier Duursma back, which will be a nice injection of pace.

The Saints will battle the Eagles in a clash that will likely spell the end for one of them in terms of finals. I’m really interested to see how they capitalise on the part-time ruck work of Nic Nat with the Ryder/Marshall combination. They have a real chance to burn them, as the Eagles’ backup options are bloody ordinary.

 

And that’ll do me – if you’re a member, thanks so much for your support. If you’re not, your support keeps us gambling ad-free, unlike basically every other sellout around. Please consider joining. Cheers – HB.

 

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