If you walked into any footy fan’s lounge room at halftime of this game, you would have looked at the scores, shrugged and thought that Port was in the process of blowing it against another contender.

They had one goal to their name, and though much of that was due to inaccuracy, if you asked any coach in the land whether they’d take the opposition walking into the sheds with one goal to their names, they’d take it every time. Sure, some may prefer no goals, but they’d just be being greedy.

The Dogs were three goals up and were applying the type of pressure that was causing the Power to fumble. Normally sure-handed players like Gray, Rozee and Butters were double-grabbing or allowing the ball to get past them on the deck. They were under siege and their marking options were not living up to their names at all. And the kicking at goal… whilst some were not easy shots, it was quite deplorable.

Were the Dogs making Port look bad, or were Port making the Dogs look good?

We got our answers after halftime.

Port came out in the third quarter with renewed vigour. They piled on pressure of their own and simply outworked a Bulldogs team that had seemingly channelled the poorest version of Austin Powers and simply lost their mojo. Good teams sense weakness, and as soon as there was a drop of blood in the water in this game, the Port Adelaide Sharks started to frenzy.

The big lifts came from Wines, Boak and Lycett as the Power fought their way back into contention, only to allow the Dogs to kick away again. A three-goal to one last stanza, with the old firm of Wines and Boak at the helm again, steered Port home and secured the home final, leaving the Dogs exposed in fourth spot, with the Lions ready to pounce.

Every game teaches us a few things along the way. Whether it is about a player, a team or a coach, there are lessons we can pick up and use at a later date. So, what did this game teach us? What did you learn about your team and the opposition? That’s where The Mongrel comes in.

In a new format for the last round of the season (to give the old Mongrel a bit of a break), we’re looking at the lessons from this game, and just how well they were taught.

Let’s jump in.

 

YOU CANNOT SLEEP ON PORT ADELAIDE.

19 goals straight last week and eight of their nine after halftime in this one, if you think you’ve done the job on Port by halftime, you may be well-served to think again.

We are now in year two of Port Adelaide’s tenure as genuine contenders. After a few years of threatening and promising, and ultimately disappointing, things seem to be clicking into place at Alberton, and with this win – yes, a win over a top-four team, finally – the Power look ready to crack into September with something that may have been wavering at points this season – belief.

The Port slayers look gone (Richmond) and whilst we may not see it for long periods, Port’s best is close to, if not THE best in the league. They have the workers in heavy traffic, they have the elite run, and they have this defence that I simply love to watch work.

Go on, start smiling once you’re four goals up. Stop your hard defensive run for a minute or two to bask in what you’ve achieved. Pat a teammate on the back and congratulate him on a job well done if you feel like it.

But don’t… just don’t drop your guard against this mob for a moment. In minutes, they turned this contest back into a close game, and once locked in a tussle again, Port were able to flex their considerable muscle.

The worrying sign is that they’re affording teams a fast start against them in recent weeks. Rectify that and we may just see a team hit September with a take-no-prisoners attitude. And a Port team on from the first siren would be a dangerous proposition, indeed.

 

A HOME FINAL IS NICE, BUT THIS TEAM IS AN “ANYWHERE, ANYONE, ANYTIME” TEAM

Over the journey, there have not been many things you admire about the Fremantle Dockers, but if we jump back eight or so years, there is one aspect of their 2013 team that I really liked.

They would bring the heat every game regardless of where they were playing. They were like the antithesis of this season’s West Coast Eagles, and there is a definite element of that 2013 side in the Power this year.

Some of you may know, we have this little thing called the Road Warrior Ladder here, at The Mongrel, and all season, Port have been at or near the top of it. This was their ninth interstate win of the season, which is bloody incredible, so as great as it is to have a home final (and I cannot wait to hear actual people passionately singing “Never Tear Us Apart” before the first bounce, I genuinely believe it doesn’t matter who they play or where they play – this team is of the mindset that they can knock over any team, anywhere, at any time.

And I admire the hell out of that.

 

LUKE BEVERIDGE MADE A HUGE MISTAKE

You may say he trusted his judgment, and I am sure you’ll have your backers, but when you start looking at the impact of the big men in this game, Scott Lycett’s work in the middle of the ground had a huge impact on the outcome of this game.

How so?

Allow me to elaborate.

If you keep an eye on social media at all, you may have seen a comment from former Port and Bulldog player, Jackson Trengove around the coaches he had in the AFL. Whilst he was complimentary about both Luke Beveridge and Ken Hinkley, one comment about Bevo stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing here, but he stated something along the lines of Beveridge enjoyed making moves in order to be seen as the hero. Was keeping Tim English out of the ruck and plonked inside forward fifty one of these moves?

As Lycett continually put the ball down the throat of Trav Boak and Ollie Wines in the third quarter, Beveridge persisted with Lewis Young in the ruck. Port dragged themselves back into the game and Bevo sat and watched it unfolding.

In the second half, Lycett had worn Young down to the point he was dominating him. He had 21 hit outs to Young’s seven after halftime, and also added 14 disposals to Young’s eight. The Power pounded the footy inside 50 from the middle, putting the Dogs under immense pressure as their crash and bash mids continually forced the Dogs’ mids onto the back foot.

Beveridge finally relented in the final few minutes – desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess, but this was a case of too little, too late. Lycett’s ruckwork and the subsequent clearance domination had already inflicted the damage. English may have ended with two goals to his name, but so did the Power’s relief ruck, Peter Ladhams, so you would definitely hand this win to Ken Hinkley. He and Beveridge played a game of chicken, and in the end, Bevo swerved.

 

MAKING ALIIR ACCOUNTABLE DOESN’T MEAN YOU BEAT THE PORT DEFENCE

I liked the idea of making sure that either Tim English or Aaron Naughton forced Aliir to pay attention to them, thereby somewhat negating his intercepting influence, but this game served as a bit of a reminder that Port are no one-man-band when it comes to their defence.

They have this bloke back there – you may have heard of him. He wears number one and is captain of the club. His name is Tom Jonas and he rarely loses a contest. He was responsible for keeping Eddie Betts under wraps last week and relished the chance to provide the solid base for the defence to revolve around in this game.

Whilst Aliir and Naughton engaged in a fantastic back-and-forth battle, Jonas was able to read the play well, and with a combination or intercept work, good spoiling and early bodywork, had the Dogs’ forwards looking a little shaky after quarter time. He was aided by Trent McKenzie, who I have to admit, I love watching play footy. Not only has he developed into a strong one-on-one defender, but his penetrating left boot is also a weapon most teams would now kill for. His position seems to be up in the air constantly, with Tom Clurey ready to swoop on it at the slightest hiccup, but with a win, and another solid outing, Trent McKenzie should be part of his third finals appearance next week.

 

JOSH BRUCE’S INJURY COULD BE THE BIGGEST BLOW OF THE SEASON FOR THE DOGS

They look bereft of another serious option outside Aaron Naughton.

Say what you like about Bruce, and yes, he has gone missing many times over the last couple of seasons, but he attacks the footy in the contest and will never die wondering. His absence forced the move of Tim English forward, but that bloke floats like a butterfly and also stings like a butterfly when it comes to marking contests.

Can the Dogs gather themselves to avoid a first-round finals exit? As it stands, they could play any of GWS, West Coast, Essendon, Freo, or… and this is an extreme longshot, Richmond (if they make up ten whopping percentage points).

Without someone standing up and becoming a second marking option – a legitimate one – not a Tim English one, the Dogs might have gone from flag favourites to one-and-done finalists in about six weeks. Wow…

 

CHARLIE DIXON’S ATTACK ON THE FOOTY LEAVES A FAIR BIT TO BE DESIRED

Are we starting to have some trust issues with Charlie Dixon?

He was pantsed in this one by Alex Keath – comprehensively beaten, and whilst his midfielders did him zero favours in terms of delivery in the first quarter, often bombing high and long to an outnumber, Dixon attacked the footy with one hand way too often for my liking. I remarked to my fellow Mongrels that he was playing like a man that had no intention of trying to mark the footy.

As much as we can look at those up the ground and point fingers at their poor delivery inside 50, and as much as we can use the tired old line that “his job is to bring the ball to the ground”, there are times when big forwards just need to make their own luck. Charlie was largely a one-and-done attack on the footy type of player in this one. He leapt at the footy but was constantly out of position and took just two grabs for the game. If Port get this kind of output from him over the finals, I am sorry to say, they cannot win the flag. Sue, they can carry it for a game, but eventually, a big name player performing like a battler catches up with teams, and Port need more from Dixon than what was on offer this week.

This will most likely get glossed over in most wash-ups, as things tend to be when there is a win, but I reckon one of our writers, Brett Hodgson, said it best tonight – Charlie Dixon was like someone in a group assignment who does bugger all work and still gets an A along with everyone else.

 

TRAVIS BOAK COULD PLAY 400 GAMES. HOW ABOUT 350?

As we farewell former Port player, Shaun Burgoyne this weekend, Travis Boak may just be watching on with a wry smile. Perhaps the former Port captain could be the next to follow ‘Silk’ into the 400-club.

Yes, it is a bit of a stretch at this point, with Boak just having passed the 300-game milestone a few weeks back, but the level he is playing at the moment, and the preparation he puts in, is 400 completely out of the question?

Yes, I hear you say. Didn’t know I was psychic, did ya?

Fair enough, but 350 is on the cards, given the level he is at each and every week.

When Port needed a lift up forward, it was Boak that Ken Hinkley looked to, and just as he has answered the call so often throughout his career, Boak responded in this one. Finishing with 2.3 and 31 touches, he played the dual role to perfection (other than the missed shots), and was probably unlucky not to have a third goal added to his tally following a score review that really could have gone either way.

Boak’s second goal, with the pressure on in the last quarter was the kick of a leader. No longer is he the captain in name, but his actions just scream “follow me, boys!”

It would be hard to go past Boak for best on ground honours in this one. 31 touches and five shots at goal make for a compelling case, but if there were one person to challenge him, would it be the next fella?

 

DID OLLIE WINES JUST WIN THE BROWNLOW?

Shhhh… here’s a secret.

Every week, we here at The Mongrel Punt submit our votes in a  5-4-3-2-1 format. Each writer reviewing the game does his votes and good ol’ HB compiles them in private. Sitting in my basement, rocking back and forth like a serial killer, I calculate the votes to arrange a leaderboard, and heading into the last two weeks of the season, Ollie Wines could not be beaten.

Following Round 21, he was 12 votes clear on top. He will be The Mongrel of the Year in 2021. Just keep it between us, okay? And keep an eye out for a big standalone Ollie Wines article in the coming week to celebrate.

As good as Boak was, and as potent as he was in the forward half, I could not go past the influence of Wines on the flow of this game. He was a complete monster in the middle in the last quarter, picking up 12 of his 34 touches, adding three clearances and a goal to his tally as he willed his team over the line.

Whilst Wines is expected to be right at the pointy end on Brownlow night, his 2020/21 seasons signify a maturation of the man that was maligned just a few years ago following a water skiing accident and a subsequent injury-riddled season. Wines has quietly and consistently gone about earning back the respect and adoration of the Port faithful, and he has finally become the player Hinkley and the Port Adelaide supporters thought he would be when they broke with tradition to make him a co-captain of the club.

His 34 touches and nine tackles were huge in this one as he worked to put the brakes on the Dogs’ mids after quarter time, and if I were giving votes…. hmm, I might sneak Boak in ahead of him, but not by much. If it is the difference between a Brownlow and a runner-up position, give him the damn three!

 

CODY WEIGHTMAN COULD BE A GAME-CHANGER

He looks dangerous, doesn’t he?

Whether in the air or on the deck, Weightman’s ability to impact the contest was best encapsulated in the third quarter, when he almost single-handedly steadied the Bulldogs. With a goal and two goal assists in quick succession, the diminutive Dog was able to counter three straight goals from the Power with three vital score involvements of his own.

With just 16 games under his belt, Weightman has 200-game small forward written all over him, and he has that annoying knack of dropping at the knees at just the right time, as well. Worse, he has a little smile after it! I don’t know whether that is infuriating or endearing – I guess it depends on which side you follow – but it has been very effective for him this season.

The Dogs have found one, here. Weightman is the small forward a lot of teams would kill for.

 

THE BIG-NAME DOGS DON’T LIKE DEFENSIVE RUNNING

And not just the mids, either. In the last quarter, Port ran forward in waves, and trailing on every occasion were the highly-regarded Dogs – Bailey Williams, Bailey Dale and Caleb Daniel. Too often, they allowed their direct opponent to get goal side, and really, they were lucky that Connor Rozee wasn’t a little bit more composed or they would have had two more kicked on them out the back.

The Dogs played lazy football when it came to the defensive side after halftime, often making schoolboy errors at stoppages and as part of their defensive set up. Why you would let players with superior legspeed, such as Connor Rozee and Zak Butters stand goalside of you at half back boggles the mind, but there they were, a couple of metres in the clear, and when Port took possession, they did not need an invitation to get on their bikes and get dangerous.

And where were the Dogs mids when Port got out and running?

Five metres behind, at least. And running three-quarter pace. If you want to point fingers in this one, check out some of the anaemic run from the Bulldogs midfielders when the ball wasn’t in their hands.

Have a look at the pack of Port players ready to swoop in the lead up to the Robbie Gray goal in the last quarter. They could absolutely raffle that footy between the lot of them.

 

 

DANGEROUS TACKLES CAN BE A FARCE

So, Aaron Naughton was reported for a “dangerous” tackle on Tom Jonas during this game.

Seriously, if Michael Christian takes longer than two seconds to dismiss this case, he should be publicly flogged… I don’t care how many Mongrel writers’ mothers he went on a date with! Go on… ask me about that…

Jonas milked the action of Naughton, and looked to sell the impact as though he whacked his head on the turf. He did not, for the record – Naughton wrapped him up and prevented him from striking his head on the ground. I am not really a fan of players accentuating tackles to milk a free kick, but Jonas got away with one, here, and Naughton would be right to think that he was hard done by. Reported, when it really should not have even been a free kick.

 

 

TODD MARSHALL IS THE LUCKIEST PLAYER ON THE PARK

He is like the stray cat of the Port Adelaide Football Club – he has nine lives when it comes to keeping his place in this side.

With Mitch Georgiades pinging a hamstring, there is a full time vacancy for a marking forward in the Port forward line. It used to be a two-man job, but Port are going to downsize and bring in a small forward (Fantasia) to do a different role, meaning Marshall will have to lift and provide something a little better than what we saw from him in this one.

I had to smile when it was mentioned he was off having his shoulder worked on for thirteen minutes. Looking at vision of him, I thought they must have spent 12 and a half minutes trying to locate his shoulder! He doesn’t have much in the shoulder department, does he?

He squandered his two shots at goal in this one, missing by a mile on both occasions, but almost made up for his wayward kicking by getting back on the goal line in the dying seconds to thump Bailey Smith’s long ball through for a point and hand Port the win.

So, will Marshall win Port a final, or will he lose them one?

I’m pretty worried about the latter.

 

ROBBIE IS STILL THE MASTER

Did you hear this afternoon there was a petition going around to name the forward pocket at the Adelaide Oval the Eddie Betts pocket?

I did, and despite the sentimentality around it, with Betts retiring this week an all, I tried to look at it a little more pragmatically. Here you had a bloke who has spent six of his 17 years in football playing for the Crows, and they want to name part of the ground after him? Give me a spell! Just over one-third of his career in Crows colours and he’s going to be afforded this type of accolade?

It didn’t sit well with me; not when you have a fella playing for the co-tenant of that ground by the name of Robbie Gray.

You want to talk about someone that has done amazing things for his club, you immediately throw Gray’s name into the conversation. At 33 years old, Gray is a Port Adelaide player through and through. He didn’t start at Carlton and head back there once all was said and done. He didn’t have a cup of coffee in Adelaide. He has been with this club through thick and think, and on a night where his team were jumped, beaten down, and challenged to respond, Robbie did just that. He added another big game to his already impressive CV.

With two goals amongst his 25 touches, Gray was the man, once again, to mark inside 50 with the pressure right on him, only to go back and slot the goal to give his team the lead. Was there ever any doubt?

Yes, this game was played at Marvel Stadium, but once again, the exploits of Robbie Gray have been etched into Port folklore. He is a master of his craft, an assassin in footy boots, and as he works his way back into excellent form at the right time of year, could play a big part in Port’s crack at the big one this season.

And once all is said and done, maybe they could name a pocket after him at the Adelaide Oval? Eddie can have the goal of the year award named after him, but the Robbie Gray pocket… has a nice ring to it, and would be just reward for someone who has played their whole career in Adelaide, not just a third.

 

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

Aside from one error in the third quarter, Roarke Smith had a really solid game for the Dogs. His two intercept grabs with the flight of the ball were incredibly gutsy.

Incorrect disposal/holding the ball is such a crapshoot, isn’t it?  I thought Karl Amon was caught cold by Bailey Smith at one point, and my jaw hit the floor as the umpire called play on.

 

Loved the combative work for  Willem Drew again for Port. Playing opposite Tom Liberatore is no picnic, but limiting Libba to 17 touches and five clearances… I’ll take that from Willem.

Just two touches for Marcus Bontempelli on the last quarter. Ouch. He started like a house on fire in the first five minutes of the game. Maybe he spent all he had?

The Dogs are getting nowhere near enough from Josh Dunkley upon his return to the side. That shoulder issue obviously caused him to lose a fair whack of strength and flexibility. 27 touches was his lowest return before the injury. In the four games since his return, he has managed 20+ just once. He is also down to 4.2 tackles per game since returning after notching 6.5 per game across his first six outings of the year. He needs to find something quickly.

Did I give enough credit to Alex Keath in the Charlie Dixon section? If not, I am not glossing over him. He was well and truly the master of the big Port forward in this one. It would be difficult to keep him out of the votes.

In days gone by, putting Marcus Bontempelli into the ruck would be like putting a target on his chest for the opposition rucks to aim at. This is such a gamble, and an unnecessary one from Luke Beveridge. Alan Jeans used to say that you don’t throw a thoroughbred in with the brumbies. He was referring to playing great players back in through the reserves, but it rings true here, as well. A ruckman with a bit of mongrel in him, and I am surprised Scott Lycett didn’t do this, could take a few steps back off the contest and plant a knee right into the ribs of Bont, winning the tap and hurting the Dogs’ star in the process.

As it stands, the Dogs may take on GWS in the first week of the finals (there are so many permeations to play out just yet) and if they do, Shane Mumford could very well kill Bont for the betterment of his team. Don’t put your thoroughbreds in with the brumbies, Luke.

 

And that will do me – a home final… maybe a pair of them (with crowds – yes!!!!) for Port. And for the Dogs, well, they have done themselves no favours with their last month. I wonder whether we will be asking what could have been regarding this team in about five weeks’ time?

Massive thanks to our members for supporting us. It’s gonna be a huge finals campaign and I will be having a heap of members-only content available. If you join up now, you basically get all next season throw in! Help a mongrel out!

 

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