It is currently the fiercest rivalry in the AFL. In a two-team town, Adelaide and Port Adelaide have never seen eye-to-eye and have regularly battled for South Australian supremacy. This particular Showdown, however, hasn’t had the same level of anticipation as we’re used to over here, with both sides having their struggles to start season 2022.

Ken Hinkley’s men have arguably had the worse start, languishing at the bottom of the table despite starting the season as one of the favourites for the premiership. So, what happened in the first Friday night Showdown? Would the Power finally kick start their march to September? Could Matthew Nicks fix a game plan that has been savaged by the media?

This is the Mongrel’s review of Showdown 51.

 

THE BACK STORY

It’s been trying times at West Lakes. The Crows are right in the middle of a full rebuild and are very much a work in progress. Round one was a slight positive, almost getting across the line against Fremantle, save for a Heath Chapman fist. Last week, however, was a crash back to earth, with Adelaide struggling against a similar opponent, playing a game style that doesn’t suit them, and looking way out of their depth in a comprehensive loss to Collingwood. During the week, football director Mark Ricciuto made comments that caused a stir, and no doubt Matthew Nicks and his players had plenty of ammunition to prove him wrong.

But it’s not like the boys from Alberton have been any better. Like the Crows, round one was a slight positive, if you can call a loss a positive, going down by 11 points away from home against premiership fancy Brisbane. In saying that, it was a game Port really should’ve won, as they gave up a 24-point lead, and needed to show that they can beat teams around them on the ladder, such was their biggest issue of season 2021. Round two was simply appalling. In a game where they honoured recently departed club legend Russell Ebert, Port barely gave a yelp, falling to wooden spoon contender Hawthorn by a stunning 64 points. Alarm bells have started to sound at Alberton, and the pressure gauge will explode on Ken Hinkley should the Power fall to 0-3.

 

THE GAME

Like every Showdown ever, this instalment started ferociously. Both sides looked very keen to prove all of their doubters wrong, with the Crows especially playing a brand of football unseen in the first two rounds. Dare and dash were on show early for Adelaide, but Port got the jump inside the first minute thanks to Steven Motlop. Adelaide were winning the ball out of the middle, but their forward line remained dysfunctional, but for every Port rebound, the Crows found a way to send the ball straight back. Adelaide kicked the next two goals thanks to Rachele and McHenry, and Port found themselves behind on the scoreboard, despite dominating on the stats sheet.

The Power needed a spark, and they found it in the second half of the quarter, getting on a roll by ramping up their pressure and taking advantage of their smaller forward line. Port were using the ball better, and although their forward half game still had their issues, they slammed home the next four goals to send the home crowd into silence and take a well-earned 19-point lead into quarter time. It wasn’t all good news for the Power though, with Zak Butters copping some friendly fire from Sam Powell-Pepper which took the wind completely out of Butters’ sails, and he was seen sucking in some big breaths just before the quarter time break.

The Crows were staring down the barrel of another Showdown defeat, and they came out after quarter-time determined to not this game slip away. Port got the scoring started with a behind in the first 30 seconds, but it was Adelaide that started the better team, kicking the first three goals of the quarter. Elliott Himmelberg was the main avenue to goal, and he quickly got the better of the inexperienced Sam Skinner to nail his first two goals of the season. The other forward threat was tall but slight Lachlan Gollant, who used his inexperience to great effect, surprising his opponents with a mixture of aerial ability and deadly accuracy in front of goal, including a long bomb from outside 50. Jordan Dawson also got in on the action, using his supreme running ability to get goal side of Karl Amon, and could’ve had two goals if not for a score review.

But Port Adelaide also fought fire with fire, and just as it seemed the momentum was on the side of the home team, the Power slowly but surely worked their back to the advantage they had gained in the first quarter. It was a case of Himmelberg at one end, and Todd Marshall at the other, as Billy Frampton endured a nightmare 30 minutes on the maligned Power forward. First, he dropped an easy chest mark, then Frampton gave away a free kick, and all the life was sapped from the Crows. Lycett was a beast in the middle, Marshall nailed his third goal of the game, and with Adelaide coming hard, Port steadied, taking a 16-point lead into the main break.

Within a minute of the game restarting, Port had another goal on the board, this time through Sam Mayes, and once again the young Crows needed to find something to stay in the game. With Port on top in the centre square, Adelaide had to be a little kamikaze in their approach to goal, and through Gollant, they steadied their own ship and began another charge at the Power. It was a very even quarter, as you would expect from two teams going hell for leather at each other, and every time Port broke away with what looked to be a strong advantage, the Crows would answer back.

Todd Marshall was proving to be a big headache, with his fourth goal of the game and strong work at ground level making a mockery of Adelaide’s defenders. Mayes too was proving plenty for his team, playing as the third tall forward, and getting himself space away from Tom Doedee. By the time the siren sounded to end the third quarter, Gollant had four for the Crows, and the margin was just two straight kicks. The main story of this term was the umpiring, with several contentious decisions threatening to overshadow what was becoming an epic encounter.

Early Port goals were the flavour of the match, and so the trend continued, with Todd Marshall putting his fifth through the big sticks, and another four-goal margin beckoned for the Crows. It was becoming a tough, hard slog, with both teams refusing to give an inch, and stringing goals together was near impossible. When Lachie Sholl goaled from the goal square, the margin was back within 13 points, and Adelaide refused to be beaten, even though Port had momentum on their side, and had generally been cleaner with their ball use.

Showdown 51 built and built over the course of 120 minutes, and we were set for a grandstand finish. Time-on arrived, and so did Elliott Himmelberg, who kicked his third and fourth goals to bring the margin within a solitary point. The home crowd sensed that their young team could snatch victory from their arch-rival’s grasp, and the noise level reached heights not seen in years. No team could find free players with ease, such was the pressure that always comes at the climax of a Showdown, and with 2 minutes to go, drama ensued. Travis Boak was awarded a free kick, which turned into a shot on goal when young gun Josh Rachele infringed on the protected area. Thankfully for Rachele, Boak missed to the left, and the Crows had one final chance.

As if this game didn’t have enough, Trent McKenzie ran back with the flight of the ball to take a match-saving mark with 60 seconds on the clock. Or so he thought. A quick clearance from a stoppage, followed by an errant Dan Houston kick, and suddenly the ball was heading Adelaide’s way as time ticked down. The Crows needed a mark or a free kick, and they were rewarded, after Sam Mayes crashed into Lachie Murphy. However, Murphy appeared to re-injure his neck, and couldn’t take the kick.

Enter new recruit Jordan Dawson, and the rest is etched into Showdown folklore.

With the game on his boot after the siren, Dawson fired at goal, with the ball swinging in the air, sailing through the big sticks, and the crowd erupted. Dawson had won the game for the Crows, becoming an instant Showdown hero, and breaking the hearts of the Power, who fell to 0-3, with finals slipping out of their grasp.

 

THE PLAYERS OF THE MATCH

Close games like this are always more difficult to sift through, simply because there were so many players that are deserving of praise for their efforts. Pleasingly for both sides, it was the more maligned players that finally stepped up and put together strong performances.

We’ll begin in the forward halves, and it must have been very satisfying for Ken Hinkley that underachieving Todd Marshall finally showed why he keeps getting selected. With Jeremy Finlayson omitted, Marshall become the number one man forward of the ball, and he didn’t put a foot wrong, nailing five straight goals, to go with 11 disposals (all kicks). Hinkley’s bold strategy paid off alongside Marshall, with Sam Mayes playing as Port’s third tall forward, and despite only touching the ball eight times, Mayes was fantastic, showcasing an aerial ability I didn’t know existed, and his two goals could, and should have been more.

For Adelaide, Elliott Himmelberg replicated the man at the other end, also playing the best game of his career. Under as much pressure as Marshall, Himmelberg delivered in spades, finishing with 14 disposals, eight marks and four straight goals. Himmelberg was well supported by youngster Lachlan Gollant, who despite his slim frame, put Tom Jonas to the sword. A player who was drafted as a defender, Gollant has been turned into a Jack Gunston type forward, and his four goals went a long way to securing victory for the Crows.

Moving into the middle, and it was an intriguing battle between rucks Scott Lycett and Reilly O’Brien, so much so that I would only give Lycett the victory by the smallest of margins. Both men gave their midfielders amply use of the ball, and with neither side really having any sort of reasonable back-up, both men looked exhausted at the conclusion. O’Brien was slightly better at stoppages, with 45 hit-outs to Lycett’s 29, but Lycett had the more complete game, finishing with 20 disposals to O’Brien’s 13, and Lycett also kicked a steadying goal in the third quarter.

Underneath Lycett and O’Brien was where the battle was won, as most scoring came directly from stoppages. Both sides had their dynamic duos, but the Crows had lesser lights that stepped up, where the Power left it to their superstars to try and drag them over the line. For the men in teal, it was once again the Boak and Wines show, with both men enjoying their brilliance in the middle. Boak was the star here, and had the Power won, Boak would’ve been awarded the Showdown medal. Finishing with 28 disposals, 15 contested possessions, 11 score involvements, 10 clearances and eight tackles, all at 82% efficiency, there really wasn’t much more, other than kick the goal with two minutes to go, that Boak could’ve done to give Port the victory. Wines played an excellent supporting role with 30 disposals, 14 contested possessions, seven tackles, six inside 50s, and six score involvements.

For the Crows, it was Ben Keays and Rory Laird doing the damage in the middle of the ground. If I had to split them, I’d give Laird the points, although both men were excellent. Returning from a fractured hand, Laird was never troubled by the injury, finishing with 31 disposals, 15 contested possessions, eight score involvements and four tackles. Keays didn’t have as much of the ball, with 25 disposals, but he was just as influential in the tranches, with 14 contested possessions, 11 clearances, seven tackles and seven score involvements.

What Port didn’t have were lesser-known stars helping to carry the load, and that’s exactly what Lachie Sholl and Harry Schoenberg brough to the table. Sholl was the ball mover, Schoenberg the in-and-under tough nut. Playing on the opposite wing to the main man, Sholl collected 24 disposals, 10 contested possessions, four score involvements, and a goal that kick started a resurgence. Schoenberg was even better, with 23 disposals, nine tackles, six inside 50s, and 407 metres gained.

But the star of the show was Jordan Dawson. He will be forever remembered for the wobbly kick that secured his team victory, but for the 120 minutes that preceded it, Dawson was magnificent. It was a match-up for the ages on the wing, with Dawson opposed to Karl Amon for most of the evening, and Dawson was clearly the winner of the bout. The stats alone speak for themselves, with Dawson gathering 24 disposals (20 kicks, four handballs), six marks, five score involvements, five defensive rebounds, 664 metres gained and two goals. Welcome to Adelaide, Jordan. You will forever be a hero to the 19th man.

 

THE NERVOUS MEN

In epic encounters like this one, only a few players on either side would be feeling like their efforts weren’t up to scratch. Starting with the victors, and while Himmelberg and Gollant were having career best evenings, Darcy Fogarty had a night to forget. This is a now a player in his fifth year at AFL level, with a body to match, and yet Fogarty has been one of the biggest disappointments since his drafting. It didn’t matter which Power defender was matched up on him, Fogarty was lifeless, touching the ball just five times, and only troubling the scorers once; a behind in the last quarter.

Two other players that didn’t have their best evening were Chayce Jones and Brayden Cook. Jones played in his new role at half back, but was barely seen, with only seven touches, two tackles, and zero marks. Worse for Jones is that even when he did have ball in hand, mistakes were plentiful, as he registered as many clangers as he did effective possessions, and he also gave away two free kicks, one of which led to a Power goal. Cook wasn’t much better, although I’m prepared to give him more of a pass, simply due to the fact that this is only his second season and fifth game overall. No one (with the exception of medical subs Frederick and Pedlar) touched the ball less than Cook, with his five touches also going at less than 50% efficiency. Credit to Cook though, he did have a nice crumbing goal to add to the highlight reel.

For the Power, there are only three players I was to highlight in the section. Sure, you might look at the stats sheet and think that others need highlighting, but this trio are more than capable of producing better performances than this and would be justified in spending some time at state level.

The first player is Sam Powell-Pepper, who couldn’t follow up on his good work from the previous week. Touching the ball just 11 times, Powell-Pepper was well beaten, and when teammates were shining, he was played completely out of the game. Yes, he did register five score involvements, but for a forward, which is what Powell-Pepper is now, there was none of the good things that Powell-Pepper had brought into his game, and he also went scoreless.

Now we come to the hardest paragraph I may ever have to write. With Xavier Duursma dropped to the SANFL, the spotlight went straight to the other two of Port’s 2018 goldmine. But for Connor Rozee and Zak Butters, this was the worst time to put forward a sub-par effort. I will agree that there were players that had less of the ball and will likely be dropped ahead of Rozee and Butters, but we’ve seen brilliance from these two, and despite their respective ages, these are now senior players that need to be firing on all cylinders. Rozee had 14 touches, but only five of those were by foot, and he only registered a paltry 94 metres gained.

Butters was certainly the better of the two and was affected by an accidental Powell-Pepper shirtfront in the first quarter but watching on it felt like Butters always seemed to be where the ball wasn’t. Only gathering 13 disposals, Butters’ pressure wasn’t too bad, certainly better than Rozee, and he did lay six tackles.

The reason these six men should be feeling nervous is due to the curtain-raiser, which was the SANFL Showdown. There was no better time for the coaches and selectors to get a firsthand look at some of the potential replacements, and many put forward strong cases for re-inclusion to the AFL scene. For the Crows, Riley Thilthorpe was excellent with three goals from 16 disposals, Sam Berry had a day out in the midfield with 28 disposals and 12 crunching tackles, and Will Hamill was beautiful off half back with 23 disposals. On the other side, Miles Bergman continued to build match fitness with 21 touches, and Jase Burgoyne showed that he could be in line for an AFL debut with 22 disposals at 85% efficiency.

We also can’t talk about nervousness without touching on coach Ken Hinkley. Coming into this season, Hinkley’s men were expected to be contending for the premiership, but after falling to 17th on the ladder with three losses, the Power look a shell of their former selves. Missing two pillars at wither end will always hurt, but Port’s issues go deeper than that, and they look dysfunctional all over the ground. Hinkley has been at the helm for 10 seasons, the longest of any current coach without a flag, and if results continue to be poor, David Koch might start thinking that a refresh is needed, which always spells danger for the man in charge.

 

For the first time in history, both sides entered the Showdown winless, which meant that we as viewers were treated to a ferocious battle of will, and neither side could afford to go down. With the after the siren heroics, Showdown 51 will go down in history as one of the greatest games in this storied rivalry, and further proves the notion that this game deserves the Friday night stage, next time as a stand-alone fixture. For the Power, alarm bells are now sounding louder than ever before, and looking ahead, there could be more pain and concern on the horizon, with the reigning premiers coming to town in six days’ time. On the other side of the state, all the mid-week talk about game plans and skills has now been silenced in the most astonishing fashion and victory in this manner has given these young men enormous belief in themselves and their coach. There is no better feeling in South Australia than winning a Showdown, and to do so in the manner they did will set a foundation of trust and belief that you can build success around.

 

 

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