Port Adelaide v Essendon – Mongrel Talking Points

 

If Port Adelaide thought they were going to have an easy evening of it against the Bombers, they were right.

To a point, anyway.

Up until halftime, this looked as though we were going to experience another episode in the ongoing drama of “how little can Essendon try?” It’s been quite riveting thus far, and with Port all over them, using slick handball and quick ball use through the corridor to slice open a lazy-looking and disorganised Bombers team on the rebound, this episode seemed as though it would be satisfying to Essendon-haters and Port-lovers alike.

As we reached the main break, Port had established a five-goal break and with the wet weather looming, it was expected that their bigger bodies and hard-nosed players would guide them to a healthy win.

But the Bombers, led by a couple of their younger players, hadn’t familiarised themselves with the script. Essendon handled the wet conditions far better than the Power, and cracked in with a point to prove – the point that they didn’t suck anywhere near as much as they had in the first half.

And as we headed into the final quarter, it was game on at the Adelaide Oval.

Let’s jump into the talking points from this one with your old pal, HB.

 

THANK GOD FOR SAM POWELL-PEPPER

Seriously, after a week of seeing love taps penalised and legal tackles deemed dangerous, I was looking forward to getting to the end of Round 11 and recharging my batteries a little. My belief in footy was shaken a little recently, with the way umpires (at the direction of the almighty rule makers) seemed to wage war on any act that even looked remotely aggressive.

And then I cast my eye over this game and saw Sam Powell-Pepper do more to inject physicality into the AFL than every other player on every other team for the entire damn round!

SPP attacks the contest like he has been shot out of a canon. Yesterday, I watched on with my mouth open as Lachie Neale and Lachie Ash ran at a loose footy and both stopped dead. Neither were willing to commit themselves to the contest – probably because they knew the person that went hardest would likely be pinged for some reason or another. On commentary, Alastair Lynch praised both players… for not attacking the ball.

He was about as accurate with that assessment as he was with his punches in the 2004 GF.

This was where my head was at coming into today – with players being praised for not contesting the footy. However, that was all about to change.

With an unrelenting and ferocious series of contests, Sam Powell-Pepper had me thankful that there are still players in this game that do not back down, do not conform to the “duty of care” rhetoric we hear all the damn time, and flat out want the footy more than everyone else.

His tackling, bodywork, and willingness to put his head over the footy when it was his turn to go were the highlights of this game for me. He did what no other player could, or was willing to do for his team. The league could use more players like him.

Whilst others like the skills of the game and the way so and so runs 15 kilometres and gets eight touches of the footy, give me a rampaging bull like Sam Powell-Pepper that can break the game open with his no-nonsense attack on the footy every day of the week.

He was a monster in this one, and he came along right at the moment I needed him. Luckily, it was the exact moment, or series of moments Port needed him, too.

 

THE BOMBERS HAVE FOUND ONE, IN SAM DURHAM

As evidenced above, I am a big fan of the way Sam Powell-Pepper attacked the contest, so it should come as no surprise that when the Bombers lifted and a young man named Sam Durham decided to start to throw his weight around, I sat up and took notice.

There are those out there, and you may even be one of them, who rate a player’s output on statistics alone. If you’re doing that, man, you are missing a hell of a lot, particularly when it comes to games like the one Sam Durham played.

I say “game”, but really, I am referring more to the third quarter.

The Bombers came hard in the third. With the rain pouring down to the point that the commentary team continued to go to Mark Ricciuto on the boundary line just to see how much he was suffering (note – he was suffering quite a bit, but not as much as those at home who had to listen to his cheese-grater voice box).

This was the time that a young man made a name for himself in the Essendon team, and hell, if he took a couple of bodies wearing Port colours out in the process, then so be it.

Sam Durham threw himself into the contest with abandon, and stood up when the pressure came his way. His goal with Tom Jonas draped all over him spoke of a young player with grown-man strength, and his overhead marking to get the Bombers out of trouble was excellent.

Essendon fans have not had much to cheer about this season, but if there are positive takeaways from this one, Durham’s emergence would be at the top of the heap. 16 touches and a goal – not a huge day, right? Watch the game – then, perhaps you’ll understand why they were so important.

 

WHO FELL AWAY FOR PORT?

In the wet, you kind of expect the big fellas to struggle a bit, so you won’t find me picking low-hanging fruit in this section.

Instead, let’s look at a couple of the players who are supposed to thrive in the water-logged conditions. Remember how people say the highly skilled players always rise to the top when the rain hits?

Neither do I – I may have just made it up, but it was clear that Steven Motlop was not rising anywhere as the Bombers started to fire back at Port. He could barely get near it. You may look at the stats sheet (yeah, you again) and think “hey, he had the same number of touches as SPP… why is HB going after him?” That would be fair, but Powell-Pepper brought the heat to the contest. He was willing to put himself in harm’s way to win the footy. Motlop was not.

Karl Amon also drifted completely out of the play, looking for the outside ball in an inside contest, whilst I was really surprised to see both Trav Boak and Willem Drew struggle to get their hands on the footy. Those two are the grunt workers in support to Ollie Wines, and with the Brownlow Medallist not exactly imposing his will either, it appeared as though the Power emerged from halftime completely unprepared for battle.

In the meantime, the Bombers had taken up arms and were marching toward them with murderous intent.

Darcy Parish, Ben Hobbs, and the aforementioned Sam Durham were all over Port in the third, and the lack of commitment to the contest from some of the senior leaders allowed Essendon back into the contest.

 

WHAT DOES THE WAY THEY HANDLED THE DIFFICULT CONDITIONS SAY ABOUT EACH RESPECTIVE TEAM?

I kind of touched on Port’s efforts, above. In short, they were not good. They were reactive and appeared to still want to play the same style that had established the lead in the first half.

That’s understandable, only the wet conditions made this an entirely different kettle of fish.

You know how they say the wet weather brings good players back to the level of the battlers?

Nah, I don’t, either – I could have made that one up as well. I do this quite often, huh? Anyway, the battlers wearing red, with just a little bit of black just looked like they were up for the fight and Port seemed to be hoping that they could phone in the second half and cruise to the win they set up earlier. That is a dangerous attitude to have when a team starts to get a sniff, and to their credit, Essendon worked to get back into this game when all appeared lost at the main break.

That took some heart.

Port rallied in the fourth, increasing their workrate to match that of their up-and-about opponents, and a few Power supporters would have been breathing a big sigh of relief when they saw them start cracking in with a little more intent.

 

ESSENDON LOOK LIKE THEY HATE PETER WRIGHT

People will look at this game and lavish praise on Tom Clurey for the work he did opposed to Peter Wright, and well they should.

Wright has been excellent for the Bombers this season, but after watching the way his team continually missed him as a marking target… I wouldn’t blame the big fella for throwing his hands in the air, giving Stewie Dew a call, and asking if he can head up north again.

Seriously, when this team wasn’t bombing it on his head and hoping for a miracle, they were kicking it out of bounds when he had space on his opponent, leaving Wright there to stand the mark as the ball floated out on the full and his opponent got a free possession.

Three times Peter Wright was out on a lead and should have clunked an uncontested grab, and three times the Bombers overcooked the kick and sent it out on the full – and that was before the wet weather kicked in. What hope did he have following that?

None.

So, whose dog did he kick? Whose coffee did he spill? And whose underwear did he put the deep heat in? Because the way the Bombers kick to this bloke, it’s like he is the worst fella in the world and they are just wanting to punish him.

 

WAS THIS A SUCCESSFUL RETURN FROM CHARLIE DIXON?

Two goals, a Port Adelaide win, and no further injuries… I’d call that a win.

I have to say, I loved the work of his direct opponent, Jayden Laverde, in making life tough for big Charlie. Undersized and outmuscled, he fought with everything he had to break even with the bearded monster and did a very solid job of it.

But I don’t rate it as an overall victory for Laverde as he claimed the very valuable wet weather assist in this one, with the rain doing just as much to curtail the big fella as Laverde did. It was still a points win for Laverde, but if you were in Dixon’s corner, you’d be raising his hand and relieved to get this one out of the way.

Whilst Laverde was good, the fact that he is the only real defender with any decent power to his game is an indictment on the Bombers’ list management. Who else do they have to go back there? They knew Michael Hurley was cooked coming into the year. James Stewart? Bzerk Thatcher? Aaron Francis?

Doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence, does it? A key defender should be the highest priority on their shopping list following this year.

A better outing from Connor Rozee this week. If you’re a Port fan, you’d like seeing him get his hands on the pill early in the piece. He looks like he grows in confidence when he gets a decent start to the game.

 

GOT ANY QUICK BITES FOR ME, HB?

Why yes… yes, I do.

I’m still a big fan of Willem Drew. He was given the role to limit the influence of Darcy Parish in this one and… well, Parish had 38 touches, so he didn’t really do that. In fairness, the “tag”, such as it was, was released relatively early in the piece, and Drew was serviceable without being great. That said, he did almost kill Nic Martin with a fantastic tackle at one stage – I loved it.

Speaking of Martin, he continues to impress, and would be top-five in the Crichton Medal right now. Given expectations on him coming into the year, he has been THE breakout player of 2022.

I also thought Archie Perkins did a lot of good things for the Bombers. He has great hands and had a bit of time in the guts this game, which was probably overdue. With him, Hobbs, Durham, and Martin coming through, things don’t look so bad for the Bombers. That s particularly so if you use their performances in this one as the baseline.

That body-to-body clash between SPP and Sam Draper was something to see… for a second there, I thought it was Draper with a big chance to even up for all the carnage SPP was inflicting, but with a turn of the shoulder and an excellent brace for contact, it was Powell-Pepper with the crunching contact.

That is bloody good, hard footy!

What do you think Darcy Parish and Dyson Heppell were arguing about? Parish’s seven hundred possessions that don’t do anywhere near as much damage as they should? Or whether Heppell should grow his dreads again? Look, there is not much to two teammates having an animated chat on the field – I reckon it’s good to see some genuine passion. Now, to channel it…

Dan Houston started the game like he owned the half-back line with his intercept and rebound work. He was probably close to best on ground in the first, but was another to fall away in the third quarter.

On the whole, I still get confused as to the player Andrew McGrath is compared to what he should be, but have to admit that his work off half-back in the third quarter was integral to the Bombers working back into the contest

 

And that’ll do me. A decent win by Port, but to lapse like they did in the third would be something to worry about if you’re a Power fan. A better side than Essendon may have made this drop-off a lot worse than it was.

Both clubs get a bye next week, then launch into the second half of the season, with Port facing the Tigers, and Essendon looking to derail the Blues.

As always, massive thanks to our members for their ongoing support – without you, there is no us.

 

 

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