I’ve looked forward to Richmond v Port Adelaide games over the last couple of years, mainly based on the two belters they had in the 2020 season.

Let’s be honest – 2020, unless you’re a Tigers fan, doesn’t hold too much of value. Not just in terms of footy, but life, in general, was pretty shitty that season, so the two clashes between these teams – one in Round 11 that saw Port get up by 21-points, and a pulsating Preliminary Final, that saw Richmond win by a kick – were a rare highlight.

Suffice to say, this was a game I was anticipating all week, and in terms of intensity, it did not disappoint. Sure, it disappointed on other levels – there were skill errors aplenty – but the endeavour was there and the players were hard at it… with a couple of exceptions I’ll get to.

It wasn’t a classic Richmond game of footy, yet it felt like a classic Richmond win. It was close, it was contested, and the surge mentality of the Tigers on turnover remained, despite Port being able to turn the tables at periods during the game.

It was Dylan Grimes’ 200th game, and it was Judson Clarke’s first. The Tigers got up, and the yellow and black army sang the song loud and proud as Richmond bullied their way back into the top eight…

… and nobody will want to face them in week one of the finals in around three months.

Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Good, Bad, and Ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

DEFENSIVE STRUCTURE

I might bore you a little bit here, but believe me, I am sure the Tigers’ coaching box was thrilled to see just how well their defensive setup worked against the Power.

Tell me, how many times did you see Port attempt to enter their forward fifty, only to see a host of Tigers back there, waiting to pounce on the poor, unsuspecting Power forward who was the target of the kick?

It happened quite a few times. I reckon Robbie Gray, who was almost as unsighted as Steven “I swear I played” Motlop, was stuck attempting to contend with two or three defenders every time he played as the deepest forward.

Do you know what a group of Tigers is called? It’s called an ambush. An ambush of Tigers… that’s what the Port forwards were forced to contend with in this game, reliant on a contested mark here or there from Todd Marshall or Charlie Dixon to get them on the scoreboard.

Dylan Grimes, Nathan Broad, and particularly Nick Vlastuin were the ambush of Tigers in this game, closing down the space Charlie Dixon had, and making the Port forward line work for every touch.

There were no easy out the back goals – the Tigers should had several opportunities via this tactic – and no marks running back with the flight. On almost every occasion, Richmond were ready and waiting for the Port forward fifty entry, and concerningly for the Power, not much seemed to change over the course of the game.

 

AND THAT’S WHY YOU PLAY A GENUINE RUCKMAN

Allow me to jump into The Mongrel Time Machine © and take you back to the last quarter.

There is a stoppage inside Richmond’s attacking fifty and we have Jeremy Finlayson attempting to go with Toby Nankervis in the ruck. The scores indicate there is a three-point lead to the Tigers and it is anyone’s game.

And then one ruck tap later, the lead seems safe.

Nank taps it down to Liam Baker on the move, who dribbles home a goal directly from the stoppage. Finlayson looks on.

Oh yes, play a makeshift ruck and generate more run and carry, particularly when the opposition is playing two of the big bastards, right?

Right?!?!

It was 41 hit-outs to 18 on the night and as a result, I am sure there is a cohort of Port supporters who will use this as further ammunition to foot Ken Hinkley in the backside and send him packing. In watching that replay… it’s easy to see why.

Whilst the Tigers ran to Baker and embraced him, you’ve gotta give a hell of a lot of credit to the big fella for putting the ball right in Baker’s path and creating the opportunity. For those who question the value of the ruckman, that instance right there should convince you of their value.

Or at least Nank’s value.

 

PLAYING A BLOKE INTO FORM

If Port weren’t in dire straits, do you think Charlie Dixon would be playing yet?

Serious question – would he be in the current Port side, or would he still be in the SANFL to get his legs under him? I ask because in this game, the thing he seemed best equipped to do was to put up one hand, contest, and allow Robbie Tarrant to turn the clock back and be one of the better defenders on the park.

This is not meant to be a knock on Tarrant – please don’t take it that way, but if Dixon is not completely ready, what the hell is he doing out there?

Tarrant has been very good since his return to the team in Round 10. He was part of a Tiger defence that brutalised Peter Wright and was solid against the Swans, as well. This was his best game as a Tiger, though. Dixon is meant t be the focal point of the Port offence. All attacks go through him, but Tarrant was with him every step of the way to ensure that Charlie didn’t make an impact.

The only time I remember Tarrant being cleanly beaten was on a perfect kick from Ryan Burton that gave Dixon the advantage… unlike just about every other kick the Power went inside 50 with.

In a defence boasting Dylan Grimes, Nathan Broad, and Noah Balta at times, the form of Robbie Tarrant may end up being pivotal to the Tigers’ season. If he s performing, it eases the load on the others and allows them to play a more attacking brand of footy.

I was genuinely concerned after a month or so into the season that Tarrant was cooked. He looked lost, and he looked slow. The last few weeks have been encouraging, however, and if he is able to maintain this trajectory, he will have a big say in September proceedings.

 

THREATENING

I could probably put Shai Bolton in the ‘Bad’ section for his horrid kicking at goal, including one that rivaled Tayla Harris for missing from point-blank range.

However, that would be too easy – too reactionary, and I would be taking the low road. Instead, I will overlook the fact that he kicked like a three-legged mule and focus on how bloody elusive he was when he picked up the footy.

Do any of you remember Darren Jarman? Remember the way he’d hang the ball out there, sell the dummy and pull it back at the last moment to continue on his merry way? He was a magician with the footy in hand, and Bolton feels like a quicker, more explosive version of the Hawthorn/Adelaide champ. He just zigs when everyone else in the game zags.

There were a couple of points in this one where the umps didn’t pay him a high free-kick following a moment where he attempted to duck under a tackle, and that’s a good thing – I’d love to see him remove that from his repertoire, but it was obvious early in the piece that anyone who tried to stop him was going to be stepped around and made to look silly.

Dan Houston got the lesson twice early in the game, and a couple of others learnt the hard way as the game progressed.

Shai Bolton threatened to blow this game open, and whilst his efforts in a loss would have been lamentable, he was doing everything right in this game except hitting the scoreboard. He kicked for goal when he should have handballed, he handballed when he should have kicked for goal, and hell, he might have even handgoaled when he should have kickballed for all I know. He seemed to want to do so much every time he got the footy… he needs to take some advice from the girl I dated when I was 16… just slow down a bit, baby.

I doubt we’ll see him kick 0.5 again anytime soon.

 

THE ENGINE ROOM

Dion Prestia makes such a huge difference to this Richmond team in the middle. His hands are clean, his decision-making is good, and his feel for the game allows him to know when to hit up forward and when to hold off and fan the ball out wide.

People go on about how Scott Pendlebury buys time, or makes time stop when he has the footy – Prestia does it, too. He cocks the handball, looks to release, and then turns and goes with the ball. Meanwhile, his opponent is still trying to work out which way he went and why he did it?

I am one who hopes that we get to see Prestia run through the remainder of the 2022 season uninterrupted. Every time he seems to get a bit of a run-on, he tweaks something or other and takes a seat. The Tigers are a far better and more potent outfit with him in the side and if he can hold it together for another few months, who knows where the ceiling is for this team?

 

THREE IN A ROW?

Not that three-peat… although I am sure Tiger fans would take it.

No, I am talking about the form of Liam Baker. Heading into the bye, Baker had been assessed by our Mongrel team as the best on ground in the last two Richmond games. In a purple patch of form, his attack on the ball, man, and contest have been second to none, and watching him closely in this one, it will be bloody difficult to keep him out of the votes, again.

Playing high half-forward, he was an absolute livewire, and made those around him better with his excellent work at stoppages. It was Baker stepping up to ice the game for the Tigers, and he could have added another goal late if not for channelling Joe Ganino and firing his shot a little too early.

All in all, I have him, Prestia, Tarrant, and Vlastuin up the top of the Tiger performers. I’d be interested to see who you guys have in your best.

 

THE CONTINUED IMPROVEMENT

There are times when I think Todd Marshall should take 12 marks in a game. He does everything right and then kind of floats toward the footy in the air, his hands in front of his eyes.

And then the big fist of a defender comes in to break it all up.

Still, he has a bit of a knack about clunking marks I don’t think he will. He took three ‘get out of Jail’ marks in this game, level with Charlie Dixon, to relieve the pressure on the Port defence, but unlike Charlie, he was also a threat inside 50, finishing with three goals, and probably should have had four, but for a poor miss in the third quarter.

I was critical of Marshall coming into this season and thought he was in a make-or-break season.

Turns out he is making it… but man I would love to see him take the footy at its highest point. He would open up the game for his team with a few more GooJ marks on the wing.

 

 

THE BAD

 

HANGING DOCTORS OUT TO DRY?

And here we have the Channel Seven commentary team, fresh off such gems as questioning umpire free kicks and getting players’ names wrong, asking questions about the practice of the medicos in charge of Port Adelaide.

Late in the game there was a collision between Tom Jonas and Zak Butters that saw both blokes bleeding from the face. Butters experienced a cut on his cheek, and Jonas got one about the eye area. Both men were taken off the field and attended to by club doctors, whose integrity is beyond reproach.

But don’t let that stop renowned physician, Abbey Holmes from stepping in to question whether the players should have entered concussion protocols because, based on her extensive knowledge of the medical profession, she was able to surmise that due to the fact the players smashed their faces into each other, that both should be rules out for the game (there was not enough time left in the game for them to be assessed and return).

The way I look at it, there are docs there for a reason, and there is no way in hell they would put their reputations at risk to get a player back out on the field. We have seen players have to sit out games after innocuous-looking incidents. If they were at all worried, they would have insisted the players undergo a test.

They weren’t worried, and that was good enough for me.

 

 

THE UGLY

 

STEVEN MOTLOP

Three touches of the footy.

That’s what this bloke offered the Power in this game.

Matched up against Daniel Rioli for the majority of the game, this was the worst version of Motlop you’ll find. Second to the contest, allergic to any type of defensive running, and seemingly giving up on the game way too early.

He showed brief signs of life in the last quarter when he managed to apply a bit of pressure on the half-forward flank, but far out… if that’s what you’re gonna hang your hat on in terms of your performance, you might as well pack up your locker, head on home, and join the rest of us on the couch, such was his input in this game.

Motlop is now 31 years of age. Yes, over the years he has been capable of doing the mercurial, but at this stage of his career, he is not getting any better. When you consider that he is probably less capable of the mercurial now, and more capable of the utter crap he dished up in this game, I reckon this might be the last time he suits up in Port Adelaide colours for a while.

And the decision to drop him would be absolutely justified.

Hell, Rioli even ran forward and slotted a long goal as Motlop meandered around in the centre of the ground, offering only a belated, and failed, chase.

Time’s up, Steven. Port are better off giving someone else a run.

 

RETURN TO SENDER

There are a few players in the Port side that are known for their skill with the footy.

Sadly, in this one that skill seemed to desert them, leaving them hacking the footy all over the park. Much was made of Connor Rozee’s ball use in this one, and for once, the commentary team was spot on. He was spraying it around like a playful kid at a urinal as he kicked blindly inside 50. He did make amends late in the game with some classy weaving through traffic to give the Power a shot at pinching the game, but for the most part, he hacked it.

Karl Amon was another, missing a heap of easy targets and putting the ball out on the full twice in the first quarter. Yes, he collected 29 touches and that is great, but with Amon I have always rated the quality over the quantity of possession, and in this one, the quality simply wasn’t there as often.

Even Jayden Short had the type of night he won’t be putting on his highlight reel. Normally brilliant with the footy, his kicking seemed to resemble some of those around him as he misfired on several disposals, including one inside defensive 50 that quickly led to an Ollie Wines goal.

Rozee and Amon combined for 17 turnovers in this game – far too many for players of their skill. Whilst, Short had eight turnovers of his own. Others that seemed to be missing the mark as often as they hit it were Trent Cotchin (six turnovers and 56% efficiency) and Jack Graham (six turnovers at 65% efficiency).

 

OTHER BITS

 

It’s not all wine and roses for the Tigers in this review – Hugo Ralphsmith casually jogging into the protected zone whilst in no position to impact anything ahead of the ball was as boneheaded a decision as they come.

What the hell was he thinking, there? Undisciplined acts have cost the Tigers all year and at that point of the game, Port were pressing and he basically handed Kane Farrell a long goal. That’s the sort of stuff that sees you back in the VFL.

Loved seeing Judson Clarke slot his first goal – you cannot help but smile when you see the family in the crowd and the players come from everywhere to celebrate. He did a couple of nice things as he adjusted to the pace of senior footy. Hope he gets another few runs this season.

I know people dislike Wayne Carey, but his comments in this game to inform viewers as to why Port could not move the ball quickly when they had it on the wing were helpful. Here’s the thing – Channel Seven have the footage and the camera angle to SHOW us why Port couldn’t use the footy, but they have decided to stick to the same bloody angles they’ve used for decades, which only tell part of the story.

See the bit above where I wrote about the Tigers always having two extra defenders back as part of their structure? That’s what Carey was attempting to let you know, but because he works for a station that refuses to break from the norm, it is left up to him to describe what Channel Seven are preventing you from seeing.

Tom Clurey did a good job on Jack Riewoldt for the most part. He made contests when it seemed lack was out the back and ready to take easy marks.

I was really getting into the Balta v Aliir battle before Hardwick threw Balta down back to give stability to the defence. Two beasts going at it in the air and when the ball hit the deck – it was entertaining.

 

And that might just do me. A solid, if not spectacular win by the Tigers. They will play finals this season, and you’d e foolish to write them off at any stage.

As for Port, well, there is a bit of soul searching to occur there. Forward structure was horrid and with Mitch Georgiades back at home, I wonder how him in the side and Motlop out may have influenced the outcome.

Lastly, the holding the ball rule seems to be very inconsistent. They pay it more for dragging the ball in than they do for genuinely good tackles. In this one, 13 holding the ball/incorrect disposal free kicks were awarded, favouring Port 7-6. Still, plenty were missed, or let slide… and I hate that, particularly when identical ones are paid minutes before or following.

 

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