Port Adelaide kept their season alive with a win over the Sydney Swans built on hard work and pressure in signs that the Power supporters would be absolutely thrilled with.

Led by the brute force of Ollie Wines in the middle, Karl Amon and Connor Rozee on the outside, and any number of defensive combinations down back, Port squeezed the life out of a Sydney team that seemed slow and reactive after the first quarter.

Amazingly, it was in the ruck that Port gained a significant advantage, and as we’ll discuss below, the work of Jeremy Finlayson to cover the absence of debutant, Brynn Teakle was vital as the Power kicked away in the third quarter.

Lots to love and hate about this game, so without further ado, let’s jump in.

 

LOVE – DE-FENCE BOOM-BOOM DE-FENCE…

Pick a name – any name?

Shall we talk about Aliir Aliir’s role on Lance Franklin? He forced Buddy far and wide to get a touch of the footy, restricting access time and time again inside 50.

How about Tom Clurey, who was resolute in defence all afternoon and chimed in with intercepts and spoils at key moments.

Or what about the captain? Tom Jonas’ efforts in the second quarter to close down a goal-bound Will Hayward encompassed everything about the unsung defensive hero as he turned what looked like a certain goal into no score for the Swans.

And then we had the runners.

Darcy Byrne-Jones, Ryan Burton, Riley Bonner… they eviscerated the Swans on the rebound, finding time and space in a manner that was the exact opposite of what was occurring at the other end. They were first to ever ground ball, ran hard and with purpose, and set up teammates further afield with superb overlap run.

Whilst I am sure all Port fans will have their favourite highlights of a third-quarter where Sydney capitulated and Port ran over the top of them to register a six-goal to-one advantage, for me it was the defence that stood solid and permitted the rest of the team the agency to be expansive.

This was the Port Adelaide team that were so good through 2020 and 2021, and if they can continue to strangle teams as they did to this Sydney outfit, finals may be more than just a dream – the 2022 future of this club resides with their back six, and they were fan-bloody-tastic in this game.

 

HATE – TURNING AN ADVANTAGE INTO A DISADVANTAGE

So, when Brynn Teakle went down injured, things should have swung dramatically in Sydney’s favour, right? I mean, they had a genuine ruckman on their team and should have started controlling hit outs and stoppages.

What a pity that ruckman was not Tom Hickey. He may have held his own and even given the Swans an advantage.

Peter Ladhams was embarrassed by the Port Adelaide second-stringers – completely and utterly cut down to size by Jeremy Finlayson, who simply wanted the footy more. He was beaten to the footy in the air, was beaten at ground level, and the only time he was not beaten was when he decided to do some beating of his own and punch a fallen Ollie Wines in the ribs when he was on the deck in what can only be termed a cheap shot.

It is one thing to lose a contest or two, but to allow your frustration to boil over and give away stupid, and costly free kicks is another thing entirely. Ladhams gave away three of them for the quarter, including the idiotic downfield free-kick that gifted a goal to Charlie Dixon.

John Longmire benched his only ruckman for a good ten minutes after a period of some of the worst ruck work you’re likely to see from someone who should have an advantage and I reckon if he had another option, Ladhams would not have come back on the ground at all.

Alas, Longmire relented and Ladhams was able to come back onto the ground where he redeemed himself somewhat by drawing a free-kick inside 50 and slotting a goal, but the damage was already done.

Ladhams finished the third quarter with four hitouts and one disposal – the goal. He was beaten by Finlayson… and Dixon… and bloody Powell-Pepper at stoppages to the point where if this was a boxing match, the referee would have been forced to stop the fight.

Ladhams will likely have to take at least a week off for his low act of whacking Wines, and truth be told, he probably needs it. What we saw from him in this game may just be the reason Port Adelaide were fine with him departing. From where I sit, his actions were those of someone mentally weak.

 

LOVE – WHAT TODD MARSHALL COULD BE

Todd Marshall finished the first half with three goals to his name. Perhaps this description could be both a love and a hate, as he should have been the best player on the park at the main break with five or six.

He consistently led Dane Rampe to the footy (Paddy McCartin started picking him up in the third) and beat him hands down on multiple occasions. He took marks, he dropped marks, he kicked set shots and missed them, as well in a real fruit salad of good and bad. However, the signs we have to take notice of are that he was THE MAN in a forward line featuring man-mountain, Charlie Dixon, and the fact he has been playing good footy a lot more consistently this season than ever before.

Coming into 2022, I wondered aloud whether Marshall was going to be able to take the next step at all. He has answered those doubts emphatically and has registered three or more goals on five occasions thus far. For reference, he did this just six times over the previous four years.

I’ve often looked at Marshall as more an opportunistic tall forward than a true key position player, but with every game, he seems to be finding space and losing his opponent often, which is a skill in and of itself. He torched Rampe in this one and probably could have had a career-high afternoon had things gone his way.

As it stands, four goals in a winning team is good enough for me, and his domination in the first half should ensure that he is the man Port continue to build the next incarnation of their forward line around.

 

HATE – THE FORM OF DANE RAMPE

We’ve seen some pretty significant signs this season, right? Slower off the mark… losing the ball and his opponent in the contest… being caught out of position.

I am not the one to state it’s time to stick a fork in Rampe, but from what we’ve witnessed in 2022, his form is a huge worry if he is going to be expected to stand a high-quality forward. Even with McCartin x 2 to help out, Rampe found himself all at sea against Todd Marshall, and it was only mistakes from Marshall that made things seem relatively acceptable in terms of Rampe’s performance.

By halftime, John Longmire had seen enough, and moved his former All-Australian and Bob Skilton Medallist off a player he would have absolutely demolished a couple of years ago.

Rampe has just turned 32 and for some, around this age the slope starts to become pretty steep. All it takes is a little slip and the descent is rapid. Rampe has not been sure of foot all season, and if this performance does not convince you that he is slipping, I am not sure what type of evidence you need.

 

LOVE – DANCING CONNOR

Last season, and even early this year for that matter, the dancing feet of Connor Rozee got him into as much trouble as they got him out of it. Last year, he lacked that powerful first step to leave an opponent in the dust and break away from traffic. Early this year, he found it, but often zigged when he should have zagged and ended up getting caught.

However, after being moved into the guts, Rozee has worked his way into very solid form, and that first step is back in a big way.

He amassed 29 touches in this game as his zippiness around the packs saw him as the perfect first-release player, eventhough he managed five clearances of his own, and his handball game often put his teammates into advantageous positions.

Rozee is now demonstrating the type of form many expected of him through 2020/21 but injury seemed to curtail his progress. In 2022, Rozee is making good on the promise he showed way back in 2019, when he was in the same conversation as Sam Walsh when it came to who was the best player from the draft.

Discussion around that has flittered away, and rightly so, with Walsh becoming one of the best players in the league. However, with this type of form, Rozee should be able to start closing the gap on the Carlton star over time.

And if he can start hitting the scoreboard a little more, he will add an aspect to his game that Walsh does not have. They’re around the same range for goals kicked this season, but with Rozee’s record in front of goals, this facet of the game could be where he reels Walsh in.

 

ANOTHER LOVE – THE HANDS OF HEENEY

Here at The Mongrel, we keep a stat called the ‘Get out of Jail’ marks, where a player provides an option for the defence down the line and clunks a grab to relieve the pressure, effectively getting the team out of jail.

Fun, huh?

I like to think so.

The record for these types of marks in a single game is four, which doesn’t sound like much, but we are now 14 rounds into the 2022 season and no player has been able to get past four.

I thought Heeney was going to do it today. He provided an excellent target for the Swans in the first half, dragging in four GooJ marks in the first two quarters, combing with Sam Reid to give Sydney aerial dominance. However, following the main break, the Port Adelaide defence – Burton, Bonner, Clurey… all clamped down on Heeney, refusing to allow him the space to work into position to add to that tally.

Heeney’s hands were wonderful all over the park, however. He finished with four goals and three contested grabs to go along with his four GooJ marks in a performance that stood out for the Swans.

Earlier this season, many had him as an All-Australian lock, but more recent form saw several begin to sour on him. Perhaps today’s performance will serve as a reminder?

He now has 25 goals for the season and 17 and a half touches per game, he is within touching distance of being the first bloke in a dozen years to average 20 touches and two goals.

 

HATE – WHERE IS OLLIE FLORENT AT?

Lost, seemingly.

Ten touches from Florent this week as he alternated between half-back and wing in this game, but when he had an opportunity to make a real difference, he blew a shot at goal in the last quarter.

It was almost predictable.

Florent has been above 20 touches just four times in 2022. In three of those games, the Swans have won. The other nine games see the Swans go 5-4 as he has floundered, unable to find the footy. Admittedly, he has been deployed at half-back in a stopping role at times, but outside ‘the game against Brisbane, where he locked down on Zac Bailey, I am not sure the Swans are getting bang for buck from him at all.

Maybe he is carrying an injury? Maybe he is down on confidence? Whatever it is, if he doesn’t pull his finger out and become a threat, Sydney may just meander through the rest of the season with a bloke who is sometimes a good player and sometimes… a battler.

And Florent is too good to be a battler.

 

LOVE – SIGNS OF LIFE

I have to admit, my eyebrows raised when Zak Butters was subbed out of the game with a knee injury – not because of what it meant to the Power, but because of what it meant to his replacement.

Xavier Duursma has been very slow in finding form in 2022. His progression has stalled as he dealt with the fallout of his 2021 injuries, and being named as sub… well, it is a bit like dancing with your sister, as Denis Pagan would say. You’re still at the dance, but you’re not really enjoying it.

With Port gaining the ascendancy, the time was right for Duursma to stake a claim to be in the 22 in Round 15. So, how’d he go?

There were a few nervous moments and a few average decisions, but we started to see signs of life from the young wingman. He took off from half-back at one stage, managed to have a couple of bounces in the process, as well.

Was it impressive? No, not really, but it was great to see him have the confidence to start running and carrying again. It’s been a spark the Power have missed for too long.

 

HATE – THE SYDNEY DEATH RATTLE

I wrote about Dane Rampe above – there is a bit of a death rattle about him at the moment, but he is not the only one.

Buddy had a bit of the death rattle about him this week. Only at ground level, mind you, as there were a couple of occasions where he looked every bit of his 35 years.

Of course, Buddy has always been able to rebound pretty quickly, and one week means very little when we talk about him. Still, if you were looking at this game in isolation, you’d be wondering what all the hype was around him.

Others I have not mentioned in the article thus far who looked pretty bloody ordinary – Colin O’Riordan, who seemed a bit shaken by the pressure, and Jake Lloyd, who had his big game two weeks ago and backed it up with… this one.

 

FIGHTING FINLAYSON

I left this one for last, as I kind of covered it off in the section on Ladhams, but Jeremy Finlayson deserves a lot of credit for the way he fought in the ruck in this game.

Sure, it would be easy to think that Ladhams imploded all by himself, but this was, at least in part, orchestrated by the combative nature of Finlayson opposed to him. He fought for front spot against a bloke much bigger than him, refused to be pushed around, and was integral in Pot gaining a 43-32 clearance advantage (again, embarrassing for Ladhams).

Finlayson had nine fewer hit-outs than Ladhams, but managed one more clearance for the game to genuinely be the best ruck on the ground.

Yes, Peter Ladhams may have made a dick out of himself, but Jeremy Finlayson made a dick out of him first.

 

Geez, I’ve got to the end and I haven’t even written about Karl Amon or Ollie Wines, yet. Wines was a monster, crashing though tackles and working the ball forward with power, whereas Amon’s run and carry working up and down the wing continually gave Port an option on the outside. If both blokes feature heavily in Brownlow votes, I would not be at all surprised. Whilst I really liked them, I loved the others mentioned.

 

And so, Port moves to within two games of the top eight with this win. They have the Suns at Adelaide Oval next week before heading out west to Play Freo. They’ll need both these games if they’re gonna make a run.

The Swans… well, they have a bit of a cut-throat game against the Saints next week before heading to the ‘G to beat the Bombers… oops, I meant “play” the Bombers. Seriously though, Sydney need both these games, as well. They’re good enough to play finals and at their best, good enough to contend. This effort was way below their best.

 

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