As Port Adelaide welcomed the injury-ravaged West Coast Eagles to the Adelaide Oval in Round Six, you could be forgiven for thinking that they may have done so with a smile.
After a pretty tough five weeks to start the year, The Power emerged with a 3-2 record, surpassing the doomsday predictions of many, including some of their own fans. In taking on the Eagles, Port were looking to solidify their place in the finals race at the same time as they got to take the foot off the gas, even just a little.
That is not to knock the Eagles at all – no, no – they are a team that plays with a hell of a lot of desire; they simply don’t have the cattle to compete for four quarters at this stage, and it showed in this one. Port just had too many good players for too long, with West Coast able to hang with the Power for three of the four quarters, but it was a six-goal to one second quarter that gave Port the space they needed to establish their lead and cruise to a 40-point win.
For Port, they played without key forward, Charlie Dixon, and regular first ruck, Scott Lycett, which we’ll get into, whilst West Coast staggered into the game with a plethora of injuries to their established stars… again.
Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Good, Bad, and Ugly
THE BEST CHANGE OF DIRECTION IN THE BUSINESS?
When you talk about the best change of direction in the game, there are only really two contenders.
One is Shai Bolton and the other is Connor Rozee.
In this game, it was Rozee out there, seemingly freezing his defenders in place as he took the footy cleanly and added a little stutter step or two before darting off in the opposite direction to that which the opposition guessed he was moving. It was almost mesmerising as he would look one way, take half a step to draw the defender into shifting his weight that way, only to blow past them back the other way in the blink of an eye.
He left plenty of them stranded on Rozee Island in this game.
Both Tim Kelly and Andrew Gaff had more of the footy in this game, but neither had the same impact that Rozee did. His evasive skills, vision, and break-starting disposals saw him remain a potent force for the majority of the game, consistently finding space and hurting with his touches.
He should have finished with three goals, missing the easiest chance he had all game in the third quarter, as he received the handoff from Zak Butters, but his running stab at goal missed a little wide. Still, with 2.1 for the game, his efforts, particularly early, when the Eagles were matching the intensity of the Power, were vital to the way Port were able to take control.
Personally, I love watching this bloke play – you hear a lot about the best players in the game to sit back and admire as they go to work – there are not many as entertaining as Connor Rozee. And fewer still are as damaging.
A DIFFERENT LOOK UP FORWARD
Jeremy Finlayson is no stranger to a bag of five goals, having notched that number four times in his career prior to this game.
He made it five times with this performance, offering Port a fantastic mobile target inside 50, which became more important as Todd Marshall was subbed out after inflicting a concussion on himself with a tackle early in the game…
… let’s hope the AFL doesn’t suspend him for putting himself at risk of injury! They’ve done dumber shit…
Seriously though, it is a stark reminder that in a contact sport, there will always be injuries, and that includes knocks to the head – you simply cannot stop all of them.
Anyway, Finlayson, who is playing this season with a huge weight on his shoulders given the situation with his family, produced the goods again for Port. His three goals in the first half helped Port establish their match-winning lead. Late in the game, he had the chance to secure his first-ever bag of six, but babied the snap at goal to see it drop five metres short. I would have liked to see him dob that one.
Having Finlayson able to step up and become TheMan inside 50 gave Port room to breathe without Dixon and Marshall, and depending on the timeframe for both their returns, he may well be able to hold he fort until they both get back.
A GLIMPSE INTO THE FUTURE
With Charlie Dixonsidelined and Mitch Georgiades given the week in the SANFL, plenty of eyes were on first-gamer, Ollie Lord, as he slotted in as a key forward for Port.
After one-quarter of footy, my guess is that Port fans were sold. He presented really well, attacked the footy in the air, and importantly had clean hands when he went after the footy at ground level. At 197 centimetres, you could forgive the kid for getting a bad case of the fumbles, but there were several instances where he took the footy cleanly, took the tackle, and was able to free his hamds to dish off to a teammate.
Yes, the commentators had a giggle late in the game as the young fella had a few issues with cramp, but I loved what I saw from him in this game. This is a kid who did the fundamentals really well, and when you are playing a key position, you need to be predictable to your teammates in order to both position yourself in the correct spots, and give the smalls a chance to read the ball off the contests you provide.
Lord did exactly that, picking up five score involvements, including one direct goal assist as he made his teammates better around him. He did fade badly in the second half, but that was to be expected. In the first half of the game, Ollie Lord gave Port fans enough hope that there is a pretty bright light beyond the career of Dixon when the time comes.
ALIIR V MEDIUM-SIZED O
Is it possible to be too strong for your own good?
I mean, you could accidentally break someone’s ribs when giving them a hug. You’d be at risk of people avoiding high-fiving you in case you hurt their hands… and you’d be penalised for being stronger than your direct opponent in man-t-man contests in the AFL.
Aliir was the in-form defender in the competition over the last couple of weeks, coming off a big game against Buddy Franklin, and a dominant role against the Dogs last week. However, he was almost forced to modify his game early in this one, as he stood his ground, outmuscled Oscar Allen, and heard the whistle blow as a result. The umpire must have thought Aliir did something wrong, as he was able to get rid of Allen, but the replay indicated he’d done nothing wrong.
Later in the game, Aliir simply used his body to get rid of Allen and mark. It was a genuine contest for the footy, but the umpire, Eleni Whatshername, called him for a “block”. It wasn’t a block – it was good bloody footy. Again, he was penalised for being too strong. It was frustrating for me, watching as a neutral… I can only imagine how Port fans must have felt.
Allen had moments of his own, and really could have ended up with four or five from quite limited opportunities, but his inaccuracy saw him convert just twice from his five shots.
Allen looks very lively when given room to run and jump at the footy, and as long as the Eagles are patient with him, it is quickly becoming apparent that he has been absolutely worth the wait as he has battled injury, and could be the next genuine West Coast Superstar.
Overall, Aliir gets the chocolates in this one, but Allen was far from being easily beaten, particularly when you consider the quality, or lack thereof, of footy coming his way.
CULLEY STEPS UP
The Eagles are looking for signs from their kids – that’s all they can expect right about now, as none of them are going to step up and dominate a game – they have some really good works in progress, but none of the kids over the last couple of seasons have come in looking ready to take a game over.
That’d be why having Jai Culley finish with four goals would be so gratifying to Adam Simpson and his assistants. A midfielder by trade, the injury crisis at West Coast saw him moved forward, where he found himself with several opponents, but did have Tom Jonas responsible for him for lengthy periods.
Culley bobbed up to capitalise on some Port Adelaide mistakes after copping a nasty head clash with Tom Jonas, but was also able to create for himself in an impressive cameo role as a forward. It will be interesting to see how the Eagles persist with him – does he get a regular gig inside 50, or will he head back to the middle sometimes soon?
Plenty of stories to follow at West Coast at the moment, and the development of Jai Culley, and how the Eagles deploy him ongoing will be one to keep an eye on.
GENUINE QUESTION – IS TOM BARRASS A BETTER PLAYER WITHOUT JEREMY MCGOVERN?
Come on, Eagles fans… gimme an answer.
Did I count eight intercept marks from Tom Barrass in this game?
In a defence under siege, that is some pretty bloody impressive effort.
As the last line of defence for West Coast, Barrass is a fantastic reader of the play. His timing is exceptional, and when he launches at the footy, nine times out of ten he has a better claim on the chance to mark than his highly-fancied opponents.
When playing alongside Jeremy McGovern, I feel that Barrass defers to the muti-time All-Australian, as you would when you play with such a decorated player. However, Barrass seems a little more at home and a bit more confident when Gov is on the sidelines and the defensive fifty belongs to him, alone.
Look, I am not going to sit here and pontificate that West Coast are better off without Gov – I’m not an idiot, and AA defenders don’t just happen along, but there could possibly be an argument for McGovern to take on more of a defensive lockdown role in order to allow Barrass the freedom to play the interceptor when both guys are on the park again?
It may not be the best idea I’ve had, but I can guarantee you it is not the worst.
TK GETTING IT DONE
There are those who have cast a lot of doubt on the work of Tim Kelly over the past few years. Myself, I have been critical of his inability to fight through a dedicated tag, and I stand by that, but when allowed to play his own game, TK is as good as any player in the league with his hard run and second efforts.
He led this game in disposals and added eight clearances as the Power cycled plenty of opponents through him – Horne-Francis, Willem Drew, Ollie Wines… all spent time standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him at clearances, but Kelly’s work ethic looks to have gone to another level this season.
He is simply working harder from contest to contest and has been able to set up running teammates with slick handballs when the pressure has come his way.
25 of his 34 touches in this game came by hand as the walls closed in around him quickly, but Kelly kept a cool head and was able to dish off to teammates when the pressure arrived.
I tend to remember games where TK was stopped in his tracks by a dedicated tag, but this game was the opposite. His hard work has left an impression after this one – no wonder he is rated so highly in the coaches’ votes his season.
THE ACCOUNTABLE MID
I love the way Willem Drew goes about his footy. In simple terms, there is no bullshit about him, at all.
Whilst the Power possess some potent offensive weapons in the guts, the work of Willem Drew is often overlooked. However, as he went about his business in this one, both in taking his turn to make life difficult for Tim Kelly, and pushing forward when he had the chance, he gave the Power that solid presence that all teams need.
Not only did he get plenty of the footy, but it was also his defensive efforts that caught my eye, laying a game-high ten tackles.
Drew loves the contest. He is a scrapper and is more than happy to get down and dirty when the situation requires, and is the perfect counter-balance to the elusive duo of Rozee and Butters in the middle. Whilst Ollie Wines still gets in and under here and there (but is a pretty diminished presence from his Brownlow season, if we’re being honest), Trav Boak is now playing almost an exclusive wingman role, meaning Drew has ample opportunity to strut his stuff, and it was no coincidence that when he was playing his best footy in the second quarter, the Power were playing their best, as well.
IN THE SIDE BECAUSE HE’S CAPTAIN?
I feel a bit bad writing this, as over the journey I have really rated Tom Jonas. Hell, even in this game I thought he got substantially better in the second half.
But… and you know that “but” was coming, didn’t ya? But, it seems as though he is carrying a bit of rust every time he runs out there at the moment – like he is the tin man and he needs a half of footy to get his limbs moving in the manner they need to.
The captain is playing like a bloke who knows he is under pressure – his play reeks of a man who is second-guessing his actions and when he makes a mistake, the way he hangs his head makes me wonder if he is seeing the writing on the wall at the moment.
Tom Jonas was the right selection as captain of the club at the time he was appointed. Right now, I reckon that appointment is the number one reason he is in the side.
Luckily, if it is a fitness issue, he’ll have a couple of weeks off due to choosing to bump and getting Jai Culley in the head (with his own head, but the AFL don’t particularly care about that). If it is all upstairs, I hope he can get on top of it. If the game is passing him by as we watch… then I hope Port has he guts to make a big call
ANOTHER GAME, ANOTHER SHUEY INJURY
I don’t know what to feel about Luke Shuey being substituted out of this game. To be honest, had he made it through four-quarters of footy, I may have been more surprised.
His injury history is huge, and I wonder if he is at the point where his memories of the game he loves are now far greater than the dream?
Yes, this appeared to be an ankle injury – nothing to do with the soft tissue injuries that have plagued him over recent years, but it has to feel like a kick in the teeth to do all the work, get yourself right, and then something else bobs up and puts him out of the game.
A QUICK OBSERVATION
There was a bit of talk about Scott Lycett being dropped from this side. Allow me to offer another perspective.
If there is any team in the AFL right now you’d love a young ruck to cut his teeth against, it would be the West Coast Eagles. With a ruckman who, prior to this game, anyway, looked pretty average, you could forgive Ken Hinkley and company for expecting Brynn Teakle to get some reps under his belt and gain some confidence. There was no Nic Naitanui to worry about. Had the West Coast big man been in the side, I reckon Scott Lycett plays.
Instead, Hinkley could have had a look at what Bailey Williams had been able to do and it may not have worried him too much.
Alas, Bailey Williams sensed opportunity afoot, as well. He started ripping the footy out of the ruck contests to register 13 clearances for the game, having a career-best game in the process.
What does that do to the confidence of a kid like Teakle? He just had a second string ruck manhandling him at stoppages? Port gets St Kilda and Rowan Marshall next week – it’ll be interesting as to whether Hinkley opts to play without his primary ruckman again. Bailey Williams is one thing – Rowan Marshall is a different beast, altogether.
Also, Brynn Teakle sounds like the name of a Sydney socialite more than a footballer. Go on, picture a middle-aged woman with too much makeup on… how much does the name Brynn Teakle fit that picture?
Kelli Underwood got “kick to kick” confused with “back to back”.
At least she didn’t call Port the black and teal team, or West Coast the bird team…
Good to see Junior Rioli involved in this one. He has been hanging by a thread in recent weeks, but a couple of goals gets him another go-round next week.
Ryan Burton and Darcy Byrne-Jones as forwards? I didn’t see that coming. Uncle Ken up to some tricks, huh? Well, I’ve been thinking about it, and in line with the discussion around Teakle in the ruck, if Hinkley is looking to experiment and his missus is a bit gunshy, well, playing the Eagles is about as safe as it gets at the moment.
Another pretty solid outing from Jake Waterman this week. He is compiling a decent season, and with Jack Darling only showing up late, the Eagles desperately need an effective third option.
Haven’t said much about Andrew Gaff. 32 touches is a great return for him, but he moves like a grandma at the shops these days – up and down in the one spot.
And that might do me – my kids are yelling, Mrs Mongrel needs help with dinner, and I… well, I liked what I saw from Port without being overly impressed this week.
Massive thanks to those who support us – you’re the best – HB.