This match seemed to promise some intense bad feelings between the two sides, instead we had a situation more like two blokes arguing at a pub when one asks the other to step outside, only for the first bloke to stand up revealing he’s 6’9 and has fists like bear paws.
Port put a hurting on North to the tune of 70 points, yet at times they seemed almost reluctant to put them to the sword. Make no mistake, the score line could have been much worse for the Kangaroos, but it looked like after half time, Port were already looking towards their next challenge in taking on the Dees.
Grudges aren’t grudging like they used to
The media hype would have had you believe North were intending to go out and attempt to tear Jason Horne-Francis limb-from-limb, aided by the millions of North supporters that have been travelling the nation and attending every Port game to boo him, as well as establish a brewery in Queensland to create a design on a tinnie mocking him.
And yet what we ended up with was… almost too sociable?
First, Sonja Hood expressed support and concern for Jason. Then Clarko, the bloke who has the sort of temper that would make celebrity chefs blanche, lets us know that he’s put in a call letting Jason know that there’s no hard feelings on their end. To top it off, there was vision of JHF and Simpkin having a bit of kick-to-kick in the warm up.
Rather than baying for blood, this rivalry seemed to become something out of an 80’s care bear cartoon, with the meaning of the game being less about getting a win, and more about making friends along the way.
Perhaps that’s why Port took the foot off the gas a bit—they felt like they were just beating up on someone’s newly-divorced mother who was still trying to find their way back into the dating pool.
Farewell lap in Tassie?
The decision to host this game in Tasmania is perplexing.
You’d think that even though the Tassie team has only just received approval, it’d have been known that this was likely when the draw was being written. So the idea of taking what seemed to be a grudge match to the Apple Isle doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Worse still, what was served up is hardly going to excite locals into supporting a new stadium.
You’d have to think that when the new team does come in, there will be little need for North and Hawthorn to play home games in Tasmania, but rather than this breakup seeming like two lovers cruelly torn apart by circumstance, North and Blundstone Arena will say goodbye with the sort of apathy that comes with getting an email telling you you’ve missed your chance to pay $50 per ticket to win a car in some internet sweepstakes competition.
Once the Tassie team have a guernsey released, I can see local op shops refusing to take any more Nroth kit, due to oversupply.
If you don’t like Ben Cunnington, you’re wrong. ASIO needs to open a file on you, and you need to be the subject of medical studies determining what malfunctioning gene caused this evolutionary aberration.
But, being the nation’s most well-known stoic hard-nosed midfielder/ fisherman and being 2-0 against that bastard cancer doesn’t guarantee a game when form doesn’t support it. Ben has been off the boil for most of the year, due in no small part to get chemotherapy not so long ago, as well as the toll his playing style has taken on his body.
It’d have been a hard call to make, and with the injury toll it may see him earn an immediate call up, but the very fact that he’s no longer the first magnet on the board will be a new experience for Ben, and not an enjoyable one.
On to the game
Well, I’ve tarried long enough. Enough about the build-up, let’s get to the actual event.
There’s really two sections; the first quarter, and the rest of the game.
In the first quarter, supporters were treated to a tight contest. There were long possession chains by both sides, some great snap shots by Powell-Pepper and Stephenson, some strong tagging in the middle, and some very interesting battles between Aliir Aliir and Larkey, as well as McKay and Finlayson. There was some great direct play from Port, especially through Butters and Wines, and some innovative ball movement from the likes of Stephenson and Zurhaar.
An unbelievably stupid turnover free when Corr struck Ollie Lord with the sort of custard-arm punch that was almost insultingly soft, while still being an attempt to lay knuckles on his jaw. It’s the sort of punch that happens when you’re fighting someone in your dreams, and deserves a week for the optics alone. If it’s challenged, rather than a fine, the AFL should reduce the penalty to being required to attend three months worth of boxing training with a grizzled old coach with a face like five miles of bad road and a gym that smells of stale sweat and money laundering.
From that moment on, North seemed to decide that footy was a silly game indeed, and deserved mockery.
However, after quarter time Port did not share this sentiment and decided footy was about seeing how high on the ladder they’d be at the end of the round.
Goals to Finalyson, Boak and Riley Bonner put North on the back foot as Port kept a solid structure that allowed them space to move, while North crowded the ball and ignored opportunities to make way for their teammates.
A short moment of relief through a Larkey goal was short-lived as Port then went on a tear, with Mead, Horne-Francis, Burton, Bonner and Teakle, all putting through majors and pretty much putting the game to bed before half time, going in with a 45 point lead.
It didn’t get any better for the Roos from there, as a quick goal from Paul Curtis showed a glimpse of fight, which was snuffed out as Port piled on the next four through Finlayson, Lord, Jones and Evans.
Going through the stat list, Port had no less than 14 different goal kickers, showing their unselfish play, as well as North’s backline woes.
From three quarter time onwards, both teams looked like they were going through the motions. Port tried some players in new positions, North had players pull up sore, and the crowd couldn’t even find the will to boo or cheer.
None of that is Port’s fault though.
You can look at North’s game plan, match ups and general structure as critically as you like, but no matter what your intention in footy, if you can’t hit a moving target by hand or foot, you’ll lose.
There is no single greater sin on the field than handballing behind a running player. Not even short-stepping into a contest causes as much of an issue. If you handball behind a player, they lose their momentum. They lose their ability to break lines. The team loses control of the ball. And then they need to stop and collect the ball with no momentum, making them vulnerable to a hit.
Nearly as bad is kicking behind a player for the same reasons.
North repeatedly did this. Again and again, what should have been a fast break turned into an opposition goal. The pressure on the person with the ball matters, and Port deserve credit for that, but the way North were passing wasn’t up to AFL standard for much of the game, and unfortunately, it was their younger backmen that were the most frequent offenders, yet they may be forced to stick with them due to the growing injury list concerns, and lack of AFL-listed backmen currently in the twos.
OK, be honest, did you jump to this bit just to see what happened?
Well, nothing wrong with that I guess, so here it is:
Not a lot.
Having Hugh Greenwood start beside him was expected. He’s been North’s semi-tagging option for 2023 with Simpkin and LDU generally playing their own ball. Yet Greenwood’s size and tackling pressure would seem to have been better spent on a primary play-maker, such as Butters or Wines. Jason didn’t get much of the ball in the first half, though it sounded like locals had him confused with the similarly be-mulletted form of Miles Bergman, who had a blinder of a day. Poor bloke got a few boos from the crowd that were probably meant for JHF, but he’ll have gotten some charlie votes out of it, so isn’t likely to be upset.
While North spent a lot of time assuring everyone there was no hard feelings, one player that has not been subtle about his dislike for Jason was North’s own bull, Cam Zurhaar.
They weren’t regularly at the same contest, but a small highlight of the match was seeing Zurhaar body his way through a pack to put a hard fend off onto Horne Francis, sitting him down in the process.
While the speed of the play means it’s unlikely he even knew it was Jason until afterwards, it’s potentially the one bright moment that North will have in their Monday review, but when the positives from two and a half hours of footy can fit into an animated gif, and it involves besting a 19-year-old at a contest, well, I’m not sure there will be a parade down Arden St to mark the occasion.
Horne-Francis worked his way into the game as it went on, finishing with a respectable 15 touches, four clearances, five tackles and a goal. It wasn’t his best day, but with the pressure and expectation that has been building up throughout the season, he’ll no doubt feel better being able to put this to bed.
It’s hard to have a rivalry when one team is looking to finals optimistically, and the other is doing the same with the draft.
Frequent Traveller Miles
I know, that’s a bit of a hacky subheading, but sometimes you just have to go the obvious route, which is ironic, as Bergman did anything but.
North’s poor forward 50 entries allowed him to dominate the game by launching scoring opportunities from Port’s defensive half time and again, culminating in a multi-bounce run through the middle of the ground that even had North defenders watching with admiration (or at least I assume that’s what they were doing, rather than chase him up).
Miles finished his day with 21 touches, ten marks, four tackles and 588 metres gained, but his game is best illustrated by his 11 intercepts, eight score involvements and five inside 50s.
Modern football tactics frequently use the half back line as playmakers, with players like Johannisen, Saad, Rioli(s) and Brayshaw using their speed and disposal efficiency to counter-attack and catch opposition players on the fast break.
Bergman has been decent in his career so far, but this sort of effort will have a lot of Port fans buzzing. Despite the fact that it was against a lower-ranked side, he’s shown that he has the sort of instincts to become a highly-valued utility, and this outing will no doubt help his confidence to back his own ability a little more.
One of North’s few top-level contributions was from the ultra-consistent Todd Goldstein. Port losing Todd Marshall no doubt changed Port’s ruck strategy, but it’s still fair to say Goldstein had one of his best days of the season. Of the 103 ruck contests he was in, he won the hit out 56 times, with 19 of those helping his mids.
By contrast, Teakle and Finlayson combined only managed 26 hit outs and three to advantage.
Goldy also pushed through 11 clearances, with eight of those from stoppages.
Logue assisted him in moments, but it was very much a part-time role. When Goldy is plying his craft as well as he did, there wasn’t much need for Logue to do more than give him a couple minutes respite now and then.
Would Goldy have had the same sort of day if Marshall hadn’t had his concussion? Probably not, but as they say, if your Grandma had wheels, she’d have been a bike.
The stats that matter
While North surprisingly had more disposals, the telling stat is disposal efficiency, followed closely by inside 50s.
Port were ar more efficient with the ball, hitting their target 74% of the time to North’s 69%, though it’s even worse than that considering Port went by foot a lot more regularly, and were able to find open targets at will.
The inside 50 count is notable because while it’s to Port’s advantage, it’s not as great as the margin would suggest. Port had 59 to North’s 43, but up until three-quarter time, the stat was a lot more even. Port were just far, far more efficient in their ability to find a target, and set up crumbing options as well as players four metres away from the drop of the ball to take the quick hands when it came out, or tackle if their opponents took possession and tried to run.
North also won the contested possessions, marks, and one-percenters, but the tackles inside 50 favoured Port 18-7, showing the sort of desperation and pressure Port brought to bear when trying to keep the ball in their scoring zone—something North simply have to improve upon if they ever want to be competitive again.
North will host the Swans at Marvel. With North likely to lose Davies-Uniacke, Tucker, Perez, Mahony and (Paul) Curtis to injuries sustained in the game, they’ll need to bring in some players to fill the gaps. Cunnington is likely to get a recall with LDU out, despite not really setting the game alight in the twos. One person who is likely to get a look in will be Coleman-Jones, who managed to kick 9 in the match. Phillips and Howe are also probable returns, with Wardlaw a chance too. Tarryn Thomas was very good in his return since his latest attempt to torpedo his career through some very dickheadded behaviour, but I would hope he’d need to show a lot more commitment before bringing him back, if he ever does return to the top league.
Sydney will have their own injury concerns, with Mills and McDonald looking likely to miss, but despite losing to Freo at home, they look a little too powerful. McKay on Franklin will be interesting, but I’m not sure Barry has the pace to keep up with Buddy, especially if he has to keep a bit in the tanks to play against Collingwood at the G on Sunday.
As much as I’d like to see North get up, they’ve given no evidence that they’ll be competitive here.
Swans by 34.
Port will look to extend their seven-game winning streak, hosting Melbourne in Adelaide. It’ll give us a real idea of where Port sit, because Melbourne are looking very tidy at the top of the ladder (as of writing. Collingwood may steal it if they get an expected win over the Blues, or even St Kilda if they smash Adelaide badly enough. Wouldn’t the lid be off then!).
Port’s engine room is ticking over nicely, with Butters, Rozee, JHF and Wines all looking like they’re gelling well, but coming up against a side that boasts one of the best midfield groups in the comp, dripping with accolades will be a hard task.
I just can’t see them getting the sort of use they got against North with Oliver, Petracca, Viney and Gawn in the middle, so I’m backing the Dees in.