This match offered a lot to fans of both sides. With young guns and old hands plying their trade side-by-side, as well as a team with plenty of recent success taking on a side that is on the rise, it gave each team a real chance to see where their side is standing.
Much of the build-up was overshadowed by the coaching situation at Richmond, but all fans who turned up would still have come away with some positives for their side.
Ins & Outs
Port welcome Junior Rioli and Lachlan Jones back as Boak sits out a week due to sore ribs after colliding with Viney in their match against Melbourne, while Jonas gets a week off for his attempted swinging DDT on Tom McDonald.
Richmond bring back Ben Miller as Tylar Young as tall KPP/Ruck options to replace Vlastuin, who pulled up sore after copping a leg knock in their game against the bombers, while Thomson Dow heads back to the VFL.
The biggest out filling up the airwaves though has been in the coaches’ box, with Damien Hardwick calling time on his stint at the Tigers. After 14 years, 307 games and three flags, he’s achieved pretty much everything that can be expected of a coach, so leaving while the memories are still fond and fuzzy does make sense. Assistant coach Andrew McQualter stepped in to fill the vacancy. The crowd showed their respect for Dimma by standing and applauding at the 17-minute mark to signify the 2017 flag that he helped win for the club.
I know there’s a segment of the community that takes issue with indigenous renaming and such, but it’s hard to be offended by something so innocuous, especially when it comes with a repeat of the indigenous guernsey. Port’s motif is an absolute banger, and a definite improvement over their previous attempt to get free work by using a competition won by a high school kid who ripped the design off of Instagram.
Richmond wore their indigenous kit again, but once more their strip was not quite as good as their opposition. Two times they’ve ceded that to the opposition, and lost twice, so I guess this off-season the Tigers will be looking for a graphic designer to add to their head office team.
Tigers off the boil?
Richmond have been one of the teams to set the standard in the last seven or eight years. So it was odd to watch this game and feel that while the game was close on the scoreboard, the Power just seemed to be confident that they would keep the lead that they had and run out with a win. Even at the beginning of the match when Bolton kicked the first for the Tigers, Port just kept up the pressure, moved the ball quickly and put on the next five unanswered goals.
It’s hard to point to one particular factor, but from my couch, it seemed that Port were filled with belief, while Richmond looked doubtful. Port trusted their players to win their own ball, and even beat opponents in one-on-one contests (a faith that was often rewarded) while Richmond seemed indecisive at times.
The Tigers were still very much in the match right up until the end, but the never seemed to be able to generate the intense momentum and ‘bash it forward’ playstyle that has caused so many headaches for opponents in the last few seasons.
Maybe it’s due to the fact their list is in a point of transition from the old guard to the new blood, or maybe they’re as tired as Dimma was before he walked. Either way, they’ll need to rediscover some form if they’re to feature in finals this year.
As always, I love a good ruck battle, and few ruckmen reflect the old-school big-man philosophy better than Nank the Tank, though there’s plenty of yesteryear about the way Lycett goes about it too.
Nankervis had more hitouts, but Lycett was able to find his mids with much more regularity. While Nankervis was often tapping to Martin, Cothin and Bolton at his feet, it was the ease with which Lycett managed to put the ball in the hands of Butters, Rozee, Horne-Francis and Wines that gave his team a distinct advantage.
Lycett also dominated the clearances 6-3, though Nankervis’ floating rebound work off half back gave Richmond some options in stopping Port’s quick forward movement.
Toby does get a little back his way for the volume and ferocity of his tackling (leading the game with 8, and several of them turning a scoring opportunity for Port into a Richmond ball, such as the tackle on Bergman in the third), but I have to give Lycett the nod here, with the 7-2 score involvement advantage putting him just ahead of the big Tiger.
JHF’n quit it
I’m genuinely surprised that some Tigers fans were booing Horne-Francis. Despite what some Corny media pundits may say, it’s not North driving this behaviour.
When the two teams played, there were fewer boos than he had when they played Collingwood. Also, during the week when Jy Simpkin announced a five-year deal, JHF was one of the first to congratulate him (special mention to Mason Wood for saying they ‘through’ (sic) the warchest at him).
I’m no JHF apologist (in fact, Cam Zurhaar palming him into the turf in Tassie is a season highlight that still makes me smile), but I say this as a North Melbourne member… we can let this booing go.
It wasn’t a good match. That’s not to say JHF won’t be a star, he probably will be, but while having him at North would definitely help the club, having Sheezel as their own pick to go along with Wardlaw as part of the trade, as well as this year’s first-rounder from Port will ultimately be better for the club than having ‘just’ JHF there. North need more than one player with star potential, and with the deal, it gave them multiple players that will help them in the years to come.
For Jason, the instability and likely the club culture didn’t work for him. No doubt North made mistakes, and Jason probably did too, but in the end, he went to a place that made him feel at home.
Both parties got what they needed at the time, and it’s hard to be too critical of an 18-year-old wanting to go somewhere familiar.
So we can put the booing on the back burner, I reckon.
As for the lad’s game… it was decent. Not massive. Not passive. Just an AFL-level game from a player building into something. His role isn’t to be a star (yet). He’s there to add his own flair to a stacked midfield. 23 touches and four clearances is a fair return for him playing his current role, though I think Hinkley may ask a little more from him when the ball is going th either way.
One of the players I used to love watching when I was younger was Jason Akermanis. While he went a bit deep into being a character at some stages, very few were as accurate when hitting a moving target 30-40 metres away, using whatever limb was the most appropriate.
Zak Butters is this sort of player in this era.
His ability to use his surgical precision passing to hit a player when he’s running out of defence gives that player time and space to transition effectively into attack, and when he gets the ball forward of centre, you see the forwards licking their lips knowing that he’ll hit them lace-out on a lead, and put the ball on the opposite side of their defender.
He’s also great at earning his own ball, managing to get 14 contested possessions from his 32, and seven score involvements.
Rozee may have had slightly more impact with his structure around the contest and ability to cut off passing lanes for the Tigers, but I find it hard to argue that Butters wouldn’t get in the Brownlow votes in this one, and maybe even the three if it weren’t for the next bloke.
Before Hardwick’s era, going to a Tigers match went one of two ways; either the fans would be loudly responding to opposition supporters insulting their players if the Tigers were winning, or if they were losing, they’d join in and pile shit on the players with them.
Taranto seems to have been suffering a little from the latter of late. There’s been a few Tigers fans lamenting the night his Mum and Dad procreated, seemingly with the sole intention of causing harm to the footy club a couple of decades later.
So with that in mind, I thought Taranto went a long way to breaking the fans out of their backslide into this habit.
33 touches, seven tackles and seven clearances is a good day out for a mid, but add in his four goals and you have the sort of day that people would have expected from a prime Dusty Martin—including two freakish goals, one of which brought the margin back to two points in the final quarter.
Bergman looking like BergSUPERMAN
Bergman is in career-best form. He’s out of contact this year, and will attract interest. What sort of cap space do Port have and can they afford to give it to him knowing that Butters and Rozee will likely attract big money in their negotiations next year? I’d be shocked if other clubs haven’t already made ‘unofficial’ enquiries with their management.
Several times watching this game I’d be mentally congratulating JHF on breaking out of defence to split the lines and drive the ball forward, only to realise that it was Bergman making the dashing runs through the middle or off the wing.
He only had 13 touches, but a lot of them were very meaningful in launching scoring opportunities, and he even managed to hit the scoreboard twice himself (though unfortunately, he was wayward both times and only managed a minor score).
The stats that matter
The one that sticks out the most to me by far is the tackles. While Richmond won the overall tackle count 57-39, it was Port who dominated the tackles inside 50, 11-5.
Forward pressure is a vital part of modern footy, and when players like Finlayson, Lord and Lycett keep the defender under pressure, they can’t find an effective way out of defence, leading to turnovers.
Contrast that with the Richmond forward line or Reiwoldt, Miller, Martin, Graham and Prestia combining for a total of six tackles between them (versus 10 for Port’s forwards) and it’s easy to see just how hungry Port were to score.
Richmond will face a stern test as they head to Sydney to face a Giants team riding high after knocking off Geelong. There should be some great match-ups to keep an eye on here, especially in the midfield. At the start of the season, Richmond may have pencilled this in as a probable win, but GWS have shown that on their day, they can cause problems for teams that are having a much better season than the Tigers.
It should be a tight affair, but I’m tipping GWS to get the win at home.
Giants by 9 points.
Port gets a six-day break before hosting Hawthorn at Adelaide Oval. While the Hawks will be delighted with an upset win against a St Kilda side looking finals bound, eight wins on the trot show that Port are the form team of the comp. I expect Hawthorn to put up a spirited fight, but not enough to stop Port from getting their ninth win in a row.