R9 – Port Adelaide v Geelong – The Mongrel Review

They had six of their starting 22 out – not counting a clearly injured Charlie Dixon – but somehow the Power held off the strong-finishing Cats to win by six points. It was almost a copy of the game on Thursday night where, in the end, it was Port’s dominant start that pulled them over the line. It was their first win down in Geelong since 2007 (way back when it was called Skilled Stadium), and it was a win that nobody saw coming.

In fact it seemed like Geelong had already pencilled in this game as a win and it took them a little while to realise they had a game on their hands. Port burst out with the first four goals and smashed Geelong in clearances as they brought a real ‘nothing to lose’ attitude to the contest. They took risks and were willing to chip the ball around quickly to get the Geelong defenders out of position and racked up 50 points by quarter time – the most the Cats have given up in the first term since Chris Scott took over. Geelong tried to fight their way back into the game in the second, but nothing seemed to be able to slow Port, as they zipped down the ground time and time again to get out to a 49-point lead midway through the second quarter and looked well in control of the match.

But, of course, we know better by now than to ever write off Geelong.

There was a change in the third term as Geelong started to win some of the centre clearance, and made moving the ball down the ground more difficult for Port. Inch by inch, they pulled back the margin, and even though Port still had times where they held the momentum, it felt like the Cats were about to gain control. Three quick goals at the end of the quarter pulled the margin back to 18 points and it was game on.

The fourth started with both teams being cautious with their ball movement, as though they knew how important that first mistake could be, and it quickly became apparent that the first goal was going to be crucial. It eventually came from a strong contested mark to Mitch Georgiades, which set the challenge for the Cats to find four goals to get the win.

Not to be outdone Oliver Henry took a specky of his own a couple of minutes later, and then another leaping mark Gary Rohan saw the equation drop to 11 points in eight minutes.

But by this point, the fatigue was really starting to set in. A Tyson Stengle goal pulled them even closer but when Henry missed a late chance it looked like the best the Cats could hope for was a draw. Port were able to steady in the final minutes to keep the ball in their hands and push it forward to sneak away with the gallant win.


The only rule you can trust in the AFL

The first team to 100 points wins. It’s a rule that every football fan knows and the data seems to back it up. A study by FoxFooty back in 2015 determined that the team that reached 100 points first won 82% of the time in close games and a few years ago the Useless AFL Stats Facebook page re-ran the numbers and found that this was still true, with the rule holding up 80% of the time.

You can debate why this rule works, it could be the mental game of reaching triple figures, it could be that it’s just a sign that the team has momentum at the crucial time in the game, or it could be that 100 points is hard to score.

However, in this game, it was a sign that Geelong just gave Port too much of a head start. When you let a team get 50 points on you in the first quarter it almost guarantees they’re gonna hit that magical number. Even though the Cats fought back wel,l it was just too much of a mountain to climb.


What a response after last week

Port came under heavy fire from both the media and their fans this week after yet another poor Showdown performance. The Port fans were lamenting that their team never seems to be able to get up for big games and many were predicting a big loss after all of the injuries.

Instead Port came out all guns blazing and demonstrated all the dare and pace that has been missing in their last few matches. Even in the periods where Geelong were on top, they were still able to pounce on the Geelong mistakes and often turned them into scoring opportunities.
They also considerably improved their conversation at goal – they have been dead last in the competition this year for goal accuracy, but in this game they were able to finally get some reward for effort. It wasn’t perfect by any means (JHF missed an easy shot late that would have sealed the game) but it was an improvement.

Port are a good team, they have been for a long time, but it’s not unfair to say they have never crossed that line to becoming a great team. In this game, however, they were able to take down a huge challenge and it will once again get everyone wondering… is this the year?


Superstar midfield on display

A lot has been said about the Port midfield, but it has to be commented on again. Even without captain Connor Rozee, they showed why they are among the best in the business. Port finished the night with nine more clearances for the game and the midfield pressure forced plenty of Geelong turnovers early.

JHF was an unstoppable bull in the first quarter, and Butters was able to redeem himself after a few weeks of being criticised for his ball use. Both finished with seven clearances and a goal, with Butters gathering the most disposals on the ground with 34 and JHF with a respectable 26. Ollie Wines reminded everyone that he is a Brownlow medallist, racking up a game-high nine clearances, 33 disposals, seven tackles and finished with the highest fantasy points with 133. They were greatly helped by young ruck, Dante Visentini, who played like his career was on the line. He won 31 hit-outs, matching the combined effort of Mark Blicavs and Rhys Stanley and gave Port selectors a dilemma of who to select as ruck next week when Sweet is over his illness.


The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

They’re all Willie Rioli and they’re all in the third quarter.

First he had a bad moment when he got caught between going for goal and passing the ball to Todd Marshall, instead dribbling the ball over the line for a behind and wasting a golden chance for a goal in the first minute to shut down Geelong’s building momentum.

Then came the good, when he picked up the ball perfectly from a throw-in ruck contest to snap an important goal that got Port back out to a six goal lead.

Then the ugly, when he gave away a foolish 50 metre penalty wrestling with Zach Guthrie after a clear mark, which then turned into 100 metres when he blocked Guthrie running forward. It gifted Geelong momentum on a silver plater with Guthrie cooly slotting the goal.

But something you love to see is players getting around a guy who’s made a mistake, and that’s exactly what Jeremy Finlayson did. After pulling Rioli away from the tussle he kept talking with him the whole way back to their positions, clearly offering him words of support and no doubt telling him to keep his focus on scoring.

Rioli didn’t score again (the final siren robbed him of a career-high fifth goal) but he kept playing his role and had a few key moments in the final term to help the team over the line. He finished the day with ten score involvements, 12 disposals, seven tackles to almost double his average fantasy points this season.


Scott’s bold play

Has there ever been a game where a coach has made a tactical sub during the second quarter?

Rhys Stanley would have been feeling a bit dirty when Scott pulled him off the ground part-way through the second term, but with the way Port had decided to play the game, it was abundantly clear that there would be no need for a second ruck tonight.

Oisin Mullin’s task was clear – take on JHF and halt his momentum. Up until that point, the midfielder had been running the game on his terms, picking up clearances, busting tackles, and getting Port into their forward 50 with relative ease. JHF still finished in the top three players for game, but Mullin definitely was able to curb his influence and was a part of how Geelong grabbed back momentum.


Did we just see how to stop Tom Stewart?

Jed McEntee is far from a household name, but a few more might know his name now after he was able to keep the dangerous Stewart away from the action for much of the night. McEntee appeared to have no interest in collecting the ball himself, but just appeared focussed on keeping Stewart away from the other forwards and getting under his skin in the process.

And at first, it definitely worked. Stewart openly showed his frustration a couple of times and had no intercepts in the first half. But after half-time he was able to shake off McEntee and ended the game with 18 disposals, six intercept possessions, and four marks. A few times we’ve seen coaches take this approach to key defenders, most notably McRae using Billy Frampton to take out Harris Andrews in last years grand final, and each time it’s seemed to be effective. It will be interesting to see if another team decides to try this tactic.

Of course, we also saw Adleaide try it against Tom Stewart, a they threw Luke Pedlar at him earlier int he season, and Stewart carved him to pieces.


Not the best night for the milestone man

Tom Hawkins seems to be taking on a different role for Geelong lately. Where he usually is the main target, he’s now working more as a decoy to pull defenders away from dangerous areas and let other forwards run into open space. This game seemed to be more of the same with him only leading up a few times and seemingly being well held by his former teammate, Esava Ratugolea.

Still he was able to kick his first goal in a month and played a role in the ruck contests when the ball was up forward. Anyway, tonight wasn’t the real milestone match, that will come next week (or the week after if he’s rested like rumours suggest) and surely Scott will let the big man do what he does best for that one.


Is the AFL really protecting the head?

Jeremy Cameron hit his head twice in this match, once in a head clash with Willem Drew in the third and then again after a hard fall in the fourth which looked very nasty as his head whiplashed into the ground. He didn’t come off the ground for an assessment either time.

After the second knock it appeared that the doctor wanted him to come off to get checked, but with the game in balance, Cameron seemed to refuse.

If the AFL is serious about concussion then they need to enforce a rule that if a player hits their head they need to do a test, and definitely if they’ve hit their head twice! The umpires are allowed to stop the game to get a player off the ground for a blood rule, it’s not that much different for the umpire to say you’ve hit your head, go get tested. Even if it is just the short test they’re currently giving players out on the ground, it needs to be done on the bench where they don’t have to worry about the play going on around them.

Last year, Port were fined $100,000 for not properly testing Aliir Aliir after he received a head knock. It will be interesting to see if Geelong receives a ‘please explain’ from the AFL over this.


Next week Geelong will be taking their first-ever trip up to Darwin to play Gold Coast in the Sir Doug Nicholls round opener on Thursday night. Geelong have a very good record against the Suns but did lose to them in their last clash early last year and being at a new stadium throws a spanner in the works. Still, Gold Coast have been wobbly lately and it’s not often that Geelong lose three games in a row. The Cats should get back on the winners list but it might be a bit closer than expected.

For Port they get a bit longer break before playing Hawthorn at home in the 2.50 game against Hawthorn. The Hawks have been showing signs of improvement over the past few weeks, but given the performance they just put in to beat Geelong, Hawks should be a much easier task. They also should be boosted by the return of a couple of players, so this should be another win to the Power.