R10 – Port Adelaide v Hawthorn – The Mongrel Review

For the second week in a row, Port Adelaide have been in an absolute heart-stopper, and the sequel was even better than the original.

Hawthorn were all over Port Adelaide early; much like Port had been all over Geelong the week before. The Hawks looked intent on taking full advantage of Port missing Connor Rozee, as their midfielders got to work and prevented Port from their usual stoppage dominance. Port seemed to be at a loss as players like Day, Newcombe and Mackenzie got to work and Blake Hardwick relished in another stint up forward where he booted four goals in the first quarter.

When Wines was subbed out at the end of the quarter due to heart palpitations, Port were looking down the barrel of an upset loss. They were able to respond in the second quarter and started to bring the game onto more even terms. The half-backs were able to generate run as they drew closer to the Hawks in contested possession, and ended up preventing the Hawks from getting a centre clearance for the term. Yet, the Hawks were still able to move the ball with ease through the midfield and remained dominant in forward 50 entries. For all their effort, Port only drew nine points closer at half-time.

When the rain started pouring, it appeared an ominous sign for Port, as the Hawks established themselves once again, and took complete control of the game. They adapted better to the conditions and found ways to keep pushing the ball forward. Their physicality on the ball on the ground and in the air was simply better than Port’s and when they kicked three goals in a row it put them out to a 41 point lead, Port’s day appeared to be done.

However, Port refused to go down without a fight. The rain cleared and they rediscovered a bit of composure, finishing off the quarter strong. Goals to Rioli and Houston kept the door open, but a Marshall miss meant the Power were still five goals behind going into the final term.

And then everything changed.


Mitchell’s Critical Error

It’s always a tough decision for a coach to make; when do you say that’s enough and shut the game down? But the answer sure isn’t the start of the fourth quarter.

Hawthorn had Port completely beaten. Their attack on the ball and determination to keep it moving forward prevented Port from having a chance to get their usual run-and-gun game started, and after three quarters Hinkley had no answers.

But at the start of fourth, Hawthorn lost that ferocity. They weren’t trying to break tackles. Instead, it seemed as though they were allowing themselves be taken to the ground to kill time. They played closer to the boundary, and they were much more willing to look sideways. It was clear they were no longer trying to score. They just wanted to hold on.

It’s a huge risk against any side, but against a good side it’s fatal.

As the minutes ticked by, you could feel Port becoming more and more confident as they finally were permitted the space to run into. Their desperation, cobined with room to move, placed the Hawks backline under immense pressure. And with their trademark repeat forward 50 entries, the margin started to be reduced.

Perhaps Port’s repeat misses gave Mitchell false confidence that things would be ok, but after Byrne-Jones’ goal which left the equation at two goals in seven minutes it was game on.

Hawthorn continued to hold on for dear life as Port attacked again and again. As the seconds ticked down it seemed maybe time would run out but then Rioli got a free and quickly slotted a goal with 22 seconds left on the clock.

That usually is not enough time, but for Port it was exactly enough.

Drew and Butters combined to get the clearance, and the forwards instinctively knew to smash the ball towards goal where Byrne-Jones swooped in to kick the winning goal with a mere second to spare to break Hawthorn hearts.

It was a game that Port didn’t win. Hawthorn lost, but four points is four points whether you win pretty, or win ugly.


A Captain’s Quarter

Zak Butters was having a bad game. He’d given away undisciplined frees, gotten caught multiple times in tackles and only had 15 disposals to three-quarter time. The team needed someone to step up and lead the charge and it needed to come from the acting captain.

Butters well and truly heard the call.

He was in everything with a massive 17 touches in the final term as, time and time again, he threw himself into the contest and set the ball going forward. Several times he was the one punching the ball into the forward 50 to create for his teammates and take territory, and ended with a game-high eight clearances. His effort helped spark the Power into high gear and the only thing more he could have possibly done was kick a goal.

It was a great effort to see the team over the line, but had it come earlier this could have been a very different game. It was clear from the outset Port weren’t quite settled and Butters really needed to get himself into the game much earlier to first stop the Hawks early dominance, and then to take full advantage when momentum swung.

He’s still young but this will be a key lesson for him that with that vice-captain title he has to be the one to step up in times of need.


The mental game

The start for Port Adelaide compared to last week was night and day. Against Geelong they were ferocious, smashed their way through the defence, pounced on any little mistake, and made the usually-composed Cats look vulnerable. This week it was the Power who looked second-rate as the Hawks brought the tackling pressure and took control of the game through the centre of the ground.

Last week Port kicked eight goals in the first term, but this week they kicked only one, and it took until the 25 minute mark for them to get it. Meanwhile, Hawthorn had little trouble piling on six goals of their own. The Hawks dominated them in clearance, 14 to 7, won contested possession 42-32 and smashed them in inside 50s 17 to 4. In truth, the Hawks should have been even further in front come quarter-time.
Some said Geelong looked like they just expected to win, and Port looked the same this week. There was little attack on the football, no second efforts, and just generally no effort.

It may have been after the huge high of last weeks win they were finding it difficult to find the motivation but you have find a way in this game. Port snuck away by a whisker once again but the Hawks still exposed multiple holes that need to be addressed quickly, not the least of which is Port’s ongoing struggle to be consistent.


JHF v Hawthorn

He was easily Port’s player all day and was the only reason the Power remained in with a chance. Houston, Rioli, and a couple of others were trying hard, but only JHF was there when the ball was on the line to be won.

Port’s first goal came from not only his boot but also his clearance work, and for the first quarter he was the only player in teal who’d come to play. He was composed even in the moments when the Hawks were bringing the pressure and his presence around the ball drew the Hawks into giving away several high free kicks.

He finished the day with 27 disposals, six clearances, 17 pressure acts and two goals in a clear best on ground performance.

It’s looking more and more with every game like this guy is going to win a Brownlow one day.


That old cliche once again

It was a great comeback, but Port never should have had a chance to get back in the game.

It didn’t show on the scoreboard but the Hawks had the chance to have this game all stitched up by half-time. They had 18 shots to just nine in the first half when counting the miskicks, and the result was that they never felt far enough ahead of Port who we’ve all seen can score quickly if given the chance.

In fact, the Hawks were lucky Port were missing chances themselves in the last quarter. Port kicked four goals and six behinds in that frantic last quarter with four in a row midway through the term. If they had kicked better they could’ve saved a few heart attacks.

We’ll keep saying it as long as it keeps happening, bad kicking is bad football!


What now for Hawthorn?

If this game had ended at three-quarter time you would have been asking is this the start of Hawthorn’s great rise back up the ladder. Three wins in a row would have seen them still with a slim finals chance and taking a big scalp like Port would have put the competition on notice.

For the majority of the game, they did everything right and you’d be forgiven for tuning out at three-quarter time assuming they’d won.

Lloyd Meek has become one of the best ruckmen in the competition this past month. He completely dominated Dante Visentini, racking up 45 hitouts to 29, and had four clearances and 18 disposals to go along with it. Hardwick effortlessly switched between forward and defensive roles throughout the game and notched up a career-high five goals. Day was once again strong all across the ground and chipped in with an impressive goal in the third.

But when it mattered, they failed.

Mitchell pumped the brakes far too early, the defenders panicked and gave away silly frees, and it was the poor decision to rush a behind to get Port under that two goal mark that ultimately cost the game.

So what now? A loss like that can be devastating to a young group’s confidence and it could not have come at a worse time given they play the improving Lions next week. It’s going to be a crucial week at training this week as Mitchell tries to keep the players’ morale up and shows they are definitely on the right track.

The Hawks have to put this game behind them and believe that they are heading in the right direction. Just maybe next time don’t shut the game down with a whole quarter left to go.


And how about Port?

The Jekyll and Hyde style of Port Adelaide continues. The Hawks seriously exposed Port in this one, and they’ll have plenty to work on during the week. It’s been pointed out repeatedly that they can be hurt on the rebound but now the Hawks have shown they can also be hurt if you take away their clearances.

They’ll come up against North next week in Tasmania which could be another danger game if they let it. Surely Port can fix up their issues enough to come away with another win.