When assessing a game like the Western Bulldogs v Port Adelaide in Ballarat, one thing you have to take into account is that there will be plenty of ugly involved.
As such, before we begin what I'd like to do is state that prior to the game, I put a line through several players in terms of having a significant impact. Guys like Josh Schache, Paddy Ryder, Jackson Trengove, Jordan Roughead and Charlie Dixon are guys I expected nothing of going into this game.
But with this kind of terrible weather comes not only players you expect to fall over, but players you expect to excel. Those players are either usually highly skilled operators who thrive with their clean hands whilst everyone else around them fumbles, or really hard at it players who run in a straight line irrespective of what contact comes their way. I expected Sam Powell-Pepper to do really well. Caleb Daniel was another. Lachie Hunter, Chad Wingard and Robbie Gray a few more. These are the kind of players I'm going to be focusing on in this review, because to give the big guys a kicking in these conditions is like shooting fish in a barrel... and about as wet.
So here's The Mongrel's good, bad and ugly of Port's win in the cold, wet town of Ballarat.
I just said I wouldn't be focusing on the big guys, didn't I? But how can you not focus on the big fella's game? I'm sure you've heard the saying "a man amongst boys" at some stage? Well, that was Dixon today, standing tall and making things happen whilst those around him watched.
I'm a bit of a wrap for Marcus Adams, but Dixon led him a dance in this one. Three contested marks inside 50 on a day like this is rolled gold. Dixon has had his critics this season, particularly in regards to his goal kicking, or lack thereof. He answered in a way few thought he could in these conditions, myself included.
His return of five goals and two behinds was just two points shy of the entire Western Bulldogs team score. When you add to that a direct goal assist, and ten overall score involvements, you have the kind of day that most forwards would dream of having in the dry, let alone a water-logged Mars Stadium (sounds like the AFL has skipped international expansion and gone straight into galactic competition, huh?)
Not only did Dixon kick goals and clunk marks, he also made his physical presence felt, with a bone-jarring collision with Hayden Crozier in the third quarter. Give Crozier credit - jumping into an oncoming train like Dixon on the lead takes either courage or stupidity... or maybe a healthy dose of both. That hard contest from those two ended with the ball getting to Robbie Gray 35 metres out, but he couldn't convert.
It was a nice day at the office for Dixon, in conditions that may have had him wishing he was back on the Gold Coast.
That price tag just went up a few more dollars. With North having their offer for Polec made public (an astute move by Polec's management), he has made sure that Port have not forgotten how much he means to this team. His willingness to run and carry, and his long driving kicks inside 50 made him a weapon the Dogs found hard to counter.
Polec started hot, gathering 10 touches on the first quarter en route to a team-high 32 for the game. I read with interest a Port fan on our Facebook page comment last week that if Polec could just get that 10% of his work that is sh*t out of his game, he'd be amazing. Well, aside from one errant kick on the day that sailed out on the full, I reckon he was about as good in the wet as you'll see for a running half back.
He had 13 contested touches and six clearances for the day, and was Port's best behind Dixon.
I'm going to ignore his late last quarter efforts where he had a couple of free kicks paid against him, and focus on his play earlier in the game.
For a guy playing just his 14th game, he showed plenty of poise and understanding of the game playing across half back. He had four intercept marks for the came, and two contested grabs, but it is more the way he went about it, like a season veteran, that grabbed my attention. There are players who go about their business and accumulate stats and you barely even notice them. I notice when Naughton goes near the ball. He has a genuine presence about him that is hard to ignore.
Whilst many will look at the Bulldogs' stocks and zero in on talent like Macrae and Bont, I reckon this kid might be the one who jumps out of the pack next year. He looks like he has all the tools required, and the confidence in his own ability to go to the next level quickly.
Steven Motlop's wet weather skills
This is who I was talking about above when I mentioned players whose skills see them rise to the top of the heap in the wet.
Motlop is freakish, and some of his gathers of the wet ball, and his ability to remain under control when he had it were excellent on the day. I cannot fault his ability at all, but sometimes when he got the ball, and got it so easily, he tried to do too much with it. We'll get to that below.
He had only 12 touches for the day but looked like the most dangerous player on the park on more than a few occasions.
Being able to mark the ball in the wet like it's dry is a talent not many players possess, but Brad Ebert has it in spades. I was watching him through the first half in particular, wondering when he'd see one slip through his grasp. That moment never came.
He may have only taken six marks, but his work in stopping the Dogs in their tracks was excellent as well. he finished with 11 tackles for the game to go with his 20 touches, four clearances and a whopping three direct goal assists. I say "whopping" because percentage-wise, he was responsible for handing off 27% of the goals Port scored for the game.
Another of the guys I thought would do bugger all did plenty, and he had plenty of impetus to play well against his old mob.
Though he only grabbed one mark for the game, he had 18 contested disposals out of his total 22, and managed to kick two goals for the game. Add to that ten clearances and 28 hit outs, with a massive 16 of them going to the advantage of his teammates. That's over 57% of his taps that were effective. For context, a good day for someone like Max Gawn this season has seen him around the 40% mark.
Trengove isn't the answer to the questions the Bulldogs may have about their long term ruck prospects, but he is a great option to have when things are a little thin in that area.
Now this is the bloke I thought would have a ball in these conditions. Big, hard and likes to get in and under... that's how the ladies describe me. But it could also quite aptly describe the game style of Wines quite easily.
16 of his 26 touches came in the contest as he roamed through the middle of the ground, spending time deep in defence to help out, and drifting toward the forward line as the power pushed the ball relentlessly. Looking at Wines, it's hard not to be envious if you support another team. He looks like the kind of player it'd take a four wheel drive and a particularly hefty winch to move off the ball once he establishes position. You could almost hear the collective mournful sigh of Victorian list managers when he re-signed with Port Adelaide a few weeks back. In an age of Tom Lynch meeting with rival teams, Ollie Wines recommitted to the Port cause. Call me old-fashioned, call me dated (just call me!) but I love a bit of loyalty from players, irrespective of how much loyalty clubs show players. It's the romantic in me, and when I watch Ollie Wines play for Port... I get a little misty.
The Motlop disposal and decision making (at times)
I gave him a pat on the bum above, now he gets a kick in the pants as well.
You know those kids when you're growing up that are just good at every sport, and when a teammate can't do what they do, they get a bit annoyed with them? That's how I look at Motlop. In the wet his skills leapt to the fore early, but at times during the game, he tried to do a little too much with the ball, or expected his teammates to be able to do the things in the wet that he does so easily.
Steve... your teammates are not you. Your skills are better than theirs. The things you do easily are bloody hard work for most people! In a couple of instances in the first quarter, Motlop got out and pushed hard. The first time, he missed a regulation handball to Brad Ebert running inside 50. He floated it out in front of him a little too much and what should've been a shot at goal went begging. Minutes later, he took it upon himself to have a couple of bounces down the wing (if you can, check out his style of bouncing the wet ball - textbook!) before deciding to go inboard instead of inside 50. It was a dinky kick and chopped off by Dunkley. It was just a little too much.
He redeemed himself moments later with a more direct avenue inside 50 to Westhoff, who (after several possessions of screwing around by Port) was able to crumb a Dixon spill and snap a goal.
Motlop is a conundrum. For every two nice things he does, expect a bone-headed play in return. If you go into a game expecting that, you'll never be disappointed.
Hard man no show
Sam Powell-Pepper... where are you?
I thought this day was built for this bloke. He is hard as nails and seems to love the tough stuff.
His return against the Dogs - four contested touches amongst his 14 overall disposals. I like the way SPP goes about it, but if you're going to beat your chest and throw your weight around, make sure that on days like this, when the hard ball is there to be won, that you put your head down, your backside up and win some contested possession. That's what you're in the side for.
The lasting image of Powell-Pepper for the game wasn't of him burrowing in and under for a clearance, or using his strong body to outmuscle an opponent - it was of him standing on the sidelines with a beanie on to keep his bald head warm. As a man who was sitting at home, watching with the heater on, I was appalled! ;)
Same old dog - no new tricks
Jason Johannisen... where were you?
If ever a bloke looked like he simply did not want to be out there in a game, it was Johannisen against the Power.
Nine touches for the game, one mark, no score involvements, no clearances and three of his touches failed to hit a target. This bloke is a Norm Smith medallist and he looked like he was so afraid of getting wet that I am surprised he didn't front up for the second half wearing a wetsuit.
A lot of criticism has been leveled at Johanissen over the last couple of seasons, and it is performances like this that give them voice. I'm trying to think of the one word that sums up his game best, and I keep coming back to one in particular.
You know how the AFL wants to expand, right? They're talking about exhibition games in India, and they're in China every year trying to crack that market. Imagine you're selling the Aussie Rules product and you're highlighting the great marks, the fantastic goals and the sheer athleticism of the game.
Now imagine they're watching a broadcast from Ballarat in the middle of winter, at a stadium that barely holds 10K and it's two thirds full. Would you wanna jump on board? All those people in Mumbai or Shanghai... wouldn't they just be chomping at the bit to see what else the AFL had in store? Not likely.
Starting the game at 3.20 in one of the darkest, dingiest places in Victoria in the middle of winter (sorry those from Ballarat... on a day like that, it ain't pretty), wasn't a wise move to begin with. Once the weather kicked in, it made the place look less hospitable. The AFL need to realise that if this game is to be taken seriously by not only those internationally, but those who are new to the game, or are teetering on the edge of whether or not they're interested, that playing in what looks like a bush-league venue makes the game look just like that - bush league.
You could have the game of the year play out on front of you in Ballarat, and it would still seem like a couple of glorified local teams slugging it out. It's a nice idea in theory, and we have a round that celebrates the regional contributions to the game, but 3.20 on a Sunday in July... don't play in Ballarat - it was a dumb idea.
Ripping kick by Mitch Wallis to get the Bullies up and about early. Important to get those early shots before the ball is too wet, and Wallis made the 50 metre distance easily. It was a great pass from Dunkley to hit him up too.
Speaking of Dunkley, I thought he was excellent for the Dogs. 27 touches, 17 contested and 12 tackles - he does the tough stuff.
Really nice hands a couple of times early in the piece by Jack Watts. He looked very likely early on, and had a couple of moments where I thought he may have a big influence. It was his desperation in the third quarter, diving at the ball, gathering and releasing the handball that sent the Power in motion for what was probably the best goal of the afternoon to Chad Wingard.
Nice start to the game by Lienert – had nine of his 17 touches in the first quarter across half back.
This might be the shortest “other bits” section I’ve done due to the lack of genuine highlights to comment on.
Here’s a highlight… Tom Jonas’ kick out of defence in the first quarter was so well weighted that it rolled almost to the line before being taken out by the descending players – that’s the way to get an out of bounds stoppage without being called for deliberate. Can you tell I’m searching, here?
One thing the power did well early was make sure they had a goal keeper in place. Jonas did it a couple of times before tagging out to Darcy Byrne-Jones.
Caleb Daniel only 14 touches in a game where the ball was on the deck almost all day. Not good enough.
How huge are 50 metre penalties in games like this? Brad Ebert gave one away and it cost a goal, with Trengove slotting it home.
Big numbers for both Lachie Hunter and Jack Macrae in this one. Of the two, Macrae looked more dangerous, but I reckon that's more to do with me than Hunter - I can watch a whole game at times and see him here and there, then I look at the stats and he's had 30.
Dixon’s first clunk,30 metres out in the second quarter was a real kick in the pants for the Dogs. How Dixon managed to get a one-on-one marking contest with eight other players standing close by defies logic.
Good to see every member of the Dogs get around Fergus Greene after his first goal in footy. That’s the sort of emotion you want to see from a team – everyone displaying genuine joy for the young fella. Here’s to many more.
Motlop’s goal as he roved the Roughead tap was almost magical. The way he just eased through the congestion, took the ball cleanly, got on his bike and kicked the goal… brilliant.
The long sleeve jumper really doesn’t flatter Marcus Adams at all. He looked like a condom full of walnuts.
I thought Fergus Greene was really stiff not to be rewarded for a great tackle on Byrne-Jones in the second quarter. DBJ spun out of trouble (that’s prior) and ran right into Greene who crunched him and… no call. In this case, no call was a really bad call.
The last five minutes of the first half was Port really tightening the screws on the Dogs. Repeated inside 50 entries, high tackling pressure and no clean touches for the Dogs saw them right under the pump. I love when a team rises as a collective, and that’s what Port did in a burst for a few minutes late in the second.
I’ve been a bit of a Bontompelli critic this season (and I have the hate mail to prove it) but I thought he was serviceable on his return. He had eight clearances, which was third amongst all players, but I have yet to see him truly impose his will on a game this season. I’ll wait – we have four more.
Quieter game from Robbie Gray, but he looked threatening at times. His goal round the corner in the last quarter was what we've come to expect from him.
It’s such a shame Jack Macrae missed a month with that hamstring injury. It’s probably unfair, but in a year where there has been some great mids running around, I reckon that injury may cost him an AA guernsey.
I’m not sure what constitutes a block in the ruck contest at times. Westhoff was called for one in the third, where he actually won the tap and blocked Roughead with his back… so he was basically penalised for being better positioned and winning the knock.
Ed Richards didn’t do much at all, but a classy sidestep in the wet is pretty rare, and he pulled it off to go inside 50 in the third.
Anyone know why Riley Bonner copped the talking to from Ken Hinkley at three quarter time? He responded aggressively early in the last, but gave away a free to Honeychurch in the process. You reckon Hinkey thought he was being too passive? And then sat back in the box, watching and thinking “Don’t be so aggressive!”
Great tackle from Naughton on Kane Farrell in the goal square to deny him his first goal in footy.
Did you notice Tom Jonas all but call his own ‘too-high’ free kick in the last quarter? On his knees. He was reaching for his own neck like he’d been half-strangled, and it was a good enough appeal to convince the ump to award him a free. And the Oscar goes to…
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