Essendon v Port Adelaide - The Good, Bad and Ugly

The Bombers won their fifth road game of the year, officially eliminating Port Adelaide from contention with two very effective quarters of football to run out 22 point winners.

Here’s the Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

THE GOOD

Devon Smith – record breaker

Credit where credit’s due; when a bloke goes out and breaks a record, you give him the plaudits he deserves. Whilst some of the highly fancied recruits on the park tonight played well (and others were Jack Watts) Devon Smith was head and shoulders above again. He applied the sort of pressure Bomber fans have become accustomed to, en route to registering 187 tackles for the season, beating the previous mark of 183, set by Andrew Swallow in 2010.

But Smith’s 13 tackles to take the record weren’t all he contributed. He had 29 touches (ran at only 55% efficiency, though), seven score involvements, a direct goal assist, and four clearances.

His work in and around stoppages all year has been first class, and his willingness to run defensively was one of the main reasons Essendon was able to have a stellar second half of 2018.

Even when the Bombers were down earlier in the season, Smith remained a beacon of light for them. He has been the consummate professional at Essendon, and barring his one wild swing last week that could’ve ruined the remainder of this season and a fair chunk of next year had it connected, he hasn’t done much wrong at all.

Aaron Francis

So, this is the reason Essendon would not entertain the idea of trading him last season, huh? Was it seven or eight intercept marks this evening he dragged down?

Regardless, his ability to read the ball in flight, and position himself perfectly to take the grab was impressive this evening. I loved his body use to completely outpoint Wingard in the first quarter, and of course, his towering mark over Paddy Ryder – himself no slouch at taking a big grab – will probably see Essendon fans spam the voting to win him mark of the year ala Joe Daniher’s win over Jeremy Howe last season. Personally, my vote goes to Heeney – that was a ripper.

Whilst Michael Hurley did a lot of the grunt work tonight, matching up with Westhoff when he drifted forward, Francis was able to zone off inferior players to lend a hand (Yes, Jack Watts… this was you plenty of times).

With Joe Daniher surely right for 2019, the Bombers will have an embarrassment of big man riches to choose from. Daniher will play deep forward, allowing any combination of Hooker, Hurley and Francis to rotate through defence, or switch to attack when required. A quintet of Daniher, Fantasia, Stringer, McDonald-Tipungwuti and either of Hooker and Francis would give opposition coaches nightmares.

Justin Westhoff

People have been saying that this could be a career-best season for the Hoff, and it’s hard to dispute, particularly based on tonight’s efforts.

He compiled 20 touches, eight marks, five goals straight and was one of the few Power players to stand up in the first quarter and look like he gave a damn.

Interesting to note that Hoff is out of contract, and at 32, he will want team success now over individual accolades. A Best and Fairest would be nice, but with Port missing the finals, perhaps the thought of a move may cross his mind? I doubt it – after being there since 2007, he strikes me as someone who will be there til the (bitter?) end. Let’s hope the Power can give him the chance to strut his stuff in September again sooner rather than not at all.

Kyle Langford

I wrote just last week that he looked a step slow – not in terms of leg speed, but in regard to his reactions and anticipation against Richmond. But maybe that was more a Richmond thing. Remember when “Richmond things” were something to ridicule? I miss those days.

Langford pushed hard forward tonight, and was heavily involved in Essendon’s early dominance. Though he finished with only 15 disposals for the day, he added three goals and 11 tackles to his name. His pressure inside 50 was excellent, and his ability to stand in a tackle and hand off is very underrated.

I’ve heard quite a few times that Essendon lack big-bodied ball winners, but if Langford isn’t starting to fit the bill, I don’t know who is. At just 21, he has all the tools to be a great clearance player for the Bombers.

Mark Baguley

I really like what Mark Baguley brings to the table as a forward. I’m not late to the party here – have mentioned it in a couple of reviews. I just reckon you need that guy with a bit of mongrel in them up forward. It makes people look over their shoulder.

I know he gave away a couple of free kicks/50 metre penalties, but that is part and parcel of getting someone who will always go the extra mile for the team. His goals don’t come easy, nor do his disposals, but he continues to work whether a reward for effort is forthcoming or not.

His efforts to spoil on Hombsch (ouch) and his chase on Motlop in the middle in the last quarter were indicative of the way he goes about his work. He’s no frills, no fuss, and not a man to be trifled with.

Mmmmm, trifle…

THE BAD

Jack Watts

So while Aaron Francis was running around, clunking intercept marks, what was Jack Watts doing?

Short answer – not much.

Watts had his regulation 17 touches, playing mostly across half forward and contested as only Jack Watts does – ineffectively. Yes, he travelled at 88% efficiency, but that means nothing when the disposals don’t hurt. A sideways handball, a kick 30 metres backwards – that’s why he has such a high efficiency percentage. He took bugger-all risks and did not touch the ball in a dangerous position all night long.

It’s no coincidence that as Watts leaves Melbourne, and arrives at Port, those two teams basically swap spots in the eight. Actually, it's probably a complete coincidence, but for the purpose of this paragraph, let's say its not. He’s just not destined to play finals, and he’s just not destined to be the player an AFL team needs him to be in crucial games.

Still, I can’t wait for the JLT series next year so he can kick a bag and tease Port supporters as to what he ‘could’ do when it matters.

Want to see the quintessential Jack Watts highlight? You don’t have to go too far into the game to see it. It happens approximately twenty seconds into the first quarter, as Zach Merrett gathers between wing and half forward. Watts tucks up and prepares to hip and shoulder him. He barely touches Merrett and probably makes more contact with Sam Powell-Pepper than the Bomber, and I wish there was a better camera angle, as I reckon he closed his eyes, too! Classic Jack – I have no time for him.

The one tap that wasn’t to advantage

The dominance of Paddy Ryder in the ruck after Matthew Leuenberger went down injured (yet again) was impressive. To end the third quarter, he found Robbie Gray in motion twice, and did it again to start the last quarter.

The Bombers led by 37 points at the final change, yet with seven minutes to go, there was a spectre hanging over the game, and that spectre was that Ryder’s taps could be so influential that he might just allow Port back into the game, and perhaps even steal it.

But just when you think you know all the answers, someone changes the questions. Tonight, that person was Kyle Langford. We sung his praises above, but we saved this one to highlight on its own. He was the one to stop the rot in the ruck for the Bombers, sharking a Ryder tap at half forward, turning on the jets (which admittedly, are not the fastest jets going round) and slotted a goal to steady the ship.

It halted a three goal run for the Power, and put a dagger into their hearts. There’d be no finals for them, irrespective of what happens in the Geelong v Gold Coast game.

Jasper Pit(tard)iful disposal.

I’ve been watching Pittard for a while now, and I’ve been waiting for him to break out and do something… well… something not shit.

I’m still waiting. His poor disposal tonight cost his team two goals. First, a fundamental 30-35 metre pass under little pressure to Jared Polec dropped short, leaving Polec under significant pressure. He was tackled to the ground, and though he managed to eventually get a handball away, the Bombers went back inside 50 and scored a goal through Langford.

Add to that his disastrous turnover inside 50 in the first quarter that resulted in a goal to McDonald-Tipungwuti, and you have a 12-point advantage gifted to Essendon by a bloke who simply cannot hit targets.

 

THE UGLY

The pitiful first quarter from the Power.

So here they are, the Power from Port, trying desperately to…no, wait on. Trying to… nope, that’s not right either. One more try.

Here’s the Power, waiting for Essendon to hand them a win and not putting the bloody hard yards in when they’re supposed to. They looked like a defeated team in the first quarter. They were slow, second to the ball, refused to lay a tackle, couldn’t get the ball into their own attacking half, and generally looked like a team who didn’t want to be out there.

The Bombers had three goals on the board before Port even ventured anywhere near their own 50 metre arc, and their refusal to lay a tackle was astounding for a team that was still a chance (albeit, relying on a miracle at Kardinia Park to aid them) to play finals.

It was anaemic, it was weak, and it was proof that Port should never have been considered as top eight prospects, let alone genuine premiership threats at stages throughout the season.

Here are a few numbers from the Power “stars” in the first quarter. Wines – 4 touches. Wingard – 4 touches. Boak – 1 touch.

“Stars”.

The Power without Polec

His last two months have seen Jared Polec ram home just how important he is to Port Adelaide. His run and carry, his repeat efforts, and his long, penetrating kicks have been a highlight of this team’s play all season, but in particular the last eight weeks.

He has averaged 26.5 touches per game in that period, and has easily been the most consistent player for Port. And he remains unsigned.

The offer from North Melbourne has been made public, and as yet it seems as though anything Port can offer to match it is just not enough. The question is – what do they do without him? Who gives you that run and carry? Wingard? Not when he’s looking to offload the ball at the earliest opportunity. Boak? Too old. Wines? Too slow. Pittard? Hahaha, no. Just no.

The Power will have to look to the sporadic Motlop to fill the void, or perhaps place even more pressure on Robbie Gray. The fact of the matter is that whether you like Polec or not, and whether you think he is worth the kind of coin North are throwing at him, he is very important to this Port Adelaide team.

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.

Thanks Joni Mitchell.

 

OTHER BITS

Haven’t seen Stringer get up as high as he did in the first quarter since… let’s just say it’s been a while. He's looked a little heavy at times this year, particularly through the hips, but jumping like he did early in the game is a good sign (right as the season ends!)

Dyson Heppell had a good outing, but one thing that still worries me is his kicking. It came good in the second half, but he had a couple of complete shanks in the first half. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until deep into the second quarter that he finally hit a target by foot. It must be noted that any kick that travels over 40 metres is considered “effective” by Champion data. Don’t rely on a crappy stat like that to assess whether someone is being effective. Heppell was good by hand early, and by foot later in the game, but he was all over the shop by foot before half time.

Speaking of hacking it, Sam Powell-Pepper seems pretty content to throw the ball in the vicinity of his boot and hope for the best, huh?

Jayden Laverde. If the Bombers have a full list to choose from, where does he fit in? I’m guessing you can’t play both him and Brown if Daniher is in this team, right? So who do you take? Brown is a worker and will give you the work up to the wing and hard run back, but Laverde has a little of the X-Factor about him. Bomber fans, it’s a good problem to have, I suppose.

Stringer looked really dangerous in the first half. The way he gathered and went at half forward, leaving Jasper Pittard in his wake deserved better than the long miss it registered.

Amazingly, this was the best Brendon Goddard game I’ve seen in quite a while. No finger pointing, no anger (as just when it looked like the kettle was starting to boil, they gave him the ball), but most of all, when he had the Sherrin in his hands, he did something with it.

How great was the Cale Hooker tackle on Jake Neade in the second quarter where he just grabbed him by one arm and swung him about like a rag doll! Hooker didn’t get the free for it, as the secondary tackler, Aaron Francis pinched it, but that was some strength from Hooker.

A bit of poetic justice when Laverde missed his shot at goal in the second quarter after being awarded a mark that was… well, it wasn’t  a mark.

The mark of Robbie Gray in the second quarter, resulting in his goal around the corner, was completely undersold. Marking the ball in outstretched hands, with a body on you, and arms flailing at the ball is about as tough as it gets, yet Robbie just made it stick there. Seriously, I could have 100 goes at that and I’d probably only get 97. Sorry, that’s a typo. I meant 9.7. The 0.7 is for effort. Or charity.

Any idea why Port supporters were booing Goddard in the second quarter?

I thought Port really sold each other into trouble with the overuse of handball at times. They just always seemed to go one too many, and wound up with either a hack kick forward or a turnover as a result. Not every player running has to touch the ball just because they’re there. I know players want to get their teammates involved, but sometimes, just kick it forward whilst your targets don’t have people back in the hole.

Fortune favours the brave, and it really favoured David Zaharakis in the second when it looked like he tried to spot up the leading Jake Stringer, but the ball carried over the back and bounced through for a goal.

Bit of a quiet game from Andy McGrath, but I did notice two excellent defensive efforts inside forward 50 that led directly to goals. The first one was on the chop off of the pathetic Pittard decision to chip inboard in the first quarter. The second saw him spoil directly to the waiting arms of Mitch Brown in the second. We’re big fans of the little things at The Mongrel, and those little things were actually pretty damn big for his team.

Some nice signs from Billy Frampton, but there were a couple of times he looked like a first gamer. Imagine having to go into the ruck? Or be one out at full forward and have to match muscle with Cale Hooker? Poor bugger got both scenarios tonight.

McDonald-Tipungwuti did one of those all too common disappearing acts in the second quarter after being heavily involved in proceedings in the first.

Really didn’t like the passage of play that led to Mitch Brown kicking a goal after the 50 metre penalty against Robbie Gray. First of all, the free kick to Mark Baguley for ostensibly falling over in a marking contest was garbage. He transferred play and you have Brown mark. And then Saad  and Gray move to run past, and Saad veers to one side of Brown, leaving Gray stranded on the other… tough call. I know it’s technically correct (which is possibly the best kind of correct) but it just didn’t sit well with me.

Nice, legal hit on Travis Colyer by Dougal Howard after the little man ran back with the flight.

And then again, this time with Baguley spoiling Hombsch – hard. You can see the jolt through Hombsch’s body as Baguley crashes in. And I loved that the umpire called play on, too.

Really dirty day for Jake Neade. He just couldn’t put a foot right at some stages.

Really liked seeing snippets of the Saad v Robbie Gray match up. Very well matched up, and Saad has the zip to keep up with Gray. Not many can.

The Port run in the last quarter simply does not happen without Justin Westhoff. His fourth and fifth goals really made things interesting for a while.

I know Ryder must have been pretty tired, but when you saw Frampton in the ruck, did you know the Power’s ever-so slim chances were gone? There was no way Frampton was going to have the influence at bounces that Ryder was having. What was he resting to get ready for – next week? Got news for you, Paddy…

And so we have the tale of the recruits. I believe even Port supporters would acknowledge that Devon Smith has been the pick of the bunch between these two teams, but what about the biggest disappointment? For mine, Tom Rockliff is the one. I know he didn’t play tonight, but he has looked completely lost at times in the Port midfield this season. He looks nothing like that beast from Brisbane that used to accumulate stats like a madman. Interested to hear yours.

 

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