It was a huge win on the road for the Western Bulldogs, and just like that, Port fans have turned on their coach again (it happens every second week) and the Bullies are looking as though they could, if things go right, play finals.
I’m not joking – they are now in a situation where they sit one game out of the eight. Of course, they have the Cats next week, and that may provide an obstacle.
Marcus Bontempelli set the tone, with one of the best wet-weather quarters you’ll see from a midfielder, and as usually happens, his partners in crime – Jack Macrae and Josh Dunkley came along for the ride.
For the Power… well, the fortnightly cycle continues. A win to imbue hope, followed by a mediocre performance to have supporters throwing their hands up in despair.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
What we saw tonight in the first quarter, was probably the best display of wet weather footy you’ll see from a midfielder. Whilst others fumbled and bumbled their way around the oval, Bont had the ball on a string.
His hands were unbelievably good in the first quarter. It was as though he was playing with a dry ball and everyone else was stuck with a bar of soap.
His stats at quarter time were as follows.
12 disposals, six clearances, four inside 50s and four tackles.
Seriously, there are players who would be happy with those numbers for a whole game! As the Bulldogs set out to make a statement, the player making the loudest one of his own was Bont. Averaging career-high numbers for disposals (27.2) and clearances (6.23), he has put a couple of relatively disappointing seasons behind him to once again establish himself as one of the elite mids in the game.
A joy to watch in full flight, Bont is the heartbeat of the Bulldogs, and he was at his brilliant best in the first quarter of this game, helping the Dogs set up their win.
It was not a day for big forwards at all, yet here was this player, recruited from Brisbane for the 2018 season, and really not offering too much of anything to this point, standing up in atrocious conditions to be the leading goal scorer on the park.
Schache was by no means dominant, but to truly understand what three goals means in a game such as this, you have to understand two aspects.
The first is that the Dogs kicked only ten goals for the game, and at one stage, Schache had two of the four goals the Dogs kicked, and three out of eight. He kicked them early in the game when it mattered most.
The Dogs have been patient with the growth of Schache, but he is definitely showing good signs. He had four goals as the Dogs ran over the top of the Hawks earlier this season, but this haul of three, especially in trying conditions, may be his best work to date.
The second aspect is that you have to acknowledge who he was competing against. Tom Jonas is an elite defender, and Schache was able to get the better of his more experienced opponent on several occasions. Did Jonas take it a little easy and look to zone off? Maybe early on, but a couple of goals tends to snap you back to the task at hand.
In a game that was in the balance early in the last quarter, three goals from Schache were invaluable.
THE LONE HAND FOR PORT
Travis Boak continues to have a career-best season, and must be wondering what else he can do to help his team get to another level.
It doesn’t matter if it is rain, hail or shine (we had two of the three in this game), Boak is 100% effort 100% of the time. He had 32 touches – the 11th time this season he has had 30+ disposals, and had 21 contested touches among them. Add to that his game-high 11 clearances, and you can see why many are tipping Boak will be standing on the stage with Bruce McAvaney looking very awkward the week of the Grand Final.
On nights like this, you throw disposal efficiency out the window and look at things like distance covered amd metres gained as your guide. Boak had 475 metres gained to place him fifth for the game – he is a star, and if he got any help at all in that midfield, things may have turned out differently in this one.
TACKLES, TACKLES TACKLES
Led by first year phenom, Bailey Smith, and their superstar, Marcus Bontempelli, the Western Bulldogs threw themselves into the contest, and at the bodies of their opponents to lay tackle after tackle.
The wet conditions and slippery ball opened the door for those who wanted to engage in physical warfare, and the youngster Smith was the first to put his hand up. He finished with a game-high 14 tackles as he refused to allow anyone to push past him.
The inspired Bont racked up ten himself, doing the dirty work to add to the class he displayed with the ball in hand.
Tackling is an effort stat, and when you have seven of the top nine tacklers on the ground wearing the same colours, you can easily tell which team wanted it more. The Dogs finished with 109 tackles for the night. The Power had 76.
That’s the story of the night, right there.
LYCETT DRAGS PORT BACK
The ruck battle was always going to be pivotal to this game, and credit where it’s due, young Tim English had a decent first half against Scott Lycett.
What happened in the third quarter, however, was an experienced ruck man taking the game by the scruff of the neck and refusing to allow his team to go meekly into the night. Truth be told, Port ended up going rather meekly, but none of that is on Lycett, who stamped his authority on his contest with English in the third quarter, with a withering 20 minute blast of power football.
I wrote earlier in the week about the way Brodie Grundy was able to have his way with English twice this season, and how Lycett must have been licking his lips in anticipation of getting hold of the young Dog.
But it did take until the third quarter for that to happen. Lycett was monstrous, even selling some nice foot candy to English to gain extra ground at one point. Alas, it amounted to nothing, as too many of his teammates failed to come along for the ride.
Lycett finished with 21 disposals, 46 hitouts, nine tackles (team high) and four clearances to be amongst the best for his side.
There were plenty of players with double figure intercept totals this evening – five, in fact, but the two that most impressed me were Hayden Crozier and Hamish Hartlett.
Had the Power managed to get up, they would have owed Hartlett, big time. He was the one defender who was actually successful in timing his attack on the footy to take possession, finishing with 29 touches at 62% efficiency, which believe it or not, was very good for these conditions.
Crozier played his intercepting role differently, his marking overhead a feature in a game that did not favour those acts. The other aspect to take into consideration is that Crozier played on the livewire known as Connor Rozee, so when he decided to leave him, it was a calculated risk, and one that Crozier performed very well all game.
Is he injured, or just playing like he is?
This is the big-bodied midfielder that was handed the keys to the Power machine at the start of the season, despite his off-field indiscretion that saw him miss the start of the year. He owed the club one, and he is yet to pay them back.
In one of the most timid midfield efforts for a man of his skill and physical stature, Wines was missing in action against the Dogs. Completely overshadowed early by the brilliance of Bontempelli, Wines didn’t match his opponent’s ferocity or skill – he shrunk in the face of the challenge.
These conditions should favour a player like Wines, his strong body controlling the space over and around the footy, but he was a complete non-factor in this contest.
He finished with 12 touches for the game, with just two clearances. He did lay seven tackles, but you’d expect that from someone who was so consistently second to the ball.
Wines has a point to prove next week. It amounts to the biggest game of the season for Port – the Showdown. He has had 30+ disposals on one occasion this season, and when the man who was captain before him was screaming out for some help in the middle, Wines was nowhere to be seen. He needs to be better than this – the position he holds demands that he is better, and the Power fans… those who went and sat there in the pouring rain and even hail, demand he is better than that.
Now it’s up to Ollie to step up. He had the chance tonight, and he blew it.
HAIL TO THE FANS
Look, the contest itself was great, the intent of players fantastic, and despite the atrocious conditions, it was a good game of wet weather footy.
But the ugly would have been sitting there in the cold, watching your team get beaten, and knowing that they could’ve done so much better.
So, to the Port fans who fronted up, supported their club through a pretty ordinary performance, my hat goes off to you. It poured rain, it hailed, and it made for the kind of night I’d look out the window, assess and think “I’m staying home.”
If you went out in this ugly weather, sat there and watched your team get done like that… you have my utmost respect. Port should be proud to have you as supporters.
And that goes double for the Dogs fans that travelled to see their boys play. Whilst I am sure you enjoyed it, I reckon a coffee, the couch and a nice big TV may have looked pretty attractive at times.
How does he keep getting games? Serious question, because if I’ve missed something, please let me know.
He’s averaging his lowest disposal totals since 2012, has six goals to his name for the season, and seems to me to be in this side with the hope that one day soon, he may just do… something?
But what he is producing is bugger all at the moment. If he is in there to gather touches, he’s had 20+ once this season. If he’s in there for scoreboard impact, he’s averaging 0.5 goals per game. You’ve relegated Westhoff to the seconds – a club champion, and left this bloke in the firsts?
I can’t understand it. Really, I can’t.
Could you sense the frustration from Charlie Dixon in this one, as his young forward teammates continually dragged their man deep to get in his way and add more fists to marking contests he was trying to win, or at least compete in? I know they were trying to get there to crumb, but far out… timing, fellas.
Pertinent question regarding the high contact free kick awarded to Josh Dunkley in the first quarter – if he has his head down burrowing in for the ball, and Lycett and Joel Garner are both simply standing there and he runs into them, what recourse do the Port players have? To get out of his way? No - there has to be some accountability if blokes are running around like that. His shot at goal missed everything, but that should not ever be a free kick.
Macrae and Dunkley – 36 and 29 disposals respectively again. These two are on a tear lately, and by the end of the season, we could be speaking about both as genuine AA candidates if this form continues.
Port just looked lost when they got the ball on a turnover. It was as though having the ball with an opportunity to go quickly was a completely foreign concept to them. Every time it happened, they failed to capitalise, or at least it felt that way to me.
Notice how often the Dogs went off the deck this evening? They played intelligent wet weather football, and gained metres when they couldn’t gain possession. This was obviously a directive from Luke Beveridge and kudos to the Dogs for sticking to it.
We’ve all played footy in the wet – how hard is it to glove the footy cleanly? It was as though someone needed to pull Ken Hinkley aside and remind him, as his players continually tried to pick the footy up, only to fumble it. The Dogs would do the same, but the difference was that they’d already gained ground by going off the deck once or twice before trying to pick it up.
Is it safe to say we’ve just seen Roarke Smith’s best game of his young career? 23 touches at 70% efficiency and his first goal in footy… great to see him playing so well in tough conditions. Some players really get found out in the wet, so it was great to see him play so well.
Robbie Gray got plenty of the ball late, but I reckon of his 24 touches, five or six came when the game was out of reach. He looked dangerous in patches, but on many occasions, he’d get his hands to it, and there’d be a slight fumble which would then invite pressure and force a rushed possession.
Speaking of “almost”, Aaron Naughton “almost” had an impact on this one. He got his hands on so many marking attempts – both hands, and just failed to bring it to ground. He takes two or three of them and we’re viewing his contributions very differently.
And that’ll about do me. It was a real arms wrestle, this one. It was far from the kind of game you’re going to see featured in any AFL highlight packages, but it was intense in moments, and had plenty to keep me interested despite the conditions.
The Dogs get the Cats next week, which will be the ultimate test, and the Power get the Crows in their biggest clash of the year – this is season on the line stuff for both teams… just the right atmosphere for a Showdown.
Do I think these teams will play finals? I think Port can, but I reckon the Dogs are a ruckman away. There’s a bloke in the Port seconds who could use a game or two at the top level. He’s also out of contract after this season. Ryder as a mentor to English? Stranger things have happened.
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