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The Good, Bad and Ugly - Port Adelaide v Essendon

The Port Adelaide Power sent a strong message to the rest of the AFL this afternoon at Marvel Stadium – they are far from a spent force this season, and at their best, they are as good as anyone in the league.

Essendon sent a message as well. After falling in against Gold Coast last week, they were out-hustled, outworked and outplayed by a Power team committed to the cause. They’re susceptible to hard-at-it midfields.

We saw some wonderful individual efforts, some not so great ones, and we saw a Power team that has been on an absolute rollercoaster ride this season sit atop the highest peak they they’ve scaled on the road this season. It’s all in front of them now… if they’re good enough.

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

 

THE GOOD

 

DBJ

There was a point there in the second quarter where it appeared as though the Essendon mids were picking Darcy Byrne-Jones out and kicking it straight to him.

They weren’t, of course, and DBJ was just positioning himself beautifully time and time again as the Bombers haphazardly went inside 50 and saw him gather and return the ball back over their heads.

His stats won’t be mind-blowing. He had 25 touches, but ran at 88% for the game as his ability to step out of tackles, particularly those of Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, created opportunities for his teammates to run and receive.

I’ve watched a fair few Port games this season, and he has had periods where he’s impressed me several times, but this was a complete performance from him.

 

KARL AMON

Did I read correctly that Amon is out of contract after this year? Well, he is doing himself no disservice to the next contract amount with the way he’s playing.

His cruising speed seems to be the top speed for most, and his ability to create a bit of space, and therefore look as though he has more time than everyone else was really impressive in this one.

He had 23 touches in this one, and just added a bit of class to the grunt work of Sam Powell-Pepper, Tom Rockliff and Travis Boak in the contest.

Port fans, are you confident he’ll sign with you? And if not, what sort of value would you be wanting in a trade for him? He looks like the cherry on top of a contending midfield to me – will get minimal defensive attention and can be very damaging.

 

PATRICK AMBROSE

There were not many four quarter winners for the Bombers, but Ambrose was one of them. Some will put it down to Charlie Dixon being so completely out of form that he almost needs someone to throw the ball at his foot to get a kick, but every time there was an aerial contest, it was Ambrose timing it well, using his body and either making the spoil or outmarking Dixon.

When we put together our All-Underrated Team a few weeks ago, it was Ambrose’s name that came up most often as the player missing. I guess he is so underrated that he didn’t make the team – now THAT is underrated.

With Michael Hurley out, and Cale Hooker starting forward, Ambrose combined with Michael Hartley to hold the line for the Bombers until it all became a little too much. Combined, they had 22 one percenters as they controlled the air down back.

 

ROBBIE BEATING SAAD

This probably should have been the first point, because it was the catalyst for the Port lead, and the Port win.

With Adam Saad having the responsibility of making sure Robbie Gray was kept in check, two things happened. Firstly, Gray was able to get away from the ball-watching Saad several times in the first half to seemingly appear all alone inside 50. Once resulted in a goal to Gray, and the other in a handball to set up a goal to Cam Sutcliffe.

The second thing that happened is that due to Saad having to stay at home – you don’t leave Robbie Gray to go kick chasing through the middle – Essendon lost one of their best runners from half back, and though they still had Connor McKenna to provide that burst, he seemed more content with kicking the ball to himself and then kicking out on the full than doing damage.

The Bombers really missed Saad’s rebound, and to make matters  worse, he was unable to break even with Gray, who slotted four goals and a direct goal assist amongst his ten score involvements. Bomber fans will tell you Saad is rarely beaten – this was one of the rare occasions.

Often used through the middle, Gray was back where he probably belongs at this stage of his career, deep forward, and he looked right at home. He is a master of using his body, has cat-like instincts, and when challenged physically, not only stood up, but he left Orazio Fantasia laying on the Marvel Stadium turf as a result. We’ll get to Orazio soon.

Port had a great spread of players doing their part today, but up forward, Robbie Gray was the man, once again.

 

THE KIDS

I know it probably feels as though Xavier Duursma, Connor Rozee and Zac Butters get so much media attention for first year players, but far out they deserve it.

Butters was the lesser light today, copping a knock and being unable to impact the contest as much, but his fellow rookies were sublime.

Rozee finished with two goals and five behinds for the afternoon, and could have easily finished with a bag and more ammunition to push the fact that he is a match winner in every sense, whilst Sam Walsh is more your consistent mid who doesn’t necessarily win games for his team.

His ability to hit the ball at speed, coming off a pack is some of the best in the business. I counted three times today that his timing to collect the ball was absolutely perfect, and it begs the question – where were his opponents?

At times he had Conor McKenna and at others he had Matt Guelfi, but it soon became painfully obvious that neither of them had anywhere near the level of anticipation that Rozee had, and as soon as they lost touch with him, they were made to pay.

Xavier Duursma was wonderful on the outside, collecting 20 of his 26 touches uncontested, and using the ball well consistently. His ability to run into defence and ease the burden on defenders made him an asset all day.

The bow and arrow was back, and I was thrilled to see it. Great to see Ken Hinkley have a little smile as he broke it out after slotting a fantastic banana goal from the boundary in the third quarter. Duursma’s hard run, good hands, and poise to look for targets rather than just hack long (Sam Powell-Pepper, take note!) means that he is already doing more than Jared Polec is doing at North this season.

Ask yourself – right now if you could take Polec or Duursma as part of your team, who would you take? I’d take Duursma. His upside is huge, and when it’s his turn to go, he goes without hesitation. I’m not sure Polec provided that for Port, so although losing Polec to North Melbourne may have been viewed as an instant loss, I’m not sure Duursma gets the same opportunities had he stayed.

Long term, Duursma will be the best bet for Port.

 

BIG-BODIED MIDS

These names – Powell-Pepper, Boak, Rockliff, Houston… there’s some power in the Port Adelaide midfield, huh?

I’m not sure how the leg speed component of those players factors in on the wide expanses of the MCG, but at Marvel, they seemed right at home.

Marvel is supposed to be a fast track, but the big bodies were really important to day as well. The Power won the clearances 41-32, which was a direct reflection of their ruck dominance, and a lot of those wins came in the contest via the strength of Boak, Ladhams, Houston and Rockliff.

 Houston’s emergence as a legitimate midfielder had really caught me by surprise this season. i always rated him as a defender, but wondered whether his ability was THAT good, or just residual from playing alongside Clurey and Jonas.

Turns out he is that good.

SUTCLIFFE LOWERS THE EYES

How nice was it to see cam Sutcliffe streaming out of the middle with a head of steam on consecutive occasions, and both times have the presence of mind not to blaze away, but lower his eyes and hit a leading target?

He did it three times form memory, creating goal scoring chances for Sam Gray, Karl Amon and Sticks Marshall. A quick look at the stats confirms that – three direct goal assists to add to the one he kicked himself.

Sutcliffe was brought into the team as a stopper, but he was so much more in this one.

 

THE BAD

 

ORAZIO FANTASIA

You ever hear the saying – if you wanna dance to the music, you have to pay the fiddler?

Well, I’m not here to call Robbie Gray a fiddler, as that has all kinds of horrible connotations, but when Fantasia lined him late in the third quarter and failed to drop Gray, Robbie let him know all about it as Orazio got to his feet.

And Fantasia went down as if he’d been shot.

Not only did he go down, he went off the ground. Given the kind of player John Worsfold was, do you think he watched that, saw it on replay and thought “yeah, I think that soft as butter hit was worthy of coming to the bench for”?

Some may argue that Fantasia was sore from the previous contact with Gray. To that I say watch the footage – he is not holding anything or favouring anything as he gets up. He’s just getting up, and Gray gives him one to go on with. Not much of one to go on with, but a decent knock to the side.

Fantasia goes down, and stays down.

That one clash was a metaphor for the day. When push came to shove, bump came to bump, or Gray came to Fantasia, it was the Power left standing, and the Bombers lay down.

You come at the king, you best not miss 

 

UMPIRING INCONSISTENCIES

As a neutral in this game I was getting a little frustrated as several times the lack of consistency with umpiring was painfully apparent.

Tom Jonas being caught holding the ball in the second quarter despite having zero prior opportunity – I slowed the footage down; it’s four tenths of a second from the time he collects until he gets tackled, and an attempt to push the ball out was a joke. It cost a goal.

To make matters worse, moments later, Darcy Byrne-Jones caught Kyle Langford cold and there was incorrect disposal. Again, there was no prior opportunity, but it was called play on.

Was it the noise of affirmation? Maybe. Or was it just that we have changing interpretations not from game to game, but decision to decision?

The sooner they iron this shit out, the better. I am sure this stuff went both ways, and it may seem as though I am isolating one incident and being anti-Essendon… that’s not the case. This is about umpiring… not how much Essendon stunk it up today. Haha.

 

THE UGLY

 

THE ZACH MERRETT THIRD QUARTER

I haven’t heard anyone mention this yet, but what was John Worsfold doing with Zach Merrett in the third quarter?

Despite goals coming thick and fast in the third quarter, for the first ten minutes, we did not see Merrett at stoppages in the centre square. As a matter of fact, we didn’t see Merrett at all.

He was comprehensively worked out of the game after collecting 23 first half disposals. By the end of the third quarter, he had just 26. When he was finally moved into the guts, the Power had established a four goal lead and were in control of the game, and Travis Boak made Merrett his responsibility at stoppages.

He got ample help around the ground from Dan Houston, Hamish Hartlett and Sam Powell-Pepper to completely nullify him.

I cannot understand what Worsfold was thinking here. I understand Stringer into the middle – he is a solid body and hard to move off the spot, but Andy McGrath? Is he a better bet than Merrett? His two clearances for the game scream NO.

Merrett had a blindingly good first half and will possibly see himself in the votes by many, but not for me, and it is through no fault of his own. He was taken away from where he was doing the most damage and used in a different role despite how well he was playing.

It was as though the Bombers cut off their nose to spite their face… and then cut their chin off as well for fun. Merrett finished with seven clearances – he can get first hands on the footy with the best of them, but for some reason he wasn't there in the premiership quarter. Right when the Bombers needed him.

 

CHARLIE DIXON

I can’t remember who it was that called him the most overrated forward over the last two years, but big Charlie didn’t do much to disprove that today.

He had just five touches for the day and no contested marks as he either mistimed his leap at the ball so badly that he didn’t contest, or was beaten soundly when he managed to get his run at it right.

As a full forward, there are a number of ways to assess your performance. Goals you kick are one, and scores you’re involved with are another. Dixon was involved in just two for the game. Any way you look at it, it was a terrible game for Charlie. I’d like to say he’ll be better for the run, but how many runs does he need?

With just six goals for the season, Port need something from him unless they’re content to finish ninth.

 

QUICK BITS

Loved the first quarter of Mason Redman. He looks like the bloke from Mask, Rocky Dennis, but his run and carry, combined with his attack on the footy, are excellent. Out of contract, I believe? I’d be getting onto that if I were the Bombers.

I’d also be telling him to stop getting sucked in by cheeky forwards who obviously want to bait him and do it well. It’s the retaliator that gets caught – most of us learn that in primary school.

Loved the runs from Dylan Shiel through the guts early in the game. He really looked like a prize recruit in this one. His delivery was a bit suspect after running all that way, but far out that was scintillating stuff.

The work of Jonas on Jake Stringer when the game was there to be won should probably be noted. Stringer was a factor in the first half and by the time he started firing, the game was shot.

Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti is the hardest bloke to tackle in the game. No fiend offs required - he is like a lubed-up barrel!

Sam Powell-Pepper’s decision making with the ball in hand at times is not the best, is it? Am I being too nice? It absolutely sucks… is that better? I would never, ever question his endeavour, but far out he hacks the footy a lot.

I liked what I saw from Ladhams today. I reckon Scott Lycett has been good this season, but Ladhams really put his hand up. With 18 touches, seven clearances and 22 hit outs, he has a case for another go-round in Round 21.

Of course, his opposition was Zac Clarke… I reckon he could’ve got a few kicks on him.

Speaking of Clarke – the bad one, not Dylan Clarke – that shot right before half time; how important was that? Just 40 metres out, he absolutely Gawn’d it.

And now the good Clarke – the tag on Travis Boak was released after half time, but the way Dylan Clarke takes his defensive responsibilities so seriously is a massive find for the Bombers this season. Boak had 12 touches in the first half and ended with 26 (and nine clearances!) but his impact with Clarke hanging off him like a koala on a gum tree was severely limited,.

Of course, he could probably pay a little more attention to the direction his team is kicking - we’ve seen this a few times this season.

That’ll do me, guys. Great win by the Power on the road. They head home to host the Swans next week and would be looking for a solid win to put the pressure on for a finals spot.

The Bombers completely blew their chance to lock up a finals spot and now have a mouth-watering clash against the Western Bulldogs upcoming. If the Dogs get a win this weekend against Brisbane, this one could be one of the games of the year.

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