Port Adelaide v Brisbane – Mongrel Review

Welcome back footy, you have been missed. It’s funny how 18 teams go into their first clash with the sort of optimism normally only found when texting a mate “I’ll be there in 5 min” when you’re still laying in bed wearing nothing but your socks. Then, two hours later, at least half of the teams have fans lamenting their life choices and bracing themselves for a year of disappointment.

Such was this game. Brisbane came in looking to start off a strong season after some excellent recruiting and drafting moves, while Port were equally chuffed with their offseason and excited about how they would fare in 2023.

The Outs

First, the outs. Brisbane lost McStay and Berry in trades, while team barometer Mitch Robinson retired. I assume he’s spending his time angrily chasing seagulls at the beach or something. I’m not sure what makes me write that, but he seems the type.

Port were a major player in trade week last year, but it mostly centred around picks they on-sold rather than players. Their only exit to another club was Karl Amon to Hawthorn via free agency, though club stalwart Robbie Gray’s retirement was a big loss. The loss of Mayes and Motlop were notable, but ultimately not likely to impact the squad too much.

The Ins

But, the big excitement is always how new players will perform. How will the rookie go in their first run in the big league? How will the new additions fit in? Who is that bloke anyway?
Brisbane welcomed two new father-son picks in Jaspa Fletcher and pretty-much-number-one-pick Will Ashcroft to go with Josh Dunkley, Jack Gunston and Conor McKenna. Between the five of them, that’s 420 games, 5151 goals and 88 Brownlow votes. Well, Fletcher and Ashcroft don’t really add to that tally, but I’m sure they will soon enough. Fletcher may have to wait a while longer, as he didn’t get a guernsey in this one.

If Brisbane were happy with their ins though, Port would be practically orgasmic with their new additions. Francis Evans getting a new home as a delisted free agent will slide under the radar, but the 19-year-old is one of the few AFL players currently boasting an undefeated record, having not lost a game in his two seasons at Geelong. Maybe he’s a bit of a good luck charm? Geelong downward spiral confirmed?

To go with this handy pickup though, they have two players that are undeniably talented, though both have had questions asked of them recently. Junior Rioli’s Gatorade-gate moment and JHF’s aversion to ice baths took up plenty of column inches and don’t need to be rehashed here, but their ability with the footy is undeniable (even to this North-supporting writer).

The game

While the opening stanza was hard-fought, by the second quarter you’d be forgiven for thinking that a Brisbane victory was inevitable. Ashcroft slotted his first goal, Dixon was raging at umpires and putting their parental relations into question, and Josh Dunkley was practically plucking the ball out of the pockets of Port’s players.

Try saying that three times fast.

But whether Hinkley had a particularly moving speech or just a table full of frog cakes and fruchocs, Port came out of the half-time break a renewed side.

Brisbane’s rapid rebounding play was completely shut down, and they were caught on their own overlap with alarming regularity. Port piled on the first seven goals of the term, with Marshall kicking the first within a minute, followed by Jones, Gerorgiades, Marshall again, Powell-Pepper, Jones again and Rioli for his third, only for McCarthy to get a stoppage goal that was quickly responded with a late one to Dixon.

Suddenly, facing down a five goal deficit with a quarter to go, Brisbane looked in trouble. The crowd had found its voice, the power players had found some confidence, and Brisbane’s mids had trouble finding the ball.

Three quick goals through Dixon, Wines and Rozee put the game to bed, with Marshall’s fourth the sealer at the 18 minute mark. Zac Bailey and Jack Gunston got a couple in return, but the game had lost any feeling of a contest by that point, and Port had the last laugh with a goal to Lachie Jones just before the final siren.

The new Port midfield

Port have been well-served by their midfield of the past generation. Ken Hinkley looked willing to pass the torch from Boak, Wines, and Gray to the new cohort of Rozee, Butters and Horne-Francis.

He’ll be pretty bloody pleased with himself about that. He deserves to be too.

While Wines still got plenty of the ball, Butters was like a scythe slicing through the chaff of Brisbane’s mids as he burst through the lines to find his teammates by hand or foot. Rozee, Duursma and Powell-Pepper were all dominant, particularly in the second half (though Powell-Pepper was a little wasteful at times with unforced errors and a couple out on the full kicks that he should have cleaned up).
And yeah, I’ll give him his due, Horne-Francis had some great touches to link up possession chains, which is particularly impressive considering he’s only met these lads four months ago…

…Or did he?

Ashcroft looks likely

While it was Aaron Cadman who went pick one, it’s a brave person who would deny that Ashcroft would have had that honour had he not been slated to go to the Lions as a Father-Son pick.

So with that pressure on the lad, how did he go?

I feel confident saying he was solid.

Not exceptional. Not bad. Just solid.

And that’s a great result for a kid that’s younger than half the T-shirts in my wardrobe (what year did Tee-Bar close anyway? 2012? Does pre-Covid time really count the same as post-covid now?).

While his numbers won’t win rave reviews (or win him the rising star nomination, which you’d imagine would have to go to Harry Sheezel this round) 13 touches, four tackles and a goal is a pretty good outing for a debut match, especially when his team had to struggle quite a bit.

But overall, he had the sort of poise and readiness of a bloke much further along in his career. Lions fans looking for positives can zero in on this as a big one.

Lions in the middle

Aside from Ashcroft, Josh Dunkley also joined the Brisbane midfield, and he was very handy for them. While he only had 19 touches, 14 of them were contested, to go with nine tackles and seven clearances — those last three stats being match-leaders.

Unfortunately, He, Ashcroft, McLuggage and Neale just didn’t seem to gel quite well enough to work through the stoppage setup of Port often enough to have the big impact that they are capable of.

It may take some time for them to have the sort of cohesion that will garner results, but every stoppage that they have as a unit will see them improve, and also push Ashcroft along his career trajectory.

Rich and Creamy

They say the cream rises to the top, but in Daniel Rich’s case, it seems to have stuck firmly to his ample buttocks. Those magnificent gluteals enabled him to launch the pill out of the backline with such distance and accuracy, it’s a wonder why the government is investing in nuclear submarines when they could just get Daniel to stand on the coastline and threaten to kick nukes at any nation that starts sending their military in our direction.

I don’t know who had a birthday on Saturday, but Daniel brought enough cake for everyone.
By adding the long bomb out of the backline into the match tactics, Port had to spread to cover his booming boot, which opened up the shorter options.

Unfortunately, Rich seems to have the same affinity for the big torp as I do, and used it a few too many times when the short option was on. Still, he got loads of the ball, with his 26 touches (23 of which were kicks) resulting in 1,010 metres gained. The bloke kicked the ball over a kilometre in this match. It’d take me a week and three reserve hamstrings to do the same!
To put it in perspective, the next best was 532 metres by… ah… a second-year player who just joined the Power (hey, I’ve given him plenty of credit already).

Where it was won

To put it simply — just about everywhere.
Port had a lot more control of the ball. For 51% of the game, it was in their hands (vs 32% for Brisbane). They had more marks, fewer turnovers, and were a lot more efficient with the ball.

It was that efficiency and willingness to run their transition game fast and hard that caught Brisbane flat-footed far too often. Brisbane meanwhile struggled to find a target inside 50, running at just under 38% efficiency in attack.
Port played a very direct, fast-paced game while Brisbane couldn’t get their possession chains working, mostly due to how well Port were reading their playmaking.

Forward craft

Everyone loves a good tall forward marking target. Brisbane’s two talls in Gunston and Daniher would be reason enough for Lions fans to be optimistic about their ability to put up a decent score. With Gunston’s veteran craft and the chaotic talent of Joe, it’s hard to imagine they’ll go into too many matches concerned about being outclassed in that area.
Yet, that’s exactly what happened.

Port’s defence was stifling, with fantastic zone control and constant pressure. Gunston managed two majors on his own, while Daniher only produced one for his side, and that one came through no fault of his defender. Burton stuck to him well and even managed to get front spot, but a freakish hip-pocket one-handed mark by Daniher gave him a shot just out of the goal square that he would convert.

Then he kinda went missing for a while.

At the other end, the blue-collar pairing of Todd Marshall and Charlie Dixon were red hot. Between them they managed seven goals (four and three respectively) to go with 18 marks (eight contested) to seven (two contested). That’s a good return in anyone’s book, but it was their ability to keep the pressure on opponents and convert their chances that had the usually stellar Brisbane defence frequently in panic mode as the ball peppered into the Port forward line.

It’s almost enough for Dixon to think he can escape getting too much scrutiny for gifting Daniel Rich a goal with sequential 50m penalties for dissent.


Big Oscar McInerny also tried to pitch in up forward, but every time he did, Port would dominate the ruck contest, which leads us to…

The Ruck battle

I am a big fan of a good ruck duel. Two big blokes throwing themselves into the air to try and dictate who will take control of the ball, surrounded by midfielders that don’t really care who hits it, they’re just looking to grab it once it comes their way.

Mcinerney can be fairly pleased with his ability to win the tap, with 33 from his 76 ruck contests, but only five of those fell to the advantage of his mids. Lycett on the other hand attended 72 ruck contests with 26 taps, but nine of them helped out his little mates.

While Big O has the sort of telescopic reach you only see when playing Dhalsim on Street fighter, he somehow was unable to turn that into the sort of touch that his high-quality midfield could work with.

Lycett on the other hand seemed to be willing to negate McInerny’s taps in the first half, often jumping from a shorter runup and a fraction later to slap the arms in a bit of ruck work that up-and-coming talls should pay attention to. Oscar had a few kgs on Lycett, so he likely decided to just frustrate him until he got a bit gassed, then he took over and switched to a more active style of ruck work.

It was a well-coached tactic. Who says the big blokes are dumb?

The Matchwinner

I have to give it to Conor Rozee. He was intense around the ball, and some of his tackles were the difference between Brisbane making a play or forcing a stoppage. His work without the ball was also excellent, running to put pressure on an opponent or running away from the person with the ball to draw a player out. It’s astonishing how rare that skill is in footy. Simply running away to become a passing option rather than running towards your mate so that one defender can cover the both of you should be standard, but it’s not. Rozee understands this, so maybe there’s a few others who could stand to watch him go about it.

Next Up

So there it is. Round one, in the bank. Port’s third quarter was a lesson in hard-running link-up play and Brisbane lacked the ability to counter it. They won’t find any respite when they take a six-day break and head home to host Melbourne that looks in fantastic touch. Brisbane at home is a hard trip for the Dees, but I think they’re feeling pretty confident at the moment, and look to be genuine contenders again this season.

Demons by 22.

Port will face an interesting challenge when they head to the MCG to play Collingwood in the battle of the prison bars. Both teams can play some very exciting, fast-paced footy, and will be riding high on their wins this week. Their ability to hit the scoreboard will make for a bit of a shootout, and the chance to finally see Nick Daicos and JHF play head-to-head should be worth tuning in for.

This one is a really hard one to pick, but I’m taking the pies solely for their home-field advantage, and the savagery of their fans.

Collingwood by 4.