Port Adelaide Power continued their bright start to the season with a convincing win over the West Coast Eagles. Port Adelaide played rugged no-nonsense physical football, where they used their muscle to crunch the opposition in the packs; and then distribute the ball to their unheralded outside players, who moved the ball quickly to unsettle opposition defenses. West Coast were hoping the fine conditions would finally allow them to play their possession and clean delivery game; however, the Power rarely gave them space and dictated the game from within the packs.
Big forward, Charley Dixon, dominated the air in the Port forward line and finished with six goals. To the casual observer, it may seem that Dixon was a one-man band, but it was a team effort.
When Port were about to deliver the ball, Dixon's teammates took turns to position themselves against Dixon's immediate opponent; today, it was mostly Tom Barras. They subtly, and not so unsubtly, nudged Barras just before Dixon began his lead. The Port big forward then had a clear run and his opponent had to play catch-up. Using this strategy, Dixon took seven marks (catches) and booted six goals (worth 6 points) and two behinds (worth a point each). Dixon and fellow tall forward Justin Westhoff (2 goals) are no spring chickens and not the fastest men on the field. It was West Coast's inability to counteract this forward setup, which was the major difference between the teams.
West Coast won more clearances through the combined work of Nic Naitanui, Eliot Yeo, Dom Sheed, and Luke Shuey. But it was the defensive pressure from the Port midfielders which prevented the Eagles from capitalizing on their inside work. Bradley Ebert, Dan Houston, and Todd Marshall harassed and tackled so that the Eagles were nearly always under pressure. Power's Scott Lycett was beaten by Naitanui in the ruck taps, but Naitanui failed to lay a tackle and did not take a mark. When the Port Adelaide inside players won the ball, they shot it wide to their outside runners. Port's Hamish Hartlett, Zac Butters, Karl Amon, and Connor Rozee were allowed too much latitude by West Coast.
Good teams can change their game plan to confound their opposition. The last time these two teams met, Port introduced a radical "dirty ball" method of attack. A tactic where they tumbled the ball low and ran it along the ground, to negate the air dominance of the West Coast defenders. Today, West Coast were without their main intercept marker, Jeremy McGovern. Instead, the Power bombed the ball high into the attack with the knowledge that Dixon's teammates would do their work on Barrass and fellow defender, Will Schofield, before the ball was even airborne. Schofield, who is near the end of his career, showed frustration with an ill-disciplined contact on Zac Butters, after a Port goal; which led to the ball being retained in the Port forward line and ultimately another goal. Schofield was benched by his coach. Too little, too late. The Eagle small defenders should have been working to allow their tall defenders to run with their immediate opponent. The Eagles are obviously unhappy to be in the Gold Coast "hub". They may even be a little homesick, but when one of their most experienced players acts like a "frustrated old man" they have real issues, and these issues begin in the coaching box.
West Coast had one bright spot at the start of the third quarter when Liam Ryan bobbed up for one goal and veteran Josh Kennedy returned to form by booting two in succession. Kennedy, like Schofield, is nearing the end of his career. His four goals for the match were the bulk of his team's score. West Coast has invested heavily in acquiring silky mid-fielder Tim Kelly from Geelong, but it means little if their lesser players don't contribute with genuine effort. Port Adelaide are not a glamour team, but they are a team of workers, with a few young players of potential. With shortened quarters in this COVID-19 format of the game, it is the teams who are prepared to put their bodies on the line and knock the ball forward who will win games.
Next week, West Coast meets the Richmond Tigers in a "home" game at the Metricon Stadium. The Tigers will be seeking to pose further questions on the West Coast's appetite for leather. Port Adelaide will meet the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba, in what will be a true test of where Port is heading.
Scores Port Adelaide: 4.4 6.7 10.11 13.11 (89) West Coast Eagles: 1.2 2.4 5.4 6.5 (41) Best Port Adelaide: Hartlett, Amon, Ebert, Dixon, Boak West Coast Eagles: Gaff, Shuey, Sheed, Kelly, Yeo
Article last changed on Sunday, June 28, 2020 - 1:35 PM EDT