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Match of the Day: Powerful stuff from Port makes a point


Get around him! Jubilant Port Adelaide players surround Jared Polec after his last-quarter goal sealed victory over the Western Bulldogs. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Match of the Day: Powerful stuff from Port makes a point

By ROHAN CONNOLLY

Port Adelaide has been regularly accused this season of lacking the necessary mettle when the going was tough and against decent opposition. Which makes Saturday’s 17-point win over the Western Bulldogs important in several respects.

Most importantly, it thrust the Power, at least temporarily, back into the top four at the expense of a team now looking increasingly likely to become only the second defending premier in close to 20 years to miss a chance at defending its title in a subsequent finals campaign.

But even should Port Adelaide finish in the lower half of the final eight, its participation in September for the first time in three years is now officially confirmed. And Saturday’s win, against a side to which it had lost nine times in their last 11 meetings, will certainly hold it in good stead.

A cold and windy regional Victorian centre is about as far from home comforts as it gets for an interstate team. But the Power took that unfamiliarity, and the vagaries of the wind it had to kick into to start, in their stride, and ultimately, deservedly took the points.

Without such a mindset, Port might not even have survived the first 10 minutes of this game, by when the Bulldogs already had two goals on the board before the Power had even a sniff inside 50.

It was midway through the term when Port managed its first, a clever ruck clearance and snap from a dominant Paddy Ryder. That, though, was like gold with the Dogs not having made enough of their territorial advantage and already having lost Jake Stringer for the day with another hamstring strain.

Travis Cloke restored the ledger, but with only a couple of minutes left, Ryder again bobbed up at the perfect moment, marking and coolly playing on to snap around the corner.

The Bulldogs still led at the break, but not by enough, it seemed, a premise that looked correct after the Power, now with the wind at their backs, booted three of the first four goals of the second quarter.

Ollie Wines, his usual conspicuous self, banged home the first, Charlie Dixon, dangerous in the air and everywhere at ground level, too, slotted another, and the third fell to Robbie Gray courtesy of a goal line free kick.

Again, however, the team with the breeze, didn’t make full use of it. Port fluffed even more scoring opportunities than the Dogs had, Sam Gray on the goal line actually mistakenly kicking the ball the wrong way, his namesake hitting the post from close range.

And the Dogs then struck a huge blow with the last two goals of the half. Cloke, looking better by the minute, actually played rover to the spoil of Toby McLean in a quaint role reversal. And just before the siren, Dale has his second after a beautifully-weight little chip from Jack Macrae.

Macrae was the best player on the ground by a street at this stage. When the players jostled each other off the park at half-time, he’d already had 23 disposals, had seven clearances and laid five tackles.

He’d have rivals for that status soon enough, however, because as the third term began, Port skipper Travis Boak recognised the need to step things up a cog or three.

With his team heading into the breeze again, Boak imposed himself on the contest, winning 10 disposals for the term, winning the hard balls and kicking an important goal for good measure.

By now, Sam Powell-Pepper had managed to put the brakes on Macrae a little, and it was the Power winning the hard categories.

True to the nature of this tussle, however, no side could sustain any advantage for long. Now the Bulldogs hit back with two goals inside a minute, a fluky effort from Lachie Hunter which bounced through, managing to elude the grasp of Dougal Howard.

From the next centre bounce, and the Bulldogs’ 10th consecutive inside 50 without reply, Josh Dunkley snapped one. Sure enough, Dixon, having a ripper, hit back for Port after a smart ball popped up into the scoring zone from Robbie Gray.

It was the Bulldogs by seven points at the last change, Port with final use of the wind, but with no sense that it was about to offer any significant advantage given that almost as many goals in three quarters had been kicked into its teeth.

That impression was only underlined early in the last term, too, the Bulldogs finding the pill more, an inspired Dale booting his fourth and a previously subdued Tom Liberatore bobbing up to shark a goal from a clearance.

But when the winning move was finally made, it wasn’t really about wind assistance. It had been Port which had played the cleaner, more threatening football of the two teams. And the Power picked the perfect time to at last do it justice on the scoreboard.

Dixon went from mere good to great game with his final term. Just when Port looked its most vulnerable, he bobbed up with two strong marks and goals against a defence whose lack of height now was painfully realised. The second have the Power the lead again. And that’s how it would stay.

Now Dixon would play the role of ground-level provider, having again pushed hard up the ground, twice involved in dishing off handballs on a wing. The second of those Boak, put the other huge final-term factor, into the clear and his chip allowed Chad Wingard to stroll into an open goal.

Port could sense a top-four spot about to be (at least temporarily) regained. Jared Polec, another strong contributor, burst clear around the boundary line and found Robbie Gray, who made no mistake. And if there was any remaining doubt, Polec himself put it to rest off his own boot a couple of minutes later.

In a day-long struggle which turned this way then that, the Power had rattled on the last five goals in a tick over 15 minutes. And while the Bulldogs have had their struggles this season, this was far from their worst effort. Indeed, the Doggies have won games this year playing a lesser brand than they turned on in Ballarat.

But Port simply was better when it mattered. The Power broke even in the hard stuff, won the tackle count, had the more scoring opportunities and in the end, made better use of them. That deserves credit. And if it’s form they can continue, there may be more plaudits coming their way yet.

WESTERN BULLDOGS 3.3 6.5 9.11 11.13 (79)
PORT ADELAIDE 2.2 5.5 8.10 14.12 (96)

GOALS – PORT ADELAIDE: Dixon 4, R. Gray 2, Wingard 2, Ryder 2, Wines, Boak, S Gray, Polec. WESTERN BULLDOGS: Dale 4, Cloke 2, Hunter 2, Dunkley, Liberatore, Suckling.
BEST – PORT ADELAIDE: Boak, Dixon, Ryder, Wines, Polec, R Gray, Amon. WESTERN BULLDOGS: Macrae, Dale, Dahlhaus, Daniel, McLean Johannisen.

INJURIES – WESTERN BULLDOGS: Stringer (left hamstring)

UMPIRES: Chamberlain, Meredith, Mitchell

CROWD: 10,087 at Mars Stadium, Ballarat.

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