Round 6: Back to Earth

From time to time there’ll be games which are grinders, ones which it feels like you’re always fighting uphill. It’s fair to say Saturday was one of those days; there wasn’t a huge gulf between the two sides but Port was better when it mattered, and that’s all that mattered.

We’ll use a slightly different format for today’s review. Instead of the normal review and then dot points at the end, we’ll delve into the first four preview questions, because the game can be broken into those areas.

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How will North’s midfield hold up without Shaun Higgins?

Preview: “The midfield unit is still being built up, so it doesn’t have the depth in numbers yet. Take out your most dynamic line-breaker and it obviously leaves a hole.”

Based on raw numbers the midfield looked ok, but the difference from last week was the quality of the ball won from the onballers. Having Higgins in the mix opens up so many different possibilities, including

Before we touch on the quality of contested ball lower down in the review, let’s focus on two positives – Jed Anderson and Jy Simpkin.

Keeping Jack Ziebell forward for the most part meant Anderson and Simpkin were allowed to own those extra midfield minutes, and they showed promising signs.

Anderson now has 20+ disposals in two of his last three games after not reaching the mark at all previously. He clearly has confidence in his body – watch as he intercepts and bursts through a stoppage – it’s that sort of ability which breaks things open and gives the midfield an extra string to its bow.

R6_1

Simpkin played a season high game time percentage – up at 83% – and played arguably the best game of his young career with 22 disposals, five inside 50’s, five tackles and a goal. It’s fair to say we’ve seen enough from these two to pencil them in as permanent midfield rotations.

There’ll undoubtedly be inconsistencies as they get used to playing there week in, week out; but by the end of the season we should see much fewer of it and North will be much better around the ball for it. As usual, patience is the key.

Can North bring the same pressure as last week in its forward half?

Preview: “(If North doesn’t bring the same pressure) the alternative is that Port moves quickly through its back half, slicing through the North structure and/or getting over the back of it. Much like against the Hawks, the first 15-20 minutes should tell the tale.”

‘Slicing’ is the operative word here. It wasn’t as if Port was moving the ball at a million miles an hour or bombing it long over zones. But it had clearly done its homework in where the soft spots in North’s setup would be and ruthlessly exploited it.

Use this passage of play as an example:

R6_2

Patient, considered disposal until one Power player had a bit of space and all of a sudden they were at half forward and within sight of home.

How will Todd Goldstein fare against Port’s makeshift rucks?

Preview: “If there has been a constant in recent years against Port Adelaide, it’s how the Power has consistently come up with a plan to neutralise Goldstein’s influence.”

Goldstein was perfectly serviceable in the ruck, but it was at ground level where Port was able to dictate terms. Even though North was +11 in contested possession, it was rarely clean as the Power midfielders were able to harass and pressure when they didn’t have the ball.

Here’s a sign of how ‘on’ Port was around the ball. In Jared Polec’s first 89 games his career high for tackles in a game was eight. Against North he had 12.

So even when Goldstein had a hit-out to advantage – and he had a high percentage of them among his 38 – they were almost immediately negated at ground level. Then when it became a neutral situation, Port had the advantage with its midfielders against North’s and it all went from there. An example:

R6_3

A hit-out to what is at worst a genuine one-on-one and at best to the advantage side of Ben Jacobs (though not a true hit-out to advantage) almost instantly becomes a situation where Port has extra numbers around the ball and then clears.

Will the intangibles help Port’s performance?

Preview: “An ‘us against the world’ mentality works wonders with teams looking for a short-term boost. It wouldn’t take too much to rouse the Power into a similar mindset today.”

A direct quote from Ken Hinkley’s post-match media conference: “It felt a bit like the world was ganging up on us, and to their credit, I said to them they stuck together today and ganged up back.”

Sums it up rather succinctly, doesn’t it?

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