If you weren’t convinced Port Adelaide was a genuine premiership threat prior to Friday night’s game against the Western Bulldogs, you were by the end of it as Ken Hinkley’s side recorded its 10th straight win.
The Power extended their club record winning streak in downing the Dogs by 22 points, 16.11 (107) to 13.7 (85), at Marvel Stadium.
The club’s unprecedented run of victories started after club legend Warren Tredrea described Hinkley’s tenure as “untenable”, unwittingly sparking a “reverse curse” for the team he captained to their sole AFL premiership in 2004.
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The result continued a worrying slump for the Bulldogs who are at risk of slipping out of the top eight this weekend after starting the year with a sparkling 7-3 record.
The Bulldogs midfield dominated most of the match, helping their team comfortably win the disposals (382-312) and clearances (46-32), while they also had a slight edge in contested possessions (135-133).
But the Power’s ball use and forward delivery were superior to the Dogs, and the visitors actually won the inside 50s (54-51) as their rock solid defence, led brilliantly by Aliir Aliir and Lachie Jones, held firm.
QUARTER-BY-QUARTER MATCH REPORT
There were no late changes to either side, with Oskar Baker (Bulldogs) and Riley Bonner (Power) named the starting subs.
And it took Port Adelaide no time to stamp its authority on the game, with Charlie Dixon kicking the first goal of the game within 19 seconds of the opening bounce. But the Dogs hit back a minute later, with Aaron Naughton and Cody Weightman nailing classy set-shots.
It turned into a shootout early, with Dixon and Weightman kicking three goals each in the first term.
“Is this the same sport?” Channel 7’s Hamish McLachlan asked, 24 hours after commentating the Swans-Saints game that saw a total of 1.1 scored in the opening term.
The Dogs had nine scoring shots to Port’s nine in the first term, but the Power made the most of their opportunities to lead by eight points at quarter-time. The Dogs kicked 2.4 from set-shots in the first term.
Both teams continued to trade blows in the second term, with Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, Adam Treloar and Caleb Daniel kicking goals for the Dogs amid Jed McEntee and Connor Rozee’s majors for Port Adelaide.
Bulldogs skipper Marcus Bontempelli then had a nervous moment when he collided with Port Adelaide’s Dan Houston in “a solid hit”, according to Channel 7’s Brian Taylor. But replays suggested Bontempelli didn’t make contact with the head of Houston, who remained on the ground.
There was also a moment where a high free pick paid against McEntee sparked a scuffle between the two sides.
Dogs capitalise after high-shot | 00:31
Ultimately the Dogs straightened up in the second term and narrowed the margin slightly, with Port Adelaide leading by four points at the major break.
After an early arm-wrestle, the Power got a mini break midway through the third term, with Jeremy Finlayson and Todd Marshall kicking their first goals and Dixon booting his fourth to give their team a game-high 22-point lead.
Port fluffed several shots at goal amid two crucial Dogs goals to Rhylee West and Bontempelli, before McEntee responded to give the Power an 19-point lead at the final change.
The Power got the ideal start with Finlayson snapping his second goal — and telling the crowd to be quiet during his celebration — before Tim English responded for the Dogs.
But one passage of play midway through the fourth term left the footy world breathless.
After a Willem Drew smother, Butters gathered the ball and showed great composure and acceleration, drawing his opponent and handballing back to Drew, who kicked it long inside 50. Jason Horne-Francis then picked a groundball up at speed, u-turned, sprinted towards goal and nailed a major on the run.
Sam Powell-Pepper then kicked two consecutive goals — one that game seconds after a Dogs goal was disallowed due to a controversial goalline free kick to the Power — to seal Port Adelaide’s 10th consecutive win.
THE 3-2-1 …
3. INCREDIBLE POWER SURGE STUNS DESPERATE DOGS
The Bulldogs got within eight points in the final term as the upset loomed large on Friday night.
But two huge moments turned the tide in the Power’s favour as Port Adelaide continued its remarkable win streak – a 10th straight this year and a ninth straight at Marvel Stadium.
In a goalless seven-minute deadlock midway through the last quarter, Dogs skipper Marcus Bontempelli looked set to send his side inside 50 for a seventh straight time.
Instead, it was a desperate Willem Drew dive that caused the smother and Zak Butters pounced.
The Port midfield star took the game on, backed him and broke through the corridor, finding Drew on the run who ended up sending it into attack.
And it was there that teenage sensation Jason Horne-Francis broke the Bulldog hearts.
His clean gather, turn and sprint before nailing the goal on the run proved the difference as Port were up by 14 points.
And didn’t the former No. 1 pick love it as he celebrated among the boos ringing out.
Melbourne champion Garry Lyon on Fox Footy post-game labelled it the “play of the year”.
“Two individual bits of brilliance. Butters and Jason Horne-Francis. He didn’t rush on the left – that is outstanding from two young champions,” Channel 7’s Matthew Richardson said.
Bulldog Cody Weightman appeared to make it an eight-point ball game moments later but was cruelly denied the goal in controversial circumstances.
Oskar Baker was penalised for a shepherd on the goal line, with Ollie Wines getting the free kick – rather than the Dogs getting the Weightman goal.
“They never pay these!” Richardson lamented.
“You can normally do anything on the line.
“It is probably there but you just never see them paid.”
Luke Hodge added: “This happens so many times in a game – you can pretty much do whatever you want on the goal line and the umpire’s pinged it.”
And it proved a massive swing in the game as the Power took the ball forward, Butters laid an enormous tackle on Alex Keath to lock the ball inside 50, and then Sam Powell-Pepper snapped truly from the stoppage.
From an eight-point margin to suddenly a 20-point advantage.
Game over at that point.
2. ‘BRILLIANT’ BUTTERS V ‘THE EXTRACTOR’ LIBBA
Bulldog Tom Liberatore went straight to Power young gun Zak Butters at the opening bounce — and the two were still going at it after the half-time siren in a genuinely tantalising match-up that lived up to all expectations.
Liberatore, known for his niggling antics, was the best player of the opening term as he helped his side to a remarkable run of 11 straight clearances.
But Butters would not be denied in the second quarter as he helped swing the match back in Port’s favour.
“They’ve been their teams’ best players,” Fox Footy’s Garry Lyon said.
“Liberatore has been the benchmark for (his side) and has been since the opening bounce.
“He went straight to Butters – the hottest player in the competition alongside Nick Daicos at centre bounce.
“I love when a player looks at the opposition and goes, ‘Righto, you’re the one who’s been driving them to nine games, I’ll go with you’.”
Jonathan Brown said it was as if Liberatore said to Butters “I see you and raise you” with his efforts in the opening term.
“The thing Butters has over Liberatore is probably execution,” he said.
“He (Liberatore) has been the real spark for them. His clearance around the ground has been great.
“He’s instigated a couple of dust ups around the field.”
Fox Footy’s Jordan Lewis said it appeared Liberatore came in with a plan to take it up to the Power physically.
“The physicality in and around the contest and also off the ball has been driven by Libba,” he said.
“It may have been a focus pre-game as Horne-Francis has been in the gun, Butters has been in the gun, but what it’s done from a Bulldogs point of view is it’s got them in the game. It’s sparked them.”
While commentator Matthew Richardson labelled Liberatore “the extractor”, there was plenty of praise for Butters too.
“He’s a joy to sit back and watch,” Lyon added of Butters.
“He does it inside, does it outside.”
Butters finished the match with 31 disposals, 11 score involvements, six clearances and a goal while Liberatore’s day ended with 34 touches, a team-high nine intercepts, six inside 50s and 11 clearances.
1. ENGLISH TOWELLED BY RECALLED PORT BIG MAN
It was supposed to be an area of the ground the Bulldogs had the advantage.
Tim English, the No. 1 All-Australian ruck contender who has been carving up opposition sides all year, was lining up against the ageing Scott Lycett.
But it was Lycett who wound back the clock to play his team’s most important role.
Lycett held English to just two hit-outs and two disposals in the opening term and kept him reasonably quiet for the remainder of the match.
The only time English got near the footy was when Lycett was parked on the pine and it was Jeremy Finlayson tasked with going with the big Bulldog.
And it was a task too big as English streaked forward, found the mismatch with Zak Butters and marked inside 50.
“Lycett’s done a really good job on English tonight,” commentator Luke Hodge said.
It’s a remarkable form turnaround for Lycett, who only two months ago was dropped to the SANFL to find form.
Despite not having a massive impact in reserve grade, Lycett still got the re-call in Round 10 and hasn’t looked back.
In his first game back against the Demons, Lycett racked up a remarkable nine tackles in a match that showed coach Ken Hinkley where his mindset was.
And against the Dogs on Friday night, Lycett was again with a team-first mindset as he kept English out of the big contests.
He pushed hard to go with him up and back around the ground.
Hinkley will no doubt be ecstatic with the work of his veteran big man.
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