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PORT ADELAIDE 3.3 8.6 12.9 17.11 (113)NORTH MELBOURNE 2.0 5.4 11.7 16.9 (105)Goals: Port Adelaide: J Schulz 4, Brad Ebert 3, M White 3, A Monfries 2, A Young, C Wingard, J Pittard, K Mitchell, M Broadbent. North Melbourne: L Thomas 4, B Brown 3, D Petrie 2, B Harvey, M Wood, R Bastinac, R Nahas, R Tarrant, S Gibson, S Higgins.BEST: Port Adelaide: Ebert, Boak, Schulz, Broadbent, Gray, Hartlett, White North Melbourne: Swallow, Gibson, McDonald, Goldstein, Brown, Harvey, Thomas.Injuries: Port Adelaide: O Wines (hand/wrist). North Melbourne: J Ziebell (chest), D Wells (achilles) replaced in selected side by B Jacobs.Umpires: Chris Donlon, Luke Farmer, Brendan Hosking.Official Crowd: 22,586 at Etihad Stadium.
This was a game that Port Adelaide simply had to win and, as circumstances unfolded, it didn’t seem possible that North Melbourne could win. Port were facing a season crisis – they would be winless from three rounds if they went down – but North found themselves in a dire mid-game crisis.
The Roos had lost Nick Dal Santo for half a season, then Daniel Wells before the game.
By quarter-time, another key midfielder, Jack Ziebell, was coughing blood and subbed out with a bruised lung. At half-time, the Roos faced these obstacles, plus an imposing deficit of 20 points against a team renowned for its endurance. Later, in the last term, the Power held a 15-point lead.
Everything was in Port’s favour – incentive, injuries and the prospect that the Kangas wouldn’t have the legs to finish well. Ultimately, these factors conspired to produce the anticipated result – Port winning the game they couldn’t bear to lose.
But North did not accept the inevitably of defeat, that they were without key personnel, or that they trailed. The Roos were magnificent in maintaining their rage. They produced a spine-tingling counter-offensive in the third quarter, which had the 22,586 at Etihad roaring.
North’s third-quarter surge consisted of four consecutive goals – including a trademark bomb from 50 metres by shaggy cult figure Ben Brown, and another from defender Robbie Tarrant, who, in a symbolic moment, got off his knees and stood up to put his team in front. North clung on tenaciously but you sensed that, as the more intact team with fewer casualties (aside from Ollie Wines’ wrist/arm injury in the last quarter), Port would finish in front. The outcome wasn’t settled until, with under a minute left, Kane Mitchell converted from a composed piece of play by Jay Schulz, Travis Boak and Angus Monfries to give Port an eight-point lead.
North had taken Port to the limit. Just short of half-way through the final quarter, following a turnover that created a goal for Matthew Broadbent, Port’s margin had reached 15 points.
What unfolded next was as astonishing as it was enthralling. The Kangas, who had been cleaned up in the middle, took control – Andrew Swallow leading the reversal of Port’s centre clearance dominance. They banged on the next three goals, two of them to Lindsay Thomas, to snatch an improbable lead.
Port would regain it with just over four minutes left, via an Aaron Young goal that derived from a botched kick-in – one of a series of defensive blunders that Brad Scott deemed “diabolical.” The Power would not be headed thereafter.
Earlier, Port had opened up like a team that was playing the AFL version of T20, such was the intensity. The Power, displaying the zeal that had been absent in the loss to Sydney, had 10 of the first dozen forward entries. Broadbent was conspicuous in the initial blitz, roaming wide from his station at half-back, while midfielders Brad Ebert, Hamish Hartlett and Boak were productive. Ebert would finish with three goals and played a pivotal role. North’s major issue wasn’t the scoreboard, since Port had failed to convert their advantage in play and led by just nine points at quarter-time. More worrisome were the casualties, Ziebell having taken a hefty crunch that sent him to hospital. Sam Wright, too, had been cleaned up by Alipate Carlisle in a bump that personified Port’s early intent.
Carlisle, recognising that Wright was in pole position to create a score, had charged into the centre square – leaving his man (Petrie) and made a vigorous contest in which Wright was felled. He was off the field for some minutes before returning. Port’s Tom Jonas, meanwhile, had also taken a knock to the noggin and was nursing his jaw, in an opening that was far from bruise free.
Yet North withstood the Port barrage and the loss of Ziebell and began to win territory and possession. Sam Gibson was the major ball magnet in the first half, while the eternally speedy Brent Harvey, initially deployed at half-back, sparked up. Ben Brown, surprisingly not selected in North’s opening round shocker against the Crows, booted two important goals in the first half. Brown provided a more viable target than Jarrad Waite. North recovered well enough to briefly snatch the lead early in the second quarter when Brown slotted one.
Port also held an significant edge in centre clearances (18-8 at one stage). One particularly clean break in the second term led directly to a Schulz goal – one of three Schulz majors from interference/holding frees agaisnt Scott Thompson. Snaps to White and Ebert enabled it to re-establish a decent buffer – 20 points at the main break.
The result, at this point, seemed certain. In their refusal to accept the script, the Roos probably impressed more in defeat than Port in victory. But at season’s end, only the outcome will matter.
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