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Rockliff's Showdown welcome

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 12: Daniel Talia of the Crows is tackled by Tom Rockliff of the Power during the 2018 AFL round eight match between the Port Adelaide Power and the Adelaide Crows at Adelaide Oval on May 12, 2018 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Matt Turner/AFL Media)
ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 12: Daniel Talia of the Crows is tackled by Tom Rockliff of the Power during the 2018 AFL round eight match between the Port Adelaide Power and the Adelaide Crows at Adelaide Oval on May 12, 2018 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Matt Turner/AFL Media)

TOM ROCKLIFF tweeted on Saturday night “Showdowns are something special”.

He wasn’t telling anyone anything they didn’t already know, but it was a message that underlined what it meant for the Port Adelaide recruit to finally feel like he had arrived at the Power. And what playing well and winning a cliff-hanger in front of a big home crowd meant to him.

The sell-out Adelaide Oval crowd of 50,967 for Showdown #44, the fourth biggest in Showdown history, was the biggest of Rockliff’s 159-game AFL career.

And given that he’d spent the first nine years of his career with a Brisbane side starved of success, it would not be unreasonable to suggest it was the biggest and most significant game of his life.

It’s not that Rockliff didn’t have good times in Brisbane. He won the best & fairest in 2011 and 2014, was All-Australian in 2014, and represented Australia in the International Rules series in 2014 and 2015. And he captained the club in 2015-16.

But these were personal highlights. Not team highlights.

In 154 games for the Lions Rockliff played in just 46 wins. When they last played finals in 2009 he was a one-game rookie. He was overlooked at finals selection by then coach Michael Voss – now a Port Adelaide assistant coach.

Ironically, Rockliff’s career had started on the big stage in front of a 40,000-plus crowd against Collingwood at the MCG in Round 18 2009. But the Lions had lost.

Only five times in the next seven years did he play in front of 40,000 people again. And they lost them all.

Not until Round 15 last year, when Brisbane beat Essendon by eight points at Etihad Stadium, did Rockliff finally get a win in front of 40,000-plus, but by that time the Lions were on the bottom of the ladder and truth be known he’d probably already decided privately to leave the club.

And there wasn’t the twin satisfaction of playing a key role in a big win like he had last Saturday, when the 28-year-old inside midfielder had a team-high 31 possessions and a team-high nine tackles to earn five votes in the AFLCA Player of the Year Award.

After all, in the breakthrough win of Round 15 last year Rockliff had only 27 possessions.

‘Only’ is a relevant and accurate word only because Rockliff averaged 26.5 possessions per game for the Lions, and had 61 games of 30 possessions or more, including eight 40-possession games.

Kane Cornes is the only Port player to have had as many 30-possession games as Rockliff, and it took him nearly twice as many games.

Similarly, Rockliff also has earned 68 Brownlow medal votes. Only Travis Boak, Robbie Gray and Warren Tredrea among Port players have more.

But, most significantly, of Rockliff’s 61 games of 30-possessions plus he won only 19.

And, aside from two round 1 wins which put them temporarily in the top half of the ladder, the Lions never filled a spot in the top eight from Round 8 2010 until Rockliff’s departure.

His football career was undeniably incomplete.

So, whether he knew it or not, Rockliff’s post-match tweet after his fourth win in five Port games was more than appropriate because it marked the 50th win of his career.

Rockliff also grabbed a slice of Showdown history when he became the 14th Port player to have 30 possessions or more in a Showdown – and the first in his first Showdown.

Travis Boak leads the Port list of 30-possession Showdown games with five, followed by Kane Cornes (4), Josh Francou (3), Robbie Gray (3), Peter Burgoyne (2), Chad Cornes (2), Steven Salopek (2), Adam Kingsley (1), Fabian Francis (1), Nick Stevens (1), Shaun Burgoyne (1), Troy Chaplin (1) and Ollie Wines (1) and Rockliff (1).

Rockliff also now has the highest possessions per game average for all Port players in Showdown history. Easily. His one-game average of 31.0 heads Boak (24.29) and Wines (24.10).

Boak’s 24 possessions on Saturday saw him become the second Port player to top 500 possessions in Showdown football. He trails only Kane Cornes (580) in total Showdown possessions.

Rockliff shared his Showdown debut on Saturday with fellow newcomers Steven Motlop and Jack Watts, plus Riley Bonner.

This foursome were among 10 Port players to enjoy their first Showdown win after the Power ended a five-game Showdown losing streak. The others were Charlie Dixon, Sam Powell-Pepper, Dougal Howard, Tom Clurey, Darcy Byrne-Jones and Dan Houston.

In other noteworthy statistics to emerge from the early favourite for game of the year, six-goal hero Robbie Gray joined Josh Francou as Port’s only three-time winner of the Showdown Medal.

Gray also became the first Port player ever to kick five goals in a quarter when he turned the game on its head with a brilliant third quarter handful on Saturday, and with his game total of six goals jumped to the top of the Power’s Showdown goal-kicking list.

Gray now has 34 Showdown goals to head Warren Tredrea (30), Justin Westhoff (28), Brett Ebert (26), Chad Wingard (23), Jay Schulz (22), Shaun Burgoyne (20) and Chad Cornes (20).

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