GOOD starts do matter. Same with big finishes.

After book-ending a six-goal opening term with a seven-goal final quarter, Port Adelaide has further closed the gap in its once-awful win-loss ledger. It has turned from 0-5 to 4-5 on the back of four consecutive victories.

The latest - by 69 points against lowly ranked North Melbourne at Bellerive Oval on Saturday afternoon - was crafted by Port Adelaide making a much-needed flying start that changes the repetitive narrative of Season 2022.

On the good start and finish fashioned on winning contested football and setting up a strong forward-half game with team defence, Port Adelaide outscored North Melbourne 13.7 to 2.3 in the first and last terms. In between, it was almost square - 4.4 to 4.7, in North Melbourne's favour by three behinds.

Port Adelaide started with a 32-point advantage - and held it. That good start created a five-goal buffer that held through the second and third terms until Port Adelaide busted the North Melbourne shackles for a determined finish built on being stronger at the contest on a slippery deck in Hobart.  

"We had to be ruthless in the contest," said acting captain Ollie Wines, who had 16 contested possessions in his game-high count of 32 disposals. "That turned the tide in the last quarter."

04:12 Mins
Published ago

Ken Hinkley press conference - 14 May 2022 | PTV

Ken Hinkley speaks to the media following our Round 9 win.

Published ago

Port Adelaide finished the match ranked 10th on the AFL live ladder that significantly notes the percentage column has moved to positive territory of 100-plus (108.8 to be precise) for the first time this season after being at a horrid 69.5 at the end of round 4.

The question of how Port Adelaide sets up inside the forward-50 arc on the impending return of All-Australian key forward Charlie Dixon has become more of a "pleasant" headache. And not just by the new three-man combination in attack combining for eight goals against North Melbourne - Jeremy Finlayson with two, Todd Marshall with three and Mitch Georgiades realigning his goalkicking radar for 3.1 (after 0.4 last week).

The other key statistic that counts with this triple threat of go-to forwards is their combined count of 12 marks inside the forward-50 arc. The team total was a significant 22 marks inside-50.

And there was the return of Brownlow Medallist midfielder Wines as a scoring threat around the goalfront. It was Wines' turn with the yips as he finished with 2.3 (with one hit post) on a ground that was well softened by overnight rain but unaffected by any wind.

Port Adelaide set the agenda in this game from the opening bounce that was won by novice ruckman Sam Hayes with the clearance secured by Zak Butters.

The start was critical because it has been an agenda item at Alberton for more than a month (after Port Adelaide had managed to hold leads at quarter-time in just two of the first eight games of this home-and-away season). But there also was the need to deal with whatever North Melbourne had brewing after a week of extreme scrutiny on its coach David Noble, his gameplan and the state of North Melbourne's rebuild.

That response from North Melbourne did emerge - a quarter too late, after Port Adelaide had established a five-goal lead at quarter-time that was cut down by a behind to 31 points at half-time after North Melbourne had set up sounder defensive resistance to stop being exposed while the Port Adelaide midfielders and half-forwards created space. Menacing in that space was Sam Powell-Pepper who continues to be a major disruptor with his aggressive passion for the contest and the ball.

02:04 Mins
Published on

Pirate Life Post Match: Ollie Wines | PTV

We speak to Ollie Wines after our Round 9 win against North Melbourne

Published on

The six-goal opening was Port Adelaide's most-productive first quarter since the seven-goal start against Fremantle at Adelaide Oval in round 11 last year when Dixon was the main man inside forward-50. This time, with Dixon staying at Alberton to keep building his base after two rounds of ankle surgery this year, the 32-point advantage on North Melbourne was built by a Port Adelaide attack offering many targets and a midfield seeing them.

"Without Dixon (as a commanding beacon in attack)," noted Jay Schulz, the man who was the go-to target in the Port Adelaide goalsquare from 2010-2016, "they look at other options."

It has been a work in progress, knowing how to complete the connection between a busy Port Adelaide midfield - that set the agenda early by winning the clearance 12-9 in the first term - to make the forwards busy on the scoreboard.

There were nine options taken up - in a raffle-like carve up of the North Melbourne defence - in the first term, including a defender who took advantage of Port Adelaide setting up a strong forward-half game. Darcy Byrne-Jones scored Port Adelaide's fourth goal, from a free kick on the boundary, to score his seventh career goal - and first since the second Showdown of Season 2018.

The big three - Georgiades, Marshall and Finlayson - have shared the challenge of covering the absence of Dixon; they all had significant opening moments against a challenged North Melbourne defence.

Mitch Georgiades had a equal game-high three goals in the win. Image: AFL Photos.

Georgiades overcame the nagging of the yips by scoring goals from his first two attempts - the first on the run after being set up by Robbie Gray and the second from a set shot with his goalkicking routine back to perfection.

Certainly perfect on the set shot was Marshall, who now has an 85 per-cent conversion rate after taking his season tally to 17.3 with his 3.1. And Finlayson was sharp in understanding when to take the ball in an aerial contest and when to move it on to team-mates, such as Gray, who were better placed in space.

Finlayson certainly was in the mindset for tapping the ball as he shifted from attack to ruck duties to support fifth-game lead ruckman Sam Hayes in the enormous battle with experienced North Melbourne ruckman Todd Goldstein and Richmond recruit Callum Coleman-Jones.

Hayes' confidence was charged by his win of the first centre tap that went to the advantage of Butters. He finished with 32 hit-outs (Goldstein had 26) in a match that had the umpires making ruck infringements their "rule of the day".

Hayes' strength was in his leap. Goldstein's advantage was in his big engine and his body work to command front position at field bounces, except against Powell-Pepper who from the third term smartly played the 201-centimetre powerhouse side-by-side.

Sam Hayes battling with Todd Goldstein. Image: AFL Photos.

Ultimately, the more interesting ruck duels were those in the centre between Hayes and Callum-Jones who have started a contest that could build to rivalry for the next decade.

The final count of inside-50s - Port Adelaide 61, North Melbourne 43 - is a reflection of the repeat inside-50s Port Adelaide chalked up while North Melbourne became trapped in its defensive half of the field and struggled on the rebound.

Many of North Melbourne's kicks from defence were costly, probably none more so than the chip kick in time-on of the third term to the unmarked Powell-Pepper. His goal from the set shot - Port Adelaide's ninth of the game - punished the Kangaroos after Noble's men had worked hard to choke the match.

Powell-Pepper's goal put the margin at 33 points, although it would have been in the 50s had Port Adelaide not opened the quarter with four misses for three behinds. The final-quarter charge with 7.2 did clean up the efficiency rate to leave a final score of 17.13 after Port Adelaide was rarely better than 50 per cent in conversion during the first three terms.

Orazio Fantasia returned to AFL ranks - after knee surgery during the pre-season - as the medical substitute. For all the attention that is on Port Adelaide's use of the medical substitute this season, Port Adelaide did not activate Fantasia after medical checks on defender Lachie Jones (shoulder) and Georgiades (ankle) during the match.


PORT ADELAIDE    6.5    8.8      10.11   17.13 (115)

NORTH MELBOURNE     1.2     3.7        5.9       6.10   (46)

BEST - Port Adelaide: Wines, Rozee, Powell-Pepper, Amon, Finlayson, Burton.

GOALS - Port Adelaide: Georgiades, Marshall 3, Duursma, Finlayson, Motlop, Wines 2, Byrne-Jones, Farrell, Powell-Pepper.

INJURY - None.

MEDICAL SUBSTITUTE: Orazio Fantasia (not activated)

CROWD: 5114 at Bellerive Oval, Hobart.

NEXT: v Geelong at Kardinia Park, Geelong on Saturday