Richmond and Port Adelaide went toe-to-toe at Adelaide Oval on Saturday afternoon in the best game of the year thus far, with the reigning premier pitted against the ladder-leaders.
It was a game in which momentum swung like a pendulum, as the Power reinforced their claim as the best side this year, as it stormed to a 21-point win, the scoreboard reading, 13.15 (93) to 11.6 (72).
Noah Balta has played six games as a full-time key defender in 2020 and has improved and developed as each match has ticked by.
He’s played on the likes of Tom McDonald, Ben Brown, Jeremy Cameron and Eric Hipwood and has acquitted himself magnificently.
Balta’s blessed with athletic traits that would be the envy of most players in the league and he needed to call on all of them when tackling Port’s bearded behemoth, Charlie Dixon.
Dixon holds the moniker as the most dominant big man in the game in 2020 and lead all comers in the terms of contested marks with 32 going into the game, averaging 3.6.
This was a litmus test for Balta and it didn’t take long for the one-on-one battle to begin, Port’s first two inside 50s were directed at Dixon and Balta was right on his back shoulder.
The Tiger colt halved the two contests, before Dixon fought back, slotting 1.2 in the opening term, that could have been three-straight.
Such is the Richmond way, Balta remained positive and stuck to the task, but a weight of numbers meant Dixon eventually took the points.
Balta will learn and grow from the experience and in no way lowered his colours.
Port Adelaide played like a ladder-leader keen to confirm its credentials against the reigning premier.
The home side’s pressure was off the charts, as it trapped the Tigers in its front half and cashed in with the first four goals of the game.
The Tigers were rattled, but not rocked.
Richmond settled into the contest after Tom Lynch was gifted his first goal after two Power defenders spoiled each other and Lynch waltzed into the open goals.
Mabior Chol then ignited his side.
As Derek Eggmolesse-Smith streamed off the half-back line and looked up the field, he saw Chol tracking back towards Richmond’s goal on the far win, Eggmolesse-Smith drove the ball in his path.
Chol sets his eyes on the ball, spoiled it back with the flight then sprinted after it.
The athletic Tiger then tapped and scrapped the ball through half-forward, took the contact from a Port defender, tapped the ball inside 50, pick it up, took the brunt of a tackle then dished off the handball to Jack Riewoldt who snapped his first major.
It was one of the best passages of play for 2020 and showcased the traits and tricks that Chol has in his arsenal.
Riewoldt would kick another, and Richmond clawed its way back to be within seven points of Port by quarter-time.
The contest had a heavyweight feel to it and Ivan Soldo could attest to that after leaving the ground at quarter-time with a gash under his right eye after clashing heads with Robbie Gray.
The Tiger ruckman needed a “cut man” at the break to patch him up ready to resume the next round.
The pressure valve nearly blew off in the second term which was arguably the best quarter of footy for the season.
Both sides traded momentum, kicking four goals apiece, Riewoldt, Kane Lambert, Dustin Martin and Jake Aarts made the most of Richmond’s forward-50 entries and kept the Tigers within striking distance going into the second half.
Martin looked ever dangerous inside-50, having a direct hand in Lambert’s goal as he hulked his way through a forward-50 stoppage, firing off a handball to Lambert who snuck through a snapping goal.
The Tiger champ then snapped the go-ahead goal for his side after swooping on a 50/50 ball inside-50 and snapped truly across his left shoulder.
Liam Baker’s valorous effort to charge back with the flight of the ball in the path of a barnstorming Dixon will be etched in the memory of the Tiger Army from this contest.
Baker didn’t flinch or deviate and was poleaxed by Dixon but bounced to his feet like Rubber Man.
Port Adelaide, soothed and refreshed from the half-time break, burst away from the Tigers, and after Ollie Wines skated through a forward-50 stoppage unopposed and snapped a goal, the Power surged to a four-goal lead again.
Richmond needed a lifter - enter Aarts and Chol.
Aarts swooped and snapped like all good crumbing forwards do to give the Tigers the lift, Chol then dragged the margin back to within a straight kick with back-to-back goals.
Chol’s second goal was true forward craft, after shifting his opponent away from the drop of the ball and marking on his chest at the top of the square, he then eased through the goal.
Much to the delight of the scattering of Yellow and Black behind the goals.
Sydney Stack then handed Richmond back the lead after converting his set-shot and, after looking gone for the second time in the game, the Tigers showed why they’re the yard stick.
Richmond led by a solitary point at the final change.
The final term however was owned by the ladder leaders, with the ball parked in the Power’s half for pretty much the entire quarter.
The Tigers couldn’t clear the ball with purpose or composure, every possession was pressured and thus, most kicks or handballs hacked or rushed.
Port Adelaide won the midfield battle, especially clearing the centre square which allowed it to own the territory and then set-up behind it to thwart any Tiger attempt to extricate from the back-half.
The eventual margin was 21 points, as the Power confirmed their status as the pacesetters in 2020 and gave the reigning premier plenty of lessons to grow from.
Who was best on field?
Vote on your Gladiator of the Match to win a 2020 team-signed guernsey and VIP match day experience in 2021, thanks to Jeep!Enter now
PORT ADELAIDE 4.4 8.6 10.11 13.15 (93)
RICHMOND 3.3 7.3 11.6 11.6 (72)
Port Adelaide: Gray 3, Dixon 2, Ladhams 2, Amon, Butters, Houston, Rockliff, Wines, Woodcock
Richmond: Riewoldt 3, Aarts 2, Chol 2, Lambert, Lynch, Martin, Stack
Port Adelaide: Gray, Boak, Wines, Butters, Rockliff, Amon
Richmond: Bolton, Short, Riewoldt, Vlastuin, Chol
Port Adelaide: Rozee (heel) replaced in selected side by Sutcliffe