The two clubs have already contributed to one of the games of the year, in round 11 when the Power made a statement with a 21-point win at home. The Tigers led by a point at the final change but the Power responded with three quick goals to take control of the contest. This will be a vastly improved Tigers’ unit in terms of personnel, for premiership stars Trent Cotchin, Bachar Houli, Shane Edwards and Dion Prestia were among those who didn’t play last time. But there is still much to reflect upon.
The Tigers were beaten for disposals by more than 80, hammered in the clearances and crunched 55-24 in inside 50s. They cannot expect to win if there is a reprisal of the 20-5 centre-clearance advantage the Power enjoyed. Jack Riewoldt booted three goals and Shai Bolton was also influential for the Tigers, while Ollie Wines and Travis Boak were dominant for the Power. Tom Rockliff, Zak Butters and Robbie Gray were also impressive.
For the Power, it’s hard to go past Steven Motlop. The former Cat can be streaky but his three goals against Geelong were instrumental in the win. His ability to provide dash and a moment of genius, whether that be scooping up a loose ball, weaving through traffic or having a shot for goal, can turn a contest. But to be truly effective, he needs Charlie Dixon to ensure the ball hits the turf should the key forward not be able to mark. The Power’s clever crumbers were pivotal in round 11, and that, in part, was because of Dixon, who booted 2.4 but gave his teammates every chance to pounce.
For the Tigers, if Houli can run and create from half-back, the Power will be in trouble. Houli was dominant against the Saints and he is a crucial link to the midfield or just pounding the ball long inside attacking 50, where the Tigers flourish from “chaos” kicks. Houli had yet to join the Tigers’ hub when these sides last met, for he had remained at home for family reasons. But he appears set to have a major role in this latest contest.
The Power must not allow the Tigers to take intercept marks in their defensive 50, for their ability to counterattack from this is the foundation of their game. If they need a guide on how to do this, they need look no further than how the Lions went about their business. Brisbane’s forwards made every contest a tough one, at worst bringing the ball to ground. Charlie Cameron was also able to take Dylan Grimes out of his comfort zone, for the veteran Tiger enjoys being the deepest defender, almost in a goalkeeper role. Without Grimes at “home”, the Tigers’ set-up behind the ball lacked its typical shape. The Saints tried to exploit the Tigers by switching play but could not do this enough.
The Power laid 69 tackles on the Cats and will look to physically unsettle the Tigers, who haven’t reacted well when challenged in this regard. They have conceded more 50-metre penalties than any side this year and have also been one of the worst offenders in terms of conceding goals from free kicks.
The Tigers need to at least match Port Adelaide hardnuts Boak and Wines at the contest in a bid to deny the Power’s run. Can the Power’s tall defenders Tom Clurey, Tom Jonas and Trent McKenzie handle Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch?
Tough one. Tigers supporters are entitled to have full faith and it would be no surprise should they win and prepare for their third grand final in four years. But the Power have done nothing wrong and there is no doubt having strong home support is an advantage. A win here and Ken Hinkley can rubber-stamp a new long-term contract. The Power by two points.
Jon Pierik is cricket writer for The Age. He also covers AFL and has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.