Port Adelaide downs Hawks to stay top

PORT ADELAIDE 4.2 8.3 11.7 15.10 (100)
HAWTHORN
2.3 4.4 10.6 13.8 (86)
Goals: Port Adelaide: A Monfries 4 C Wingard 3 H Hartlett 2 R Gray 2 J Polec J Schulz K Mitchell T Boak. Hawthorn: J Gunston 3 L Breust 3 J Lewis 2 S Burgoyne 2 B Hartung G Birchall M Hallahan.
BEST Port Adelaide: Boak, Polec, Lobbe, Ebert, Wingard, White. Hawthorn: Lewis, Suckling, Puopolo, Burgoyne, Gunston, Breust.
Injuries: Port Adelaide: A Monfries (ankle). Hawthorn: B McEvoy (corked thigh).
Umpires: Robert Findlay, Luke Farmer, Brendan Hosking.
Official Crowd: 52,233 at Adelaide Oval.

We thought the premiership talk from the heart of the club during the week was merely arrogance, but Port Adelaide on Saturday night demonstrated beyond doubt it is a genuine contender by tossing Hawthorn before a South Australian record AFL crowd of 52,233 at Adelaide Oval.

The recent wins against two of the other top three sides from last year were great - Geelong by 40 points and a fortnight later Fremantle by 18 - and this one was just as good.

Undeniably, the Hawks had never been more vulnerable over the past three years, but while they got close enough in the last quarter, ultimately were not good enough.

The 14-point win ended Port's record run of five losses to Hawthorn, ticking another box in the club's revival and prompting coach Ken Hinkley to emphasise to the masses there is a long way to go.

The foundation of Port's success this season has been its belief and that ''we'll never give in'' attitude. Its players didn't stop, but when Hawthorn kicked four goals in seven minutes going into time-on of the third term to overturn a 30-point deficit and trail by seven at three-quarter time, you could at least see the fear of losing in their eyes. But when the Hawks kicked out on the full from two set shots in the opening two minutes, and then cruelly watched Hamish Hartlett slot two goals - the second with the help of 50 metres - it was like the heart had been ripped out of them. Keep trying they did, but now 20 points down and with Port again focused, the challenge was too great.

Port began sensationally. With two goals in the opening three minutes, the signs were there early. In many ways, it set the trend for the first half. While Hawthorn had some great moments, and looked very threatening with its superb strings of handballs, it was really catch-up play throughout.

There was a magnificent six-minute passage of play in the second term that also largely summed up this game - both sides producing a lot of clever play but then faltering with turnovers. With Port leading by 22 points at the nine-minute mark, a turnover by Port's Jasper Pittard gave Grant Birchall an easy goal, but minutes later Jay Schulz ran hard and delivered a magnificent tackle on Taylor Duryea that lead to Travis Boak kicking a goal.

We then saw some of the best creative and run-on work by Hawthorn, sifting handballs through a tight defence from half-back and Jack Gunston kicking a goal under pressure. Inspiring stuff, but as much as Hawthorn was able to keep Port within reach, the Power repeatedly found something else, topped off minutes before half-time when Chad Wingard, who is getting more exciting to watch every round, was sandwiched between two opponents and somehow handballed blindly over his head and found Gray running into the goalsquare.

At half-time Hawthorn led the tackle count 45-36, contested possessions 73-69, and had 27 more disposals, but the critical factor was the clearances with Port dominating 26-16.

The Power also had the edge at the centre clearance 8-5, but importantly it was the advantage it took with them compared with Hawthorn's chances.

The defences of both sides needed to work hard, and battle with courage they did, but it was the defensive pressure of the forwards that turned this game into a gripping contest.

Mitch Hallahan gave Port's Kane Mitchell hell with one of the best legal shirt fronts since the halcyon days of the tough men of football. Mitchell bounced back up and got on with the game.

Port's finest asset was its ability to win the hard ball in defence and find players like Jared Polec and Matt White who used their pace, indeed skill, to give their forwards every chance.

Hawthorn welcomed back Luke Hodge and Brad Sewell from injury, and while they did not star or produce anything close to their best, they contributed well with their leadership when it counted.

With so many first-choice players missing, it was an opportunity for the second or third-tier to step-up for the Hawks, but overall it was their regular key performers who did a lot of the hard yards, especially Josh Lewis, Shaun Burgoyne and Matt Suckling.

Port also had an excellent spread of talent on the night, and yet again was blessed by the leadership by example of Boak and Brad Ebert, with great support from Kane Cornes. Jackson Trengove played a huge role in holding Port's back line together.

The Power now remains top and brimming with confidence.

The story Port Adelaide downs Hawks to stay top first appeared on WA Today.

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