Power hold off Cats fightback in AFL thriller

Shayne Hope |

Port Adelaide roared to a huge early lead before clinging on in a thriller against Geelong.
Port Adelaide roared to a huge early lead before clinging on in a thriller against Geelong.

Port Adelaide have withstood a crazy second-half fightback to hold on for a thrilling six-point away win over Geelong, spoiling Tom Hawkins’ record-equalling 355th appearance for the Cats.

The Power shocked their hosts with eight first-quarter goals in a stunning early blitz to lay the platform for their 15.11 (101) to 14.11 (95) triumph on Friday night at Geelong’s GMHBA Stadium.

They led by as much as 49 points during the second quarter before Geelong mounted a serious response, gradually cutting the margin back to one straight kick late in the final term.

There was last-gasp drama as Jeremy Cameron was denied a goal on the line when play was called back for a free kick to teammate Ollie Henry, who snapped a behind from the pocket.

It was the final score of the game as undermanned Port – missing skipper Connor Rozee among four injury-enforced changes – held on for their first win at Kardinia Park since 2007.

Zak Butters.
Acting captain Zak Butters stood up for Port in the absence of injured skipper Connor Rozee. (Julian Smith/AAP PHOTOS)

The result gave the Power a 6-3 record ahead of a home clash with Hawthorn next week, while Geelong (7-2) have now lost successive games after opening the campaign with seven straight wins.

“We played a pretty strong first half and hung tough in the second half,” proud Port coach Ken Hinkley beamed post-match.

“We knew they play aggressive offence and they get out the back really easy and really quickly, and they’re well drilled.

“I was just really proud of the boys to find some energy after last week (a loss to Adelaide) and come down on the hardest road trip and get the result … It’s a big win for us.”

Willie Rioli equalled his career-best haul with four goals for Port as Ollie Wines (33 disposals, nine clearances) and acting captain Zak Butters (34, seven) stood up in Rozee’s absence.

Jason Horne-Francis (26 touches, seven clearances) was best afield in the first half before Geelong’s tactical substitute Oisin Mullin – brought on for ruckman Rhys Stanley during the second term – limited his influence after the main break.

Former Geelong defender Esava Ratugolea held ex-teammate Hawkins to just seven touches as the veteran forward drew level with fellow club legend Joel Selwood’s games record for the Cats.

Hawkins ended his unprecedented four-match goal drought with a second-quarter major but put another set shot out on the full.

Tom Hawkins.
Tom Hawkins ended on the losing side in his record-equalling 355th game for the Cats. (Julian Smith/AAP PHOTOS)

Defender Zach Guthrie (24 disposals), Tyson Stengle (four goals) and roaming forward Cameron (18 touches, one goal) were among the Cats’ best.

Geelong coach Chris Scott lamented his side’s response to Port’s red-hot start, when the Cats gave up a 25-point head-start in the opening nine minutes.

They conceded the highest first-quarter score to a visiting team at Kardinia Park since 1983, trailing 8.2 to 3.3 at the first break.

But the Cats clawed their way back into the contest with six goals to two in the third quarter and three to one in the last.

“In the end it was probably a bit of luck either way that was the difference towards the end of the game,” Scott said.

“It certainly wasn’t the difference early in the game.

“To give ourselves a chance to win is something that I’m proud of but we’re not walking away from the game happy, that’s for sure.”

AAP