PORT Adelaide has exacted sweet revenge for last year's preliminary final loss, defeating reigning premier Richmond by just two points in a Friday night thriller.
Robbie Gray was once again the hero by coolly slotting the winning goal with four minutes to go, before the Power's defence held firm in the frantic final minutes in the 11.13 (79) to 11.11 (77) win in front of a heaving Adelaide Oval crowd.
POWER v TIGERS Full match coverage and stats
The match adds to the series of classics between these two sides in recent years and was a weirdly frenetic affair full of fumbles and fierce tackles. Port dominated the clearances and often forced the Tigers into one too many handballs, possibly a taste of their own medicine.
It was a banged-up Power by the end of the game, with Zak Butters (ankle) subbed off, Connor Rozee and Tom Clurey suffering corkies, Orazio Fantasia rolling his ankle and Xavier Duursma appearing to injure his knee in the dying minutes.
Richmond had become a strong clearance team by last year's finals series but was blown out of the water 36-24 by a powerful Port core of Travis Boak (29 disposals), Ollie Wines (27), Dan Houston and the elusive Butters.
Aliir Aliir and Jack Riewoldt (three goals) were locked in an intriguing battle, with both having claims to taking the chocolates at various stages.
Port Adelaide took an 11-point lead into the final break, but Dustin Martin wasn't ever going to lie down, brushing off debutant Lachie Jones to snap the first goal of the final quarter.
It cut the margin to five points, before Mitch Georgiades shook off his yips to kick a settler. Kane Lambert briefly took the lead until Gray's heroics just two minutes later.
Question marks remain over Richmond's defence without reliable interceptor Nick Vlastuin, but Bachar Houli (26) made a successful return to top-flight footy after tearing his calf in the Grand Final and skipper Trent Cotchin was outstanding in the stoppages.
Curiously for two well-established sides, there were three players making their debuts under Friday night lights. Birthday boy Lachie Jones' 17 touches were met with rapturous applause by the home crowd, and the NGA product was like a bull at a gate coming off half-back, barely blinking at the step up to the top level. Former Woodville-West Torrens teammate Rhyan Mansell was handy in the backline for Richmond, showing all the defensive traits that have held the Tigers in such good stead. Will Martyn worked hard and will be better for the run.
Swinging the changes
Kamdyn McIntosh has been a mainstay Richmond winger for quite some time now, and with Pat Naish not picked, there was no clear-cut replacement for the concussed runner. The Tigers employed a variety of players in the high-intensity role, including Jack Ross, Will Martyn, Shane Edwards and even Trent Cotchin. Marlion Pickett, Jayden Short and Liam Baker occupied the other wing. Coach Damien Hardwick threw Edwards into the centre after the main break, and it seemed to stem the flow of Port Adelaide's clearances somewhat.
The premiership quarter
It looked as if Port Adelaide had wasted its second-quarter dominance, kicking point after point, and Jason Castagna's lead-stealing goal at the start of the third seemed to confirm it. The Tigers normally dominate the latter part of quarters, but the Power found their radar, kicking three quick goals – punctuated by a stunning 60m bomb from Hamish Hartlett – to take an 11-point lead into the final term.
PORT ADELAIDE 3.3 6.10 9.12 11.13 (79)
RICHMOND 4.2 6.3 8.7 11.11 (77)
Port Adelaide: Motlop 2, Rozee 2, Butters, Duursma, Fantasia, Houston, Hartlett, Georgiades, Gray
Richmond: Riewoldt 3, Lambert 2, Bolton, Short, Castagna, Lynch, Martin, Aarts
Port Adelaide: Boak, Wines, Butters, Aliir, Lycett, Motlop
Richmond: Cotchin, Martin, Short, Houli, Broad, Bolton
Port Adelaide: Butters (ankle), Duursma (knee)
Port Adelaide: Marshall (ankle), replaced in selected side by Ladhams
Port Adelaide: Mayes (replaced Butters)
Richmond: Caddy (unused)
Crowd: TBC at Adelaide Oval