Main content

Gawn's day of celebration turns into a nightmare

Max getting mowed over by Power Port Adelaide have placed a real emphasis on bothering Max Gawn in his milestone game

SATURDAY was meant to be a day of celebration for Max Gawn. The Melbourne ruckman was back on the MCG and after a stuttering start to his career he had reached his 100-game milestone and, just across town, his new wine bar was opening.

Added to that, it was the first game the All Australian ruckman would be playing under the AFL's new rules which, as we have heard all summer, were expected to benefit teams with dominant big men.

With the space afforded to midfield units through regimented starting positions, clubs with star ruckmen could be expected to feed their on-ballers to quick and clean centre clearances. Port Adelaide, clearly, had heard the same thing.

POWER UPSET DEES Full match coverage and stats

Gawn averaged 45 hit-outs a game last season in the best year of his career, but the Power made sure he wouldn't open his 2019 campaign in the same fashion. It was a vital factor in Port's upset 26-point win.

Opposing ruckmen Paddy Ryder, in a helmet to protect his fractured cheekbone, and new recruit Scott Lycett, his first time at the ground since last year's premiership win for West Coast, worked over Gawn in spurts.

But it wasn't just a two-man job. Port assistant coach Michael Voss said at half-time the Power had spent plenty of time during the week focusing on limiting Gawn's influence, and that message spread throughout the side.

Power players bumped, bullied, nudged and annoyed Gawn as often as they could.

Scott Lycett and Max Gawn prepare for a ruck contest. Picture: AFL Photos

He was flattened behind play on one occasion, and then, later in the second term, when Ryder rushed ahead of Gawn and created a Port goal, the Power were quick to let Gawn know of his error.

Even the Power's batch of new faces, including top-five pick Connor Rozee, were in the face of Gawn at half-time as the sides ran off the field for their main break. There was little resistance from the Dees.

Gawn has become one of the competition's most famous faces (and beards). He is omnipresent – on TV ads, in supermarket aisles, at coffee shops, serving jaffles, writing columns and suiting up for football programs.

'I DIDN'T WANT TO GET OUT OF BED' Watts' emotional post-match interview

But it has all been due to his own flourishing as a player. Gawn is central to Melbourne's mix: the conductor of a powerful, talent-laden and brilliant midfield and a key plank in its premiership pursuit.

Port nullified that influence on Saturday, keeping the 27-year-old to 21 hit-outs – the lowest tally Gawn has had in a game since round 21, 2017 when he had 19 against St Kilda. Ryder and Lycett both had 16 hit-outs each.

Rozee's confidence was emblematic of a fresh and new-look Port line-up that believed it could start the season with an upset and delivered.

ALL THE HIGHLIGHTS Demons v Power

The speedy half-forward was one of four debutants and 11 changes to Port's side from round 23 last year. He showed why the Power grabbed him with their first selection last year by finding 18 disposals.

Fellow first-round picks Zak Butters (two goals) and Xavier Duursma (17 disposals and a goal) were also impressive, while former Hawk Ryan Burton (26 disposals) also mopped up well across half-back.

 

Heading into the season, Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley was uncertain about how his side would fare, such is the change the club has faced in the previous two seasons.

But Hinkley and the Power will head back to Adelaide with far more confidence for what 2019 could hold after dismantling a premiership favourite.