PLENTY has changed in football in the past year – and that's before taking into account the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Port Adelaide ventured to Marvel Stadium in the penultimate round last season and copped an almighty hiding from a North Melbourne side enjoying a renaissance under new coach Rhyce Shaw.
POWER SURGE A GAME CLEAR Full match coverage and stats
The Power returned the favour barely 12 months later, albeit not quite as comfortable or emphatic, as they move closer to locking away the minor premiership.
They put their rivals away with a four-goal burst in the opening quarter and another five goals in a row in the third term to eventually post a 11.12 (78) to 6.6 (42) victory that was decided a long way out.
As for Shaw's Roos, they've now lost six straight games and 12 of 13 since upsetting Greater Western Sydney in the first game back from the season suspension.
North started well and finished much the same, but Travis Boak's latest star showing spearheaded Port Adelaide's 12th triumph of a season that ensures it will enter the finals with confidence.
Boak (34 disposals, nine clearances) wasn't alone, with midfield battering rams Ollie Wines (30, seven) and Tom Rockliff (31, nine tackles) also winning a mountain of the Sherrin in the middle.
The Power won the centre clearances 15-3, with Scott Lycett also getting the better of his ruck match-up with Todd Goldstein, who was brilliant in the corresponding clash last year.
The only concern for Port out of the contest will be Zak Butters' high hit on Jy Simpkin in the third quarter, which sidelined the Kangaroo for the rest of the night.
There was still a bit to like for Shaw, who spoke of searching for "little wins" during the week.
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Prized midfielder Luke Davies-Uniacke certainly delivered one of those, winning a match-high 16 contested possessions among his 23 disposals.
Ben McKay also performed an admirable job on Power forward Charlie Dixon, while Jed Anderson (24, six tackles) and Robbie Tarrant (20, 10 intercept possessions) were good as well.
Glancing blow ends Simpkin's night
North Melbourne lost primemover Jy Simpkin for good in the third quarter after copping a high hit at speed from Zak Butters. Simpkin accepted a handball from Luke Davies-Uniacke, spun around and Butters charged through, collecting him in the head with his shoulder. Some graphic vision followed, with Simpkin staggering, then collapsing to the ground. He jumped up, although he looked glassy eyed, and brushed off Roos trainers, including Jona Segal, for a while before eventually going to the bench. The club's medicos ruled the 22-year-old out for the night off the vision and confirmed soon after he had sustained a concussion. As for Butters, one of Port Adelaide's best players this season, he can expect to have some time off. The Power lost injury-prone defender Ryan Burton to a quadriceps issue before quarter-time.
Shades of Judd?
Stay with me here. Luke Davies-Uniacke pounced on and pinched a Zak Butters handball at half-back in the last minute of the opening quarter. He took off through the centre and left his Port Adelaide opponents in his dust, including Dan Houston, before dishing a handball to Jack Ziebell. He doesn't quite have dual Brownlow medallist Chris Judd's pace – how many do? – but the way he arched his back and put on the afterburners had some similarities to the retired West Coast and Carlton great. At this stage, that and the fact they were both top-five draft picks is basically all Davies-Uniacke has in common with Judd, but Kangaroos fans are hoping he'll anchor their midfield for the next decade. Saturday night's game was another step in the right direction.
Just a couple of veterans in deep discussion
High-profile pair Robbie Gray and Jack Ziebell had a forthright, but amicable interaction on the tick of half-time after a physical tussle immediately beforehand. Ziebell's North Melbourne teammate Nick Larkey had already been awarded a free kick, but the Sherrin bounced away and Ziebell gently bowled Gray over. Ziebell then continued after the ball, only for Gray to toss him into the ground. The conversation started there, with Ziebell defending his original bump and even demonstrating how he performed it, but neither seemed to budge before Ziebell let out a wry grin. It's all good fun between two wily veterans who combine for 449 games worth of experience.
NORTH MELBOURNE 1.2 2.2 4.4 6.6 (42)
PORT ADELAIDE 4.2 4.5 10.8 11.12 (78)
North Melbourne: Goldstein, Zurhaar, Larkey, Hall, Walker, Wood
Port Adelaide: Dixon 2, Wines 2, Motlop, Butters, Amon, Gray, Rozee, Boak, Powell-Pepper
North Melbourne: Davies-Uniacke, Tarrant, Anderson, McKay, Higgins, McDonald
Port Adelaide: Boak, Wines, Lycett, Rockliff, Byrne-Jones, Powell-Pepper, Butters
North Melbourne: Simpkin (concussion)
Port Adelaide: Burton (quadriceps)