As the final siren sounded Port Adelaide fans and players alike celebrated for the first time in a long time. The Power pulled off a nail biter to hold off St Kilda by four points in the final match of round one, starting their 2012 season in fantastic fashion.
Kicking into a breeze that held a probable two or three goal advantage, Port raced out of the gate kicking the opening goal courtesy of John McCarthy. Justin Koschitzke got the start he wanted after a poor 2011 and responded soon after with a good grab a goal for the Saints.
A Nick Riewoldt turnover resulted in Jay Schulz marking strongly and scoring before John Butcher crumbed a Schulz marking contest and ran into an open goal just 10 seconds later.
Chad Wingard was exciting on debut and showed a running ability that will be dangerous at the AFL level. He found himself unmarked in the forward half and waltzed into a goal from 55 meters out.
Schulz took a second inside-50 mark and scored again as Port started to run away with a big lead but a Koschitzke mark and goal reduce the Port advantage to 32-12 at the end of the first in a quarter that saw them dominate the ball across the entire ground.
Stephen Milne soon forgot about his single possession opening quarter and kicked his 491st goal to begin the second as the Saints began to improve across the field. Leigh Montagna walked into an open goal from 40 before Rhys Stanley got them within a single point.
In his first game with Port after beginning his career with West Coast, Brad Ebert was able to break a 24 minute goal drought in what was an impressive debut for the youngster. Travis Boak added a second consecutive goal and gave the Adelaide side a bit of breathing room.
Shutdown by Jacob Surjan for much of the night, Milne finally found some luck when he ended up very alone in the goal square with the ball and converted his second and final goal of the evening. Back in the middle, Port quickly cleared the ball and Butcher got another when he ran into an open goal of his own after an advantage decision was awarded for a push in the back to Schulz during the marking contest.
But for a second time the Saints were able to bring the deficit down to the slimmest of margins. A Del Santo major courtesy of a rare Milne pass and a high contact free kick to Riewoldt close to goal cut the Port lead to just two points. They went in front moments before halftime when a Saints player wasn’t penalized for a push in the back a Clint Jones ran into an open goal, finishing a nine goal to eight quarter for the Saints.
Daniel Stewart took a brilliant pack mark before the square and kicked a goal in the third quarter, enabling Port to retake the lead.
Hayes set up another for Port by giving away a 50 that put Justin Westhoff in range. Though accurate with his disposal, it wasn’t a pretty return for the 32-year-old in his first game since last year’s awful knee injury. He had just the 16 possessions, made a few errors and took a couple of hard knocks in a rough comeback game for the former star.
Goals to Koschitzke and Milera kept St Kilda in the game but Port debutants Ebert and McCarthy combined for a late reply.
Westhoff took a grab on the goal line and helped Port to handy 11 point lead before substitute Rodan, also returning from a knee injury, marked and goaled, seemingly giving Port the lead for good.
Del Santo was hit from behind in a marking attempt and he was able to get one back. A late snap by Riewoldt with under two minutes remaining brought them within three points but it was a too little, too late scenario for the Saints and Port held on to win.
Surjan was fantastic for Port Adelaide. He put his body on the line time after time, shutdown Milne and anchored a solid defense. Rodan was activated as the sub in the third and had an instant impact with his ability to run with the ball while Schulz provided a good target up front for much of the night. It was a perfect start for a side that won only three games in 2011 and Port have an aggressive side capable of a much better season this season.
First game coach Scott Waters didn’t start his career in the fashion he would have liked and although the Saints aren’t as good as they were when they lost to Collingwood in the 2010 Grand Final, they remain a squad capable of much more. Another test looms next weekend when they host reigning premiers Geelong, coming off an upset loss of their own.