Photo: Nathan McNeill (NWM Sports)

By: Daniel Kelly (@UKurrie)

The Southport Sharks steamrolled the Northern Bullants in Round 13 of the 2022 VFL Premiership. At Preston City, on a glorious winter day, the impressive Queensland outfit won by 68 points, 20.14 (134) to 10.6 (66).

Shark Boyd Woodcock won the inaugural Alex Aurrichio Medal, awarded in memory of the former Northern Blues and Southport big man who left a lasting impression everywhere he went. Woodcock collected 34 disposals, 10 of them clearances, and kicked two goals.

The Bullants had some notable outs through injury and illness with Andrew Courtney, Tim Jones, Jaden Collins and Kyle Dunkley missing.

Kuiy Jiath, promoted to the Ants list in recent weeks made his debut playing mostly forward of centre. Also returning to the team was vice-captain Doug Lawrence, Tom Mills and Liam Kolar.

Mutaz El Nour started most centre resets on the wing before floating to a more traditional defensive role when the Sharks had the ball.

Ants midfield coach Jason Williams spoke of the rationale behind the tactical change for the Bullants star.

“Some days I honestly believe he’s superman,” Williams said. “He is so good in the air – if we can keep him around the middle of the ground, that way he gets to be around the ball a little bit more often, and he can bring his strength and his weapons to the game more often because that is where the ball is.”

“I hope that people external to the club notice (him). I think it would be a really good thing if he is playing at a higher level next year.”

El Nour would play his role well (15 disposals), as would captain Tom Wilson (33 disposals and a goal), Will Mitchell (26), Jean-Luc Velissaris (3 goals and 20 disposals), Liam Mackie – who played a more midfield role – (21 disposals) and Doug Lawrence (7 marks and 20 disposals) was stoic on a difficult day for the defenders.

In addition to goals from Murphy, Wilson and Velissaris, the Bullants would score majors through Nathan Honey (2), Jackson Barling, Jack Boyd, and Tom Mills.

Jack Boyd sits equal fifth on the VFL goalkicking table with 20 and Jackson Barling leads all others league wide with 77 tackles. Tom Wilson is fourth in the league for kicks, disposals and fantasy points; Matthew King is equal 7th for marks.

Williams also called out Liam Podhajski specifically for toiling in the ruck all day against quality opposition.

“He solo rucked,” Williams said. “… against two very, very good ruckmen. He stood up and did well for us.”

Williams felt the balance between taking the game on and possession football wasn’t being executed well in the two opening quarters.

“In the first half, we disposed the ball at under 50% – so we turned the ball over almost every second time,” he said. “On the flipside, we go into the third quarter and kicked the ball at a much higher percentage, and we kept the top side to zero goals… and kicked four ourselves.”

There was a clear message at quarter and half time from the coaches to move from an aggressive gamestyle to a more controlled one, but it would take until the third quarter before it was fully implemented.

“(In the third quarter) the boys really stuck to the task, took the feedback on, and really delivered on what we were trying to achieve. If you do those things right the scoreboard does look after itself.”

Inside 50s were a problem for the Bullants. For the Sharks, Woodcock, VFL Coaches Player of the Year Lead Jacob Dawson (24 disposals), Michael Mantiet (24), 100th gamer Fraser Thurlow (18), all ensured a constantly supply of ball into Southport’s attacking arc.

Doug Lawrence, Sean Martin, Ben De Bolfo, and the entire defensive core, did manage to stifle the quality of the shots as best they could – often ensuring long shots were punched over the line – but the relentless frequency told eventually.

To put a number on how much pressure the Bullants backmen were under, the Sharks had 71 inside-50’s to 35 at the end of the game.

“We generally have matchups,” Bullant defender and vice-captain Lawrence said of how the Preston side reacts in such a scenario. “But it’s more about communication. It’s calling one of the guys to fly while the others try to seal off and get the ground ball.”

Lawrence also felt that the second quarter was the undoing of the Ants.

“The second quarter as a whole,” he said. “We went into our shells and they really got a good roll on and basically set up the game there, and it was just uphill (for the Bullants) from there.”

It was an ominous beginning for the Ants when Southport piled on the first four goals of the match inside 12 minutes, but the Ants doggedly responded with goals through JL Velissaris, Billy Murphy and Jack Boyd.

The Ants resistance meant they were still in the game at quarter time 4.2(26) to the Sharks 6.2(38)

Tom Wilson continued the Ants momentum early in the second by goaling early. Some heat was coming into the game with frustrations boiling over and running battles persisting across the quarter between individuals from both sides.

The Sharks settled better and began picking off Ants errors and converting them into rebounding scores. After the game being in balance for long periods for the first half of the second quarter, the Sharks piled on the next eight goals to break the back of the Ants resistance.

The endeavour to move the ball quickly was admirable but the Sharks were dominant across half back, intercepting at will and ruthlessly punishing the home side.

At half time, the accurate Sharks led 14.5(89) to the Bullants 5.2(32).

The leading ball winners for the Bullants at half time were Tom Wilson (13), Will Mitchell (12), Liam Podhajski and JL Velissaris (both 9).

The Bullants would again start brightly at the start of the third quarter, obviously heeding the words of their coaches.

The home side moved the ball in a calmer more controlled manner, however they still did look to centre the ball whenever the opportunity presented. This differed from the first half when a play on first mindset was in use – but without the quality to take full advantage.

When Velissaris and Barling goaled the Bullants looked a match for their higher ranked opponents.

Tom Mills kicked his first goal for the day, using the breeze well from the city end grandstand side pocket, followed by Velissaris from a similar position, and the 57-point half time margin had been chiseled back to 36 points by three quarter time.

Southport had been held goalless in that quarter – 9.4 (58) – and the Ants moved to 14.10 (94).

The final quarter showed the quality that Southport possess, despite some good intent from the Bullants early. The game turned into a procession with Southport scoring with ease against a wilting defence with only Honey’s second goal providing any respite.

The Sharks would keep their march towards a potential Premiership on track with a 68-point win 20.14 (134) to 10.6 (66).

The Bullants actually moved off the bottom of the ladder thanks to Williamstown’s heavier loss to Sydney.

With fellow neighbours on the lower levels of the ladder, North Melbourne (at Arden St, Sunday 26th June), and the Seagulls (Preston City Oval, Sunday July 3rd), there is a chance the Ants can steal a march and build a platform for a strong finish.

Goals: Velissaris 3, Honey 2, Barling, Boyd, Mills, Murphy, Wilson

Best: Wilson, Velissaris, Podhajski, Mitchell, Lawrence