Captains and game advisors mill around in the middle of the field while Perth Power Coach Max Halden seeks a second disc for the toss.
Hoods are up, collars are turned to the wind, rain comes in sideways. It’s the kind of weather that umbrellas are afraid of. Halden takes three goes to complete the one-metre upwind backhand. Though vehemently and somewhat justifiably pointing blame at the receiver when I grilled him for comment, these opening moments do not bode well for the game to come.
The good thing about the AUL Stadium, though, is that it is capable of accommodating all four seasons in the space of thirty minutes. And though Ryan Davey has to brace himself against the wind and the rain as he runs down his barely past-half first pull, and though the first few points feature otherwise unimaginable Alex Gan turnovers, the winds eventually calm and brighten and allow for an exciting conclusion to round one of the Australian Ultimate League.
Breaks are traded in the first half, and though the Power make a few attempts to pull away, Canberra cling on. Dawson, in particular, has a blinder, and makes a number of critical blocks and assists to keep Perth within reach. There was a suggestion that this game would come down to chemistry, and though are certainly moments of brilliance, speed and flow from the Perth Power, short-field turnovers are an unsustainable offensive strategy. In the unfriendly conditions and with mess in the lane, Perth struggle to move it out of their own endzone and the Canberra Freeze are quick to capitalise, taking half 7-6 (on serve).
Six throwaways and four drops was the self-inflicted damage in the first half for Perth, with five salt-in-the-wounds Canberra blocks to boot. Though turnovers continued to plague both teams in the second term, the Perth Power was giving it up cheaply in their own half. They seemed to flick a switch around the 10-7 mark and really ramped up the defensive intensity. There were layouts, heads up blocks and one particularly sheepish (but quickly uncontested) Shepherd foul, and though this earned the Power plenty of disc, they were unable to regain the lead. The Freeze closed out the game with a handful of deep looks and Abbie Dawson assists, with a final score of 13-9.
Once Max Halden had saved face re: his poor one-metre upwind passes, he told me that there was a lot to take out of the game. He explained that part of the Perth strategy was to take advantage of the conditions and “offer Canberra some high-risk options, but to their credit, they pulled them off.”
“It can make a huge difference when a team can complete what we might otherwise consider low-percentage options. I think our team adapted well to the broad range of conditions thrown at them in just one game, but it was the Canberra team that handled them better.”
Despite the four-point deficit, the Perth Power’s offence looked almost like a liquid at times. Quick disc movement through the hands of Davey, Martens, Brereton and Gan made easy work of the space created by the 6v6 format. Pete Eley continued his goal-scoring WUCC form and bagged four while Osborn took home two. The ‘Ganimal‘ threw four assists, and Brereton contributed two. And though the stats aren’t necessarily reflective of it, Deluca and Murray-Yong made a lot of connective passes in the midfield.
Notably, Alex Shepherd was forced into a handler role by the downfield strength of the Power. Though undeniably capable at the back, I think most viewers at home would have been disappointed not to see him clap-catch goals with inexplicably large amounts of separation, as we’ve become so accustomed to seeing. Perhaps the introduction of Masarei can relieve the pressure at the back and AShep will be unleashed on his hometown on Saturday.
A disappointing result in tough conditions for the Power, but plenty of space to grow in the coming weeks.
Will the Power find their feet and move the disc consistently? Will AShep break the sound barrier and catch a goal? Will Max Halden’s one-metre backhands improve?
Find out September 15 at 7:00pm when Perth take on the Sydney Suns in Round 2!
Written by: Gus Macdonald
Photo by: Pat Thorpe