By Peter Blucher
And then there were two. After 30 Queenslanders played in the 2021 Toyota AFL season only Port Adelaide pair Charlie Dixon and Aliir Aliir are “alive” at the penultimate round of the year.
Dixon and Aliir will fly the Queensland flag in Saturday night’s preliminary final against the Western Bulldogs in Adelaide after the first grand final qualifier between Melbourne and Geelong in Perth tonight will go without any Queensland flavor.
The Western Bulldogs and Geelong don’t have any Queenslanders on their playing list, and Oskar Baker, the only Queenslander on the Melbourne list, was not in selection contention. He has only played three games this year in Rounds 2-7-12.
But Dixon and Aliir could hardly be more important for the Power. An attacking powerhouse who was All-Australian in 2020 and an intercepting defender who was All-Australian in 2021. The key players at either end of the ground.
Dixon, a 176-game veteran in his 11th season, and Aliir, an 87-gamer in his sixth season, will be looking to secure a place in their first grand AFL grand.
And while it would be ludicrous to suggest one could want it more than the other, there is a little extra back story to the Aliir journey after he missed an AFL grand final with Sydney through injury in 2016.
In his first season at 22, he played his first three finals in his 11th, 12th and 13th AFL games. He was a good contributor with 16 possessions in a qualifying loss to GWS at Stadium Australia and a 21-possession standout in a semi-final in over Adelaide at the SCG.
But he strained his knee early in the preliminary final against Geelong at the MCG and saw little game time as the Swans qualified for the grand final against the Western Bulldogs.
He was always going to be up against it, and eventually the medical staff had no option but to rule him out of a premiership decider in which the Swans went into as warm favorites before losing to a rampaging Dogs outfit.
Aliir played a fourth final for Sydney in 20018 and, after an off-season switch to the Power, notched his fifth finals appearance a fortnight ago when he played a critical role in his side’s 43-point win over Geelong.
He took four intercept marks in the first quarter to set the tone of the match and finished with seven marks and 14 disposals at 100% efficiency. Critically, he had a game-high 11 intercept possessions.
While much of the planning of Dogs coach Luke Beveridge will have been about trying to quell the incident of All-Australian defender, Dixon will provide a similar headache at the other end of the ground.
The big ex-Cairns power forward will play his fifth final after moving from Gold Coast to Port in 2016, having started his finals journey on the wrong end of an extra-time loss to West Coast in 2017 when he was his side’s best player with 23 possessions and three goals.
A win/loss finals campaign followed last year before he played an outstanding team game in the qualifying final against Geelong, serving as the primary target up forward and more often than not at least bringing the ball to ground for the dangerous Port small brigade.
While Dixon’s team-high 46 goals, good enough for 10th spot on the League goal-kicking list, have been important, his ability to compete in the air and at ground level will be just as important.
At selection last night, Port coach Ken Hinkley named an unchanged 22 after forward Mitch Georgiades could not be considered due to a minor injury. Sam Powell-Pepper, the medical substitute a fortnight ago, is tipped to retain that job over fellow emergencies Sam Mayes, Tom Clurey and Jarrod Lienert.
Geelong coach Chris Scott name his semi-final sub Zac Guthrie to replace the injured Brendan Parfitt, and included Luke Dahlhaus, Shaun Higgins, Sam Simpson and back-up ruckman as emergencies.
There was more news to come out of selection for tonight’s first preliminary final between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs in Perth.
The Dogs lost key defender Alex Keath to a minor hamstring injury on top of Cody Weightman, who will serve the mandatory 12-day concussion protocol after a heavy hit against Brisbane a week ago.
Coach Luke Beveridge pulled a shock when he included ex-Brisbane ruckman Stefan Martin, who has played only once since Round 7 due to a string of injuries. Martin, who replaces part-time ruckman Lewis Young, will be asked to support Tim English in the ruck after the Dogs were man-handled badly by Brisbane ruckman Oscar McInerney last week.
Beveridge recalled Zaine Cory to replace Keath, and named Young in the emergencies with Ed Richards, Mitch Wallis and Anthony Scott.
Speculation in Melbourne overnight was that vice-captain Wallis, who has only played six games for the year and none since Round 17, is in line to be the medical substitute.
Melbourne included veteran Michael to replace the injured Joel Smith and left James Jordan, their medical sub in the qualifying final, out of the 22. Jordan is a chance to fill the same role after being named with ex-captain Nathan Jones, who hasn’t played since Round 15, Jake Melksham and Kade Chandler, who hasn’t played since Round 13.
Peter Blucher is a Consultant with Vivid Sport.