They will never tear us apart! But Kochie might do it as an inside job

Josh Elliott Editor

By , Josh Elliott is a Roar Editor

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    Port Adelaide’s 2017 season went from being surprise finalists to ending in disaster and disappointment. It’s clear the team is not yet good enough to be a flag contender, so how do they get there?

    AFL list management series
    18 – Brisbane Lions
    17 – Gold Coast Suns
    16 – Carlton Blues
    15 – North Melbourne Kangaroos
    14 – Fremantle Dockers
    13 – Collingwood Magpies
    12 – Hawthorn Hawks
    11 – St Kilda Saints
    10 – Western Bulldogs
    9 – Melbourne Demons
    8 – Essendon Bombers

    2017 in short

    There were very low expectations for Port Adelaide in 2017, so for them to start off the year in ripping form and ultimately finish well entrenched in the top eight was a result that, if you had offered it to fans at the start of the year, most would have gladly taken.

    However it ended in disappointment. Despite having a great record against the league’s lower-ranked sides, the club struggled to get wins over other top eight sides, and that was again the case when they fell two points short in their elimination final on Saturday night.

    The improvements of costy recruits Paddy Ryder and Charlie Dixon allowed Port Adelaide to improve this year, as did the addition of rising star Sam Powell-Pepper, but there’s no mistaking the fact that a fairly soft fixture helped their cause as well.

    Charlie Dixon Port Adelaide Power AFL 2017

    (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

    Coach

    Ken Hinkley has been in the job at Port Adelaide for five years now and his reign has been something of a rollercoaster, one that fans have gotten a bit sick of.

    The first two years were incredible – in the space of 24 months he took a team that was an absolute basketcase to being just one kick away from the grand final.

    However, they went on a downhill slope after that, and missed finals for the next two years in a row. Despite being contracted well in advance, there was talk of his head being on the chopping block in 2017 if things didn’t improve.

    Things did improve – a fifth-place finished after home-and-away, the second-best percentage in the competition, second most points for and second least points against – all impressive achievements.

    However an exit in the first week of finals was less than what fans expected to get out of September and it hasn’t taken long for murmurs to begin again.

    There was a little rumour around too that Gold Coast might look to poach Hinkley to be their next senior coach. He was an assistant there before he joined Port Adelaide.

    However, Hinkley is contracted to the Power until the end of 2018, and despite the disappointment of losing the elimination final, the club is reportedly set to extend his contract sometime over the offseason.

    Is it the right call? I’d wager yes – while Port Adelaide has some concerns, I believe they lie more in the area of list management than coaching. Hinkley did better than most thought possible this year and deserves a new deal.

    Ken Hinkley Port Adelaide Power AFL 2017

    (Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    Captain

    Travis Boak has led the Power for the five years that Ken Hinkley has, and generally speaking has done well – his own form has been great in that time, and the club has achieved more in that five years than they might have expected to at the end of 2012.

    You’d expect Boak will remain captain for at least 2018 and maybe longer, but given that he is 29 now they will need to start planning for the future and have their eye on who is going to be the club’s next captain.

    Ollie Wines may only be 22 but he looks like the obvious choice. Port should be looking to sign him up for the long term and have him take over leadership in about two years time.

    List management

    When Port Adelaide bounced back in 2013, recovering from being remarkably bad in both 2011 and 2012 to play finals and even win one over Collingwood in the first week, we looked at their list and thought wow – there is so much young talent here.

    Fast forward four years later and the situation could hardly be more different. Players who were 25 or 26 and entering their prime are now 29 and 30, at the latter end of it, and have fallen well short of the successs we thought they could have.

    And, while Port has promising talents like Chad Wingard and Ollie Wines with the best years of their career to come, there’s a noticeable lack genuine youth on the list.

    This has occured because immediately after that 2013 season the Power took a Hawthorn-style approach to list building, looking to land a big trade every year to improve the list rather than invest in the draft.

    They picked up the likes of Jared Polec, Paddy Ryder, Charlie Dixon and Jimmy Toumpas, but the cost of this was that they didn’t take a single first-round pick at the draft between 2012 (Ollie Wines) and 2016 (Todd Marshall and Sam Powell-Pepper).

    Paddy Ryder Port Adelaide Power 2017 AFL

    (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

    This can be a very effective strategy if you pick the right targets and it brought the Hawks a lot of success, but either way it does mean you’ll wind up low on genuinely elite youth as has happened at Hawthorn also.

    Port Adelaide realised this was becoming a problem last year and went to drastic measures to try to bring young talent into the club. They tried to move on Hamish Hartlett and Matthew Lobbe but found no takers, so instead traded away their 2017 first-round pick to get a second first-rounder in the 2016 draft.

    Ultimately, Port Adelaide have been left with a list where the majority of the talent is concentrated in the veteran and middle tiers.

    The key veterans in the side at the moment are Justin Westhoff (30), Paddy Ryder, Robbie Gray and Travis Boak (all 29), while the middle tier is made up of players like Brad Ebert, Matthew Broadbent, Hamish Harltett (all 27), Charlie Dixon, Tom Jonas, Jasper Pittard (all 26), Sam Gray, Jared Polec, Jack Hombsch, Chad Wingard (all 24), Tom Clurey (23), Ollie Wines, Logan Austin, Jarman Impey and Karl Amon (all 22).

    The last few in that group could probably still be considered ‘youth’ although not for much longer, but they generally seem to represent the end of the time where Port Adelaide focused on gaining talent through the draft and instead turned to trading.

    As a result Port’s only really genuinely elite player under 22 on the list is Sam Powell-Pepper (19), and he does have a very high cieling. They’ll also hope Todd Marshall (18) joins him at that level, and the likes of Riley Bonner (20), Joe Atley (19) and Willem Drew (18) all might become solid players at least.

    Sam Powell-Pepper Port Adelaide Power 2017

    (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    The good news for Port is that of their veterans, most of them can likely continue to have a significant impact at AFL level for the next two or three years at least, so there’s a small window here where if they can improve the rest of the team a little, they can challenge for a flag.

    However when that veteran core retires they’ll likely find themselves in a situation where the young talent coming through isn’t enough to replace their output, and they drop down the pecking order.

    Port Adelaide players by age
    Justin Westhoff – 30yr 11mth
    Angus Monfries – 30yr 7mth
    Matt White – 30yr 4mth
    Paddy Ryder – 29yr 5mth
    Robbie Gray – 29yr 5mth
    Nathan Krakouer – 29yr 4mth
    Travis Boak – 29yr 1mth
    Matthew Lobbe – 28yr 6mth
    Brett Eddy (R) – 28yr
    Brad Ebert – 27yr 5mth
    Matthew Broadbent – 27yr 1mth
    Hamish Hartlett – 27yr
    Charlie Dixon – 26yr 11mth
    Jackson Trengove – 26yr 10mth
    Tom Jonas – 26yr 8mth
    Jasper Pittard – 26yr 5mth
    Sam Gray – 25yr 7mth
    Jared Polec – 24yr 10mth
    Aaron Young – 24yr 9mth
    Jack Hombsch – 24yr 6mth
    Chad Wingard – 24yr 1mth
    Brendon Ah Chee – 23yr 8mth
    Jimmy Toumpas – 23yr 8mth
    Tom Clurey – 23yr 5mth
    Emmaneul Irra (R) – 23yr 5mth
    Jake Neade – 23yr 3mth
    Jarrod Lienert (R) – 23yr 1mth
    Ollie Wines – 22yr 11mth
    Logan Austin – 22yr 2mth
    Jarman Impey – 22yr 2mth
    Karl Amon – 22yr
    Darcy Byrne-Jones – 21yr 11mth
    Dougal Howard – 21yr 5mth
    Jesse Palmer – 20yr 10mth
    Billy Frampton – 20yr 9mth
    Cameron Hewett (R) – 20yr 6mth
    Riley Bonner – 20yr 6mth
    Dan Houston (R) – 20yr 3mth
    Will Snelling (R) – 20yr 1mth
    Aidyn Johnson – 19yr 10mth
    Sam Powell-Pepper – 19yr 8mth
    Peter Ladhams (R) – 19yr 7mth
    Joe Atley – 19yr 1mth
    Willem Drew – 18yr 11mth
    Todd Marshall – 18yr 11mth

    When it comes to trying to improve their list, Port Adelaide have hamstrung themselves a little in recent years by offering up longterm contracts to players who have ultimately failed to justify them, with Hamish Hartlett and Matthew Lobbe being the obvious examples.

    That left the Power with a salary cap that was at bursting point last year, but the good news for them is that the cap increased significantly in 2017. Whether or not that gives them any genuine relief depends on how many of their players had that cap increase written into their contracts, which is something we just don’t know.

    They don’t have any immediate priorities in this year’s out of contract group – Jackson Trengove appears to be on the way out of the club, and none of the other players in that group are in Port’s best 22.

    There will be some work to do in the 2018 contract group, though. They simply must sign Ollie Wines up to a long-term deal as soon as possible, and will also want to lock away draftees Todd Marshall, Joe Atley and Willem Drew.

    They will face difficult decisions what kind of contracts to offer to veterans Travis Boak and Robbie Gray.

    Ollie Wines Port Adelaide Power AFL 2017

    (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

    Port Adelaide players by contract status
    2021
    Hamish Hartlett

    2020
    Charlie Dixon
    Brad Ebert
    Jasper Pittard
    Sam Powell-Pepper

    2019
    Karl Amon
    Riley Bonner
    Matthew Broadbent
    Tom Clurey
    Billy Frampton
    Sam Gray
    Jack Hombsch
    Dan Houston (R)
    Dougal Howard
    Tom Jonas
    Matthew Lobbe
    Paddy Ryder
    Chad Wingard

    2018
    Joe Atley
    Logan Austin
    Travis Boak
    Darcy Byrne-Jones
    Willem Drew
    Robbie Gray
    Jarman Impey
    Todd Marshall
    Jake Neade
    Jared Polec
    Justin Westhoff
    Ollie Wines

    Out of contract
    Brendon Ah Chee
    Bretty Eddy (R)
    Cameron Hewett (R)
    Emmanuel Irra (R)
    Aidyn Johnson
    Nathan Krakouer
    Peter Ladhams (R)
    Jarrod Lienert (R)
    Angus Monfries
    Jesse Palmer
    Will Snelling (R)
    Jackson Trengove
    Matt White
    Aaron Young

    Unconfirmed
    Jimmy Toumpas

    Travis Boak Port Adelaide Power AFL 2017

    (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

    Delistings and retirements

    No players have been officialy delisted or retired as yet, and it seems unlikely that there will be any retirements.

    From the out of contract players, Brendon Ah Chee, Nathan Krakouer, Angus Monfries, Matt White and Aaron Young all appear to be on the chopping block.

    Free agency

    Jackson Trengove (restricted)

    Having been dropped for the last few weeks of the season and the elimination final, Trengove seems certain to seek a new home this offseason and the most likely destination seems to be the Western Bulldogs.

    Expect Port Adelaide to let him go without a fuss – it will allow them to make a little salary cap room and probably net them a second-round draft pick.

    In terms of pursuing free agents themselves, this in area that Port Adelaide should definitely be looking at, as it would allow them to add more talent, which they need to do, while also retaining draft picks, which they need to do.

    However the only free agents of any real value left on the market this year are Tom Rockliff and Steven Motlop, and I don’t believe either is the right fit for the club, though they’ve been linked to both.

    Rockliff, while being a fine player, would simply not provide them with anything they don’t already have. Motlop is closer to the type of player that Port need, certainly, but his lack of form over the last two years and questionable commitment make him a potential headache.

    Port likely won’t have the salary cap room to make regular free agent signings and so when they do make one either this year or in the next two, they really need to nail the right player.

    Right now, taking Rockliff or Motlop simply because they’re there seems like a move of desperation – I would be squirreling away that cash and saving it to make a big play for someone in 2018.

    Exactly who they should go after there isn’t clear, but I do have one recommendation from the 2018 free agency group that, while not a big name, would be a good fit at the Power – West Coast’s Scott Lycett.

    They targetted him when he was last out of contract but he ultimately stayed with the Eagles. Things haven’t quite worked out for him just there year, and being an SA boy, he might be open to a move.

    He does have some ability to have an impact as a key forward and could provide ruck support for Paddy Ryder, and then take over the ruck role full time when Ryder retires.

    Scott Lycett West Coast Eagles AFL 2017

    (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

    Trade period

    David Koch, the chairman of Port Adelaide, had some hard words to say after the elimination final loss.

    He had a crack at the club’s selection for the match, saying the jury was out on whether playing a young team, particularly in the backline, had been the right call.

    He also had a go at the players, and said that if any of them weren’t willing to do what it takes to win a flag at Port Adelaide, they should let the club know and they would be traded away.

    “They’ve got to make a commitment to play to instructions, to play with composure.

    “And we don’t want players who are living their dream just by playing AFL footy.

    “We want players who want to win a premiership.

    “If they’re not prepared; if they’re just playing for us because they love to play AFL, they’re not players that we want.

    “If they’re not prepared to win a premiership for this club, we basically don’t want them. Let us know and we’ll trade them.

    “It’s not a one-off, it’s not a one-out and they’ve got to make the big moments count.”

    It’s remarkably dumb for a club chairman to publicly have a go at his own players like that, but I’ll take a little more about that later.

    Will anything come of it? Some players might take umbrage at having their resolve questioned and decide to move on, but that seems unlikely.

    Perhaps Port might single out one or two players of their own volition and try to move them on, as they did with Harlett last year. But much as with Hartlett last year, the players you pick to rid yourself of are unlikely to be the players that other clubs want to give you something for.

    All things considered, there doesn’t appear to be anyone likely to leave Port by trade this year, unless perhaps one of their depth players gets an offer from elsewhere, as someone like Brendon Ah Chee might.

    Similarly, they haven’t really been linked to anyone coming in. The fact they’ve already traded away their first-round pick this year – and would surely be foolish to spend their 2018 one early – leaves them with little room to move.

    david-koch-port-adelaide-power-afl-2013

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Draft

    First three rounds: 30, 48.

    Having traded their first-round pick this year for an extra one last year, Port don’t look likely to many any significant splash at the 2017 draft.

    Outlook

    At the start of the year I wrote about Port Adelaide and I was fairly pessmistic. To some degree they proved me wrong, finishing fifth after the home-and-away season.

    However, while their form was at times impresssive last year, that can’t be allowed to cover up the cracks of a list management situation that still appears only a few steps away from being truly dire.

    Overpaying at the trade table for the likes of Jared Polec, Paddy Ryder and Charlie Dixon robbed them of the chance to bring in elite youth three years in a row.

    That’s the kind of move that if it brings you success you can forgive, but all it has brought them is one finals campaign and no finals wins in three years.

    Locking away the likes of Hamish Hartlett and Matthew Lobbe on longterm contracts has tied up so much of their salary cap that they haven’t been able to make further improvements to their list.

    Hamish Hartlett AFL Port Adelaide Power 2016

    (AAP Image/Ben MacMahon)

    Handing an underperforming Jasper Pittard a three-year extension this year doesn’t convince me that they have learned their lesson from this.

    They invested heavily in the 2016 draft, but did so at the cost of removing themselves from this one. Sam Powell-Pepper has been a winner so far, but they’ll need some of their other picks to come good to justify the expense.

    In terms of their 2017 offseason it has put them in between a rock and a hard place. They need to improve the list somehow but don’t likely have the salary cap room to attract a star player, nor the draft picks to trade for or draft one.

    Despite all this, Port do have a team that, for the moment at least, is one of the better ones in the competition, and looks capable of sustaining that level output for the next two or three years at least.

    They can probably expect some organic improvement over that time too from the likes of Ollie Wines, Chad Wingard and Sam Powell-Pepper.

    If they can combine that with firing one or two really good shots at the free agency market in 2018 and 2019, there’s still hope of a Port Adelaide flag with this group of players.

    If not, they might find themselves wandering in the desert again before too long.

    That’s going to be a hard thing to pull off with a club chairman who is going to publicly question the wisdom of the coaches and the commitment of the players.

    Does he really have genuine concerns over either? If so that’s the kind of thing that simply must be handled by closed doors.

    Imagine being Ken Hinkley or Travis Boak and hearing the club chairman doubt you in the media, rather than bring that concern to you in a honest and private conversation.

    An administrative leader like Kochie has to place trust in the people employed at his club in the football department. If he doesn’t, then potential catastrophe is on the cards from his meddling.

    In the end, “they will never tear us apart” won’t mean very much if the club ultimately rips itself to shreds from within.

    Josh Elliott
    Josh Elliott

    Josh Elliott may be The Roar's Weekend Editor, but at heart he's just a rusted-on North Melbourne tragic with a penchant for pun headlines - and also abnormal alliteration, assuredly; assuming achievability. He once finished third in a hot chilli pie eating contest. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshElliott_29 and listen to him on The Roar's AFL Podcast.