Today my list analysis and offseason preview series continues with Port Adelaide, a team which has now come achingly close to finals only to miss out for the second year in a row.
Port Adelaide have made a stunning rise up the AFL ranks over the past two seasons, and 2015 could be the year they make it all click.
Coach Ken Hinkley is determined to play a certain style of footy, but will the high energy game plan prove too much for this young squad?
1. Gray area
The exciting part of Port Adelaide’s rapid ascension over the past two seasons has been that improvement has been ongoing in the young core of the playing group. Now, after outstanding individual 2014 seasons, the question has to be how much more improvement is going to come from a side that plays a physically taxing game plan.
It is the grey area, pardon the pun.
Robbie Gray highlights this with his elevation to elite match winner status, proven in the finals series. Ollie Wines has continued to be crucial in the big moments while players like Jared Polec, Jack Hombsch, Jasper Pittard, Tom Jonas and Matt White all had career best seasons.
This group of eight are all young enough that further improvement should be expected, but how steep that improvement can be is likely the answer to how much further Port Adelaide can go with this playing list.
2. The Essendon effect
Two of Port Adelaide’s big recruits over the past few seasons have been former Essendon duo Angus Monfries and Paddy Ryder. Port Adelaide has taken what they no doubt consider a calculated risk with the recruitment of these two, believing that any potential drug imposed suspension will not hinder its own team performance or structure.
However, as judgment day looms for the players at the centre of the Essendon supplements scandal, internally some worries have to be going through Port Adelaide. As Essendon continue to anticipate some form of punishment for its players, Port Adelaide potentially have the most to lose.
Essendon have been a perennial finals contender but have not really contended for a flag in more than 10 years. Port Adelaide, though, are contending right now, and 2015 is meant to be the year. Lengthy bans to Monfries and Ryder would potentially end what could be a real premiership chance in 2015 before it even starts.
3. Season plan
Last year Port Adelaide’s season was defined by three distinct phases. A great start, an underwhelming mid-season and a strong finish. There were a number of theories discussed about that underwhelming middle part of the season but a mix between a heavy training workload and an increased injury list appears to be the best bet as to what went wrong.
Port have again embarked on a tough off-season and have again focused on heat training to give them an advantage. What will be an intriguing watch in the season is how they perform mid-campaign and whether the training patterns and plans change.
The mid-season fixture is favourable to Port Adelaide and again if they were to have a lull period it would be best served during this time. However, that of course relies on the Power again making a fast start. Interesting to see how the team is trained to obtain maximum value on their season.
What maybe was under appreciated about Port last year was just how good they were as a tackling team. When most speak of Port Adelaide they think of that breakneck speed and the real outside run and dash. However, Port trailed only Sydney for tackles last year and it was that real ability to win the inside contest through hard tackling that set up so much of the Power’s great attacking play.
Remarkably leading the tackle count for Port Adelaide was Matthew Lobbe, whose ability to help with the ground work was again pivotal in how Port Adelaide are able to attack opposition sides. Along with Lobbe, big-bodied midfielders Wines, Brad Ebert and Kane Cornes all made more than 100 tackles in the season. Expect the tackling pressure that Port Adelaide use to be key to its offensive firepower again in 2015.
5. Full season
Port Adelaide, along with Sydney, led the league with only 33 players used during 2014. The consistent team that Port were able to enjoy throughout the year was highlighted by 13 players playing in all matches or missing just one. As much as the club did have their injury and illness concerns during the second half of the season, Port were able to keep a consistent team and this no doubt helped give a consistent performance across the campaign.
Replicating this charmed run with injury will be tough. Already in the 2015 pre-season injury concerns have hit the club with key playmakers Jackson Trengove and Chad Wingard among a group that have suffered recent injury hiccups. Port Adelaide have spoken of improving their squad depth and likely that will be called on in 2015 more so than 2014.
6. Brutal start
Brutal is the only word you can use to describe the start of the season for Port Adelaide as they spend the first six weeks facing off against six of last year’s top 10 sides. Backing up a strong 2014 with early season form is going to be crucial if Port do want to go a step further in 2015. Helping out with this tough start is that they do play four games at Adelaide Oval in a five-week stretch between Rounds 2 and 6.
7. Hunted Hinkley
Just as Port Adelaide have gone from being the hunter to hunted, coach Ken Hinkley is about to find out that his style and tactics have been hunted. Hinkley has shown in a short head coaching career that he is strong in his convictions and believes the game should be played a certain way.
Tinkering with that style may be needed if Port Adelaide wants to take a step or two further in 2015. Hinkley has been an assistant coach and around football long enough to be aware that some form of adaption is needed. How he does this will be telling on the longevity of Hinkley as a senior AFL coach. Like a lot of Port Adelaide topics, intriguing times ahead for the 2015 season.