Welcome to the top four. We are in the endgame now.
I admit that I got caught up in the Port Adelaide hype. I am not the only one convinced that their mediocre 2015 season was an outlier and this young, talented list with a seemingly progressive coach was set to return to their 2014 form.
Well, after a month they are perhaps the most underwhelming 2-2 team in recent AFL history.
They defeated St. Kilda in a very unconvincing manner in Round 1 before being eviscerated by Adelaide in Round 2. They welcomed Essendon to town in Round 3 and again did what was needed without making any real statement, before being noncompetitive and thoroughly outplayed by Greater Western Sydney last weekend.
Taking a look at the four teams they have played and it is not a particularly impressive group – granted, the Crows, Giants and to a lesser extent Saints look likely to be big improvers and the Bombers are showing pluck, but are devoid of talent. Bottom line – there are no likely premiership contenders among this mob.
Port’s problems are aplenty, with the main knock on their midfield being that they only run one way. If they are getting the ball more than their opponents, then that is a manageable problem. But the Power rank 15th in possession differential, allowing their opponents 38 more possessions per game than they get themselves.
A cursory glance at the clearance stats tells you they are tracking well as they rank fourth in clearances per game. But look below the surface and it’s a different story – they rank dead last in opponent clearances per game and clearance differential.
Against teams that rank first, third, eighth and 17th in clearances per game that is concerning because there are plenty of quality opponents yet to come and those will likely put the Power further to the sword.
So their midfielders are talented but don’t run the other way, and they are getting smashed in the middle. That would be something they could handle with a strong defence, but that is something they do not seem to have. The Power rank 15th in opponent inside 50s, 13th in opponent marks inside 50s, 16th in points conceded and last in one-percenter differential.
From that we deduce an apparent lack of effort and defensive pressure in the back-line to go with the midfield issues; this isn’t shaping up as a promising report card for this ‘class’ despite it being so early in the season.
Move to the other end of the ground and there is some good news. They rank second for inside 50s but just 17th for marks inside 50. Jay Schulz has been a huge loss and one felt particularly in terms of marking, but these numbers reflect plenty of bombing inside the 50 metre arc with no effectiveness when going forward.
Add to this the fact that their opponents rank third for rebound 50s and it looks as though they are getting the ball in with apparent ease, but that their opponents are finding it just as easy to take it out.
A quick look at the injury list tells you that there is very little to excuse this start to the season. Jay Schulz and Matt White are important players, but outside that they are picking as strong a side as they can. There is little sympathy for the loss of Patrick Ryder and Angus Monfries because they knew what they were entering into, risk-wise when they acquired these two players.
This simply looks a list that performed well when they caught the competition off-guard in 2014, but that has neither improved nor embraced the challenge of being a consistently top team.
No pressure, front runners at every turn, defenders who don’t defend, that’s Port. They might jump on their skis and beat some bad teams but they are not going to be competitive against the better teams unless they address an alarming number of issues that have reared their head early in 2016.