After a few years of “will the real Port Adelaide please stand up?” it appears we have our answer about the Power.
The ‘real’ Port are rank average; a middle-of-the-table side that can harness momentum from time to time, but also a team that can get ahead of themselves and be easily shut down.
Port hung around the fringes of the eight last year without ever looking likely to break in. For every impressive win, like the Round 10 and 11 beltings of Melbourne in the Northern Territory and Collingwood at the MCG, there would be an abject performance, like throwing in the towel against Sydney and the Demons in Rounds 20 and 21.
Ken Hinkley and his coaching team have dedicated their off-season to drilling down into themselves, their players, their style and their method. Will this lead to paralysis-by-analysis for a club that turned around its fortunes four seasons ago on the simple premises of hard work, fitness and freedom?
|B||Matthew Broadbent||Jack Hombsch||Jarman Impey|
|HB||Jasper Pittard||Jackson Trengove||Darcy Byrne-Jones|
|C||Hamish Hartlett||Robbie Gray||Brad Ebert|
|HF||Aaron Young||Justin Westhoff||Chad Wingard|
|F||Brett Eddy||Charlie Dixon||Jake Neade|
|Foll||Patrick Ryder||Ollie Wines||Travis Boak|
|Int||Tom Jonas||Jared Polec||Nathan Krakouer||Sam Powell-Pepper|
Emergencies: Matthew Lobbe, Matthew White, Angus Monfries
The list changes at Port over the off-season were among the least obviously impactful in the league. They offloaded a number of jobbers and brought in some draftees. However, they will welcome the return of Patrick Ryder and Angus Monfries from WADA suspensions.
Monfries may or may not be in the best side, but Ryder will be seen as a key plank in what the Power are hoping to achieve this season. He is expected to harness his athletic gifts after a year out of the system and lead the ruck division with his combination of deft palmwork, ability to follow-up at ground level, and contested marking.
The Power aren’t just getting back a quality ruckman with the return of Ryder, but also a quality centre-half back in the form of Jackson Trengove, who had to spend his 2016 battling manfully but getting outmatched in the ruck. The team looks a lot better with them both back in their rightful place
That said, it appears Trengove might be played as a forward this season, which would be a costly mistake. With the ex-Essendon players returning, it may pay to look at a couple of Dons like Michael Hurley and Jake Carlisle (now at St Kilda) who are natural defenders but were forced to play forward for lengthy periods across their careers, which did nothing for their team or themselves.
Jack Hombsch is a quality key defender who looks likely to be supported by Tom Clurey or Logan Austin now, so a lot of onus will be on inexperienced shoulders in that supporting tall position.
The run from defence will be provided by Jasper Pittard, who cracked the All-Australian squad of 40 last season with his chip-and-charge style, Matthew Broadbent, who launches long attacks with his lethal right foot, and Darcy Byrne-Jones, who is something of a Pittard mimic, and plays with a confidence belying his small amount of senior games.
Robbie Gray is the master of the midfield, a smooth-moving Ferrari surrounded by a fleet of Fords. Gray is comfortably in the top 20 players in the game in most eyes, possessing dancing feet in stoppages, superb vision and skill, and ever-dangerous when resting near goal.
Travis Boak is willing, and can be a big moment player, but his lack of class prevents him from joining the top echelon. Ollie Wines is an inside bull but is too often untidy. Brad Ebert is another that doesn’t lack for hardness, but does for skill.
This overall lack of polish is a problem for the Power, but there are some solutions available to them.
Hamish Hartlett has been a frustration for too long now. He was moved to half-back last year, but the Power have plenty of running rebounders, so he should be released to play as a forward-running wingman. Hartlett’s best years were 2013-14 when he played this role, averaging 21 touches a game and hitting the scoreboard no less than 74 times across the two seasons.
Chad Wingard is rumoured to be moving more into the middle this year, where his wizardry will be welcome in an area of the ground where Port can look one-dimensional. In 2013, just his second year, Wingard averaged 21 touches per game and kicked 43 goals, earning All-Australian honours and a best-and-fairest award. Let’s get back to that please.
Charlie Dixon and Justin Westhoff are not yet producing the sum of their parts as tandem forwards. Dixon must find consistency – he kicked 26 goals in his first ten games for the Power last year, but only four from his last eight, and none at all in his last four. Westhoff has to rid himself of dumb decisions, but you can’t un-crack an egg.
Aaron Young was a revelation as a medium forward last year, and perhaps mature-age rookie Brett Eddy can cause problems inside forward 50 as a key marking target. Are he, Dixon, Westhoff and potentially Trengove all mobile enough to play in the same half of the ground?
Port lacked composure and skill when moving the ball last year. It could look good when someone like Pittard took the opposition on and found a target cutting inside, but too often they weren’t able to make it work. Opposition sides would pressure the main ball carriers, knowing that it wasn’t difficult to force a turnover if you could clog them up.
Ken Hinkley has two years left on his contract, which may give him more freedom than the likes of Damien Hardwick and Nathan Buckley will be granted, but the pressure is well and truly on. Who gets first call when changes need to be made to the team – the experienced hands like Matthew Lobbe, Matty White, Angus Monfries and Sam Gray, or will it be Brendon Ah Chee, Karl Amon, Riley Bonner and the draftees?
Does Hinkley have the board’s backing to re-set for the future if the season looks like slipping away? Or will he be chasing wins, figuring they are the best currency, even if it means another mid-table finish?
It’s hard to see evolution or revolution at Port in 2017. More likely is a steady decline as teams like Melbourne, Collingwood, Richmond and Gold Coast, which finished behind them on the ladder in 2016, go past them this year.
Predicted ladder spread: 11th-14th
Predicted finish: 13th
Best and fairest: Robbie Gray
Leading goalkicker: Chad Wingard
All-Australian potential: Robbie Gray, Chad Wingard
Rising Star candidates: Riley Bonner, Sam Powell-Pepper