AFL preview series: Port Adelaide Power – 3rd

Cameron Rose Columnist

By Cameron Rose, Cameron Rose is a Roar Expert


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    A promising year is on the horizon for Port. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

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    In 2017, Port achieved the unique feat of finishing second for both points for and points against, yet still couldn’t find a spot in the top four at the end of the season.

    To add insult to injury, they then lost a home elimination final after the siren, thanks to Luke Shuey’s rare combination of rubber spine and nerves of steel.

    The Power’s inglorious end did not truly reflect their season. Or did it?

    Splitting the ladder in half, Port had a record of an extraordinary 12-0 against the bottom nine teams, but only 2-9 against the top nine, including that finals loss to the Eagles. They would beat up on the weaklings, but were found wanting against the testing material.

    It was fitting that West Coast brought about their undoing, because the Eagles have carried the mantle of flat track bully for the last few years, but it now sits quite clearly with the Power.

    Can they turn things around in 2018?

    B: Darcy Byrne-Jones, Tom Clurey, Matthew Broadbent
    HB: Hamish Hartlett, Tom Jonas, Jasper Pittard
    C: Steven Motlop, Tom Rockliff, Jared Polec
    HF: Jack Watts, Justin Westhoff, Chad Wingard
    F: Robbie Gray, Charlie Dixon, Sam Gray
    Foll: Paddy Ryder, Ollie Wines, Travis Boak
    Int: Brad Ebert, Sam Powell-Pepper, Karl Amon, Jake Neade
    Em: Dan Houston, Jack Hombsch, Riley Bonner

    There is plenty of versatility in the Port best 22.

    Like the best cricket all-rounders that can demand a place in their side for either their batting or bowling, the Power has at least half a dozen players that can earn their spot playing as a specialist in more than one part of the field.

    This is a bit unlike Luke Beveridge at the Dogs, who tries to shoehorn players into various roles that sometimes don’t look natural. Ken Hinkley has the luxury of several versatile guns at his disposal.

    We mentioned flat track bullies earlier, a team that folded under pressure, and another label that is often applied in that situation is front-runners. Yet, Port have basically doubled down on attack coming into this season with bringing Jack Watts and Steven Motlop into the fold, in essence replacing pressure forwards like Jarman Impey (traded to Hawthorn) and Aaron Young (traded to Gold Coast).

    Jack Watts

    (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

    Watts and Motlop have hardly been the poster boys for intensity and two-way running across their respective careers, and have always divided opinion.

    People tend to fall into two camps with these players. You choose to either see what they can do and celebrate it (the sure-footedness, poise and skill of Watts; Motlop’s dancing feet and vision), or you are blinded by their weaknesses and unable to overcome it (picking and choosing their moments, inconsistency, laziness).

    So, you’re probably thinking these two will round out a devastating forward division for Port, or that all they’ll get is more of the same and be let down in key moments.

    Mid-forward is where it is going to happen for them.

    Charlie Dixon is a bit of a throwback as a hard-leading, pack-busting, take-no-prisoners brute forward. Justin Westhoff floats through the air, and may play more forward after the departure of Jackson Trengove. Watts will push up the ground and deliver inside fifty with aplomb.

    Robbie Gray and Chad Wingard are proven All Australian quality and lead the smaller brigade rotating through, along with newly acquired Tom Rockliff as a smaller one-on-one marking option in his rests from midfield duty. If Rockliff changes with Robbie Gray and Wingard, opposition back pockets will have to play on three distinct types of player โ€“ not many could do it.

    Motlop is ever dangerous, and Sam Gray plays his role well. Travis Boak spent more time forward than in previous seasons, but might return to his true home in the middle with the addition of Motlop.

    Ollie Wines is very much a traditional midfielder, and the question now is how much improvement he has in him. Sam Powell-Pepper’s first year was the closest thing we have seen to Dustin Martin since the man himself burst on the scene in 2010, ‘don’t argue’ and all. Brad Ebert is the nuts and bolts, and Jared Polec is about as wingman as it gets.

    Sam Powell-Pepper Port Adelaide Power 2017

    (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    Port has cobbled together a no-frills defence, especially in terms of key position players. Tom Clurey, Dougal Howard and Jack Hombsch all get called upon, while Tom Jonas plays taller than his physique. Their job isn’t so much to intercept as it is to bring the ball to ground for their fleet of running defenders to sweep the ball away.

    Hamish Hartlett, Jasper Pittard and Darcy Byrne-Jones are the first choice half-backs, and the Power always look at their best when these three are on song and making good decisions, while Matthew Broadbent fell out of favour at stages last season but still has attributes.

    Pittard and Broadbent will miss the start of the year through injury, so that presents opportunities for Riley Bonner and Dan Houston, who have shown something from limited appearances so far. Depth in the running backs doesn’t appear to be an issue.

    So what can Port do to bridge the gap and get more wins against their fellow top-four aspirants? Kicking straighter would help โ€“ three times last year they had more scoring shots than their top eight opponent but lost.

    Ken Hinkley and staff should have been putting a lot of time into the mental side of the game with their playing list over pre-season. Damien Hardwick did this at Richmond heading into 2017, for a celebrated turnaround.

    We can see all the tools at the Power’s disposal, but their application becomes lacking when the chips are down, and resilience goes missing. They need to learn to play ugly for longer periods when the game is on their opponent’s terms.

    Port Adelaide under Hinkley are a lot like Watts and Motlop. If you see what they’re good at, you are optimistic they can overcome the negatives. But it’s just as easy to see them pessimistically. I’m in the first camp… for now.

    Prediction โ€“ third

    Full 2018 AFL ladder prediction
    3. Port Adelaide Power
    4th: Geelong Cats
    5th: Richmond Tigers
    6th: Melbourne Demons
    7th: Greater Western Sydney Giants
    8th: Essendon Bombers
    9th: Hawthorn Hawks
    10th: Collingwood Magpies
    11th: Western Bulldogs
    12th: St Kilda Saints
    13th: West Coast Eagles
    14th: North Melbourne Kangaroos
    15th: Fremantle Dockers
    16th: Brisbane Lions
    17th: Carlton Blues
    18th: Gold Coast Suns

    Cameron Rose
    Cameron Rose

    Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.

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    The Crowd Says (60)

    • March 19th 2018 @ 7:47am
      Thatsashame said | March 19th 2018 @ 7:47am | ! Report

      Agreed Cam. I have port top 4 too. Even with injuries their recruitment means they have depth to cover.
      But that means you have the Swans at 2…….ill say it all year….swans are overrated and will be the 2nd biggest drop this year after west coast

    • March 19th 2018 @ 8:31am
      JustAnotherVoiceOnTheInternet said | March 19th 2018 @ 8:31am | ! Report

      Port I have found are one of the hardest teams to get a read on coming into the season, and I find myself bit off them to be honest. Sure they recruited well, and sat in the top 4 for most of last year, but I still feel like a bunch of teams around them have more natural improvement in them, and hence they will find themselves in the bottom half of the 8 once again.

      My predictions:

      I have been second-guessing myself a bit lately, and thus reserve the right to change my ladder. Will post a final one on your last write-up ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Columnist

        March 19th 2018 @ 9:53am
        Cameron Rose said | March 19th 2018 @ 9:53am | ! Report

        Yes, it’s only natural. I started the preview series in mid-Feb, I’d change things too probably!

    • March 19th 2018 @ 9:10am
      Vocans said | March 19th 2018 @ 9:10am | ! Report

      I had the Power a sleeper for the flag last year. They will be better this year. Who knows we might get a Showdown GF!

      The balance is good with the talls in defence not at the same level as most of the team. Consistency will be crucial. Poft have always had a team focus as a club, but I felt some of it was lacking last year. I would think that finals loss will fix that.

      Ryder is a huge plus.

    • March 19th 2018 @ 9:24am
      Liam said | March 19th 2018 @ 9:24am | ! Report

      I’m of a similar thought, Cam, although I’m much more bullish on their prospects than you. See, as a combination of their home ground advantage against everyone except Adelaide, their ability to beat the snot out of anyone worse than they are, and their recruiting over the off season, they’re going to be top 2 for mine.

      My main query, though, is why you’d be playing Wingard in the middle when you’ve now got two natural midfielders who can play forward rather than a natural forward – pretty close the THE most natural forward in the comp – who can play midfield. Rockliff, Wines and Grey, coupled with Travis Boek is surely enough to leave Wingard forward instead of wasting one of the best talents in the world playing him behind the ball.

      • Columnist

        March 19th 2018 @ 9:54am
        Cameron Rose said | March 19th 2018 @ 9:54am | ! Report

        I’d agree Liam, that’s the way I’d go too.

    • Roar Guru

      March 19th 2018 @ 9:24am
      JamesH said | March 19th 2018 @ 9:24am | ! Report

      Nah, can’t see them top 4. Of last year’s top 8 I think they, WC and EFC are the three sides most in danger of dropping out (not necessarily in that order). My tip is that only WC will, making way for Melbourne, but history says another team or two could fall away.

      Port’s cross-town rivals, the Crows, still look a stronger side, which means the Power are likely to start two ‘home’ games as underdogs. If they lose both of those then it’s hard to see them racking up enough away wins to make the top 4.

      • Columnist

        March 19th 2018 @ 9:55am
        Cameron Rose said | March 19th 2018 @ 9:55am | ! Report

        Anything can happen in a showdown.

        Melbourne coming in for West Coast is a very popular view this year, but we know something out of the ordinary will happen.

        • Roar Guru

          March 19th 2018 @ 12:11pm
          JamesH said | March 19th 2018 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

          “Anything can happen in a showdown.”

          True, but it hasn’t been that way lately. Adelaide has won five straight, with only one of those decided by less than 15 points (the first) and two floggings (including the last).

          If the Crows fall from grace this year then it helps Port’s chances dramatically, but you’ve obviously got Adelaide pegged for top two!

    • March 19th 2018 @ 9:43am
      truetigerfan said | March 19th 2018 @ 9:43am | ! Report

      Yeah, nahhh. Can’t see Port breaking into the top 4 this year. Simply not good enough. When the going gets tough the tough get going . . . this certainly aint Port Adelaide. Watts and Motlop won’t help in this area, Rockliff . . . meh. Home ground advantage gets them into the 8 somewhere but that’s about it. Similar to last year.