Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley admits their 37-point loss to an impressive Brisbane was a wake-up call after four wins to begin the AFL season.
After Port Adelaide acquired Tom Rockliff, Steven Motlop, and Jack Watts in last year’s trade period, thereby essentially trading out of the draft (first selection came at pick 44), it was clear that the club was loading up for a finals tilt.
Having fallen short in a disappointing 2018, I wondered what the club’s strategy would be.
After the trade period, it’s clear the Power still believe they’re in the premiership window, but are also, astutely, keeping one eye on the future.
Bringing in Scott Lycett as a free agent was a shrewd move, given Paddy Ryder’s injury history. Lycett has the versatility to ruck in tandem with Ryder, but also to push forward and relieve Charlie Dixon. This, in turn, will also give Todd Marshall time to develop and hone his craft, and mean the club isn’t reliant on second-year ruckman Sam Hayes or the inexperienced Billy Frampton for cover in the event Ryder is injured.
I don’t believe in defining trade periods by ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, as their true benefit is best judged with the benefit of hindsight. I try and evaluate them based on how they’ve filled immediate needs, or how they have pursued a clear list-management strategy.
In Port’s case, the former is certainly true.
Losing All-Australian forward Chad Wingard was a big loss, but the decision to part ways was best for both player and club, Wingard having stalled in his progress over the past few years.
Extracting both a first and second round draft selection in return was a good effort, but what made this deal so astounding was the acquisition of boom Hawks youngster Ryan Burton.
If the rumour mill is to be believed, Hawthorn offered Burton as a possible trade option, which I still can’t believe – but that’s an article for another day! Port would have been ecstatic to receive a player of Burton’s calibre – and a South Australian to boot. They don’t really have an intercepting, rebound defender in the Jake Lever/Tom Doedee mould, and Burton could and should fit this bill.
The Power also acquired Brisbane defender Sam Mayes as a bit of a steak knives deal, but he should provide handy depth.
Losing Jared Polec was a blow, but they received North Melbourne’s pick 11 in exchange, which they swapped with Fremantle for pick six and a bevy of later picks, and then traded up to pick 5 in a deal with Brisbane.
The second part of my evaluation – executing a discernible list management strategy – is less clear.
On the one hand, acquiring three first-round picks (5, 10 and 15) is a success in anyone’s books, especially when you’ve had only one first-round selection since 2012. On the other hand, this somewhat undersells your vision of being in the finals window – especially when you’ve lost two of your best players in Wingard and Polec – unless there’s a belief those three draftees are likely to make an immediate impact next year.
Given their bevy of early selections, Port could be this year’s ‘draft shaper’, along with Gold Coast.
The Power seem keen on the South Australian talent available at the top of the order, and will be hoping that one of Jack Lukosius, Izak Rankine, or Connor Rozee are still available at pick five (it’s highly likely that all will be gone by pick 10).
Who they take at five will largely be dictated by the Suns’ selections at picks 2 and 3 – if they select Lukosius and Rankine, which is what the word on the street seems to be, Port may decide to take Rozee, could opt for a tall in Max or Ben King, or a polished midfielder/half back in Bailey Smith. Sam Walsh is no chance to still be available at pick 5.
I’m a big believer in using top-ten picks on the best available players, rather than selecting for needs. On that basis, I’d say Port will happily select the available player they judge as the best on their draft board.
It’s unlikely any of those players would still be available at pick 10, in which case midfielders Jye Caldwell, Jackson Hately, and half back Jordan Clark, are likely to come into their thinking.
At pick 15, it wouldn’t surprise me if Port made a bid for North academy player Tarryn Thomas – the Kangaroos will match the bid, but Thomas is exactly the type of player the Power need, with speed, class, and excellent decision-making skills.
Other players who might be considered are small forwards Zac Butters and Ned McHenry, midfielders Curtis Taylor and Ian Hill, and half-forward Sam Sturt. All would address genuine areas of concern on the club’s list, particularly in the small forward department, the need for genuine pace in the midfield (which Hill has in spades), and a half-forward/third tall forward to replace Justin Westhoff, which could be Sturt.
After losing Jack Hombsch to Gold Coast, some key defensive cover could come in handy, but is unlikely to be found here, unless the club decides to take Ben King.
They may have more luck in the rookie draft.