Are Port Adelaide any good? It seems to have been the eternal question under Ken Hinkley. The other one is, can the man actually coach?
After winning three finals in Hinkley’s first two years (2013-14) the Power haven’t won one since, and in fact have only made the finals once. Instead, they have hacked around the edges of the final eight, finishing ninth, tenth, seventh and tenth in the last four years.
Even in the two seasons they made the finals, they finished fifth and seventh on the ladder.
What have Port actually done under Hinkley, and where are they going?
Port Adelaide Best 22
B: D.Houston T.Clurey R.Burton
HB: T.Jonas D.Howard D.Byrne-Jones
C: J.Westhoff O.Wines H.Hartlett
HF: T.Boak P.Ryder S.Motlop
F: S.Gray C.Dixon J.Watts
Foll: S.Lycett S.Powell-Pepper R.Gray
Int: B.Ebert R.Bonner T.Rockliff T.Marshall
Em: M.Broadbent K.Amon S.Mayes
Port have lost Chad Wingard and Jared Polec from their 2018 team, players that finished fifth and sixth in the best and fairest last year respectively, both providing a lot of drive and run that will be missed. The two of them were the main inside 50 deliverers at Port last year.
If Hamish Hartlett can have a full season after managing only five games last season, his class could help offset the losses of Wingard and Polec, but he’s already had knee issues this pre-season.
Does Robbie Gray spend even more time in the midfield, building on last year when he was sent in there more often than in 2017? He’s on the wrong side of 30 now, but still a gun of the highest order, able to dance and weave out of any situation.
The Power can rightfully demand more out of Steven Motlop too, given he underwhelmed in his first season there. In 2016 at Geelong he averaged just shy of 20 touches a game and kicked 38 goals. Only 11 goals last year was by far his worst return since his second season at the Cats, when he only played four games.
Another player that has class is Jack Watts, someone who has seemed to spend his entire career at the crossroads. He wasn’t awful in his first year at Port, but he never is. He delivers the ball so well, but needs to find more of it. In over half his games last season he took four marks or less, which should be impossible for a lead-up marking half-forward in the modern game.
Ollie Wines and Sam Powell-Pepper are the inside workhorses that aren’t the most reliable disposers. Their job is to get the ball out to the silkier runners. The former seems to offer about what he did in his first and second years, without having made huge progression. The latter may well do the same, but is more explosive in what he does.
Tom Rockliff is a natural ball-winner, the third big name from other clubs that landed at Port for 2018, and like Motlop and Watts he disappointed in his first year at Alberton. He never looked fully fit last season, but is claiming to be much further advanced this time around.
Travis Boak and Brad Ebert are the stalwarts, both extremely professional, with 478 games between them. Boak has spent the majority of the last two years as a half-forward, while Ebert has apparently been training there over summer and could be in for a role change. You know you’re going to get consistency from both, but not necessarily game-changing quality.
Sam Gray is another hybrid that is probably more suited to the midfield but is used forward instead. These are all just good ordinary players, or perhaps a step above that, but lack a dynamism to cover what Wingard could do.
Port certainly have plenty of ruck and key forward options this year with the addition of West Coast premiership player Scott Lycett, coming off his best season. He played some good footy last year in tandem with Nic Naitanui and then Nathan Vardy, and at 26 is ready to thrive leading the ruck.
Paddy Ryder has more versatility and mobility than Lycett when it comes to playing other positions, so even though ruck is his best personal spot the team should be using him as back-up, which should also help preserve a body that isn’t the most durable.
It wouldn’t surprise to see him in defence, particularly if the promising Todd Marshall continues to improve and command regular games up forward.
Charlie Dixon will have a delayed start to the season, but should be stationed as a permanent full-forward without the need to ruck as he did at various stages last year. The new 6-6-6 rules are designed to help power forwards like him.
Justin Westhoff was a deserved best and fairest last year, playing key forward, relieving ruck, wingman and pushing behind the ball at the end of quarters or if his defence was under siege. There’s a fair case to say he’s the best utility in the game.
Down back, Tom Clurey and Dougal Howard are in the key posts, neither likely to be troubling the All Australian selectors at any stage of their career. Tom Jonas has made the AA squad of 40 the last two years playing taller than his height, intercepting well and playing a rebounding role too. He’s quietly become one of the best backmen in the game – much is expected of him, and much is delivered.
Ryan Burton will be a new addition to the backline after coming across from Hawthorn as part of the Wingard trade, expected to provide run and rebound alongside the likes of the Dan Houston, Darcy Byrne-Jones and Riley Bonner.
All four are in the 21-23 age bracket, so can grow and improve alongside each other as they gain more experience, but at that age there will still be a shakiness about them.
One of Port’s biggest problems is they don’t have much in the way of exposed depth. They have 20 players with ten AFL matches or less to their name – that’s 43per cent of their list. Plus guys like Howard, Houston, Powell-Pepper and Bonner that have less than 40.
The older veterans like Westhoff, Boak, Ryder, Gray, Ebert, Hartlett and Matthew Broadbent aren’t going to get any better.
There is a lot of flakiness in the Power list, whether that is through injury or up-and-down performance. This was reflected in their 2018, when they went from a record of 11-4 after Round 16 to 12-10 at the end of the home-and-away rounds.
Port have been a middle-of-the-road side for their entire time under Ken Hinkley, capable of flashes of brilliance that seduce us, but rarely with any substance to back it up. With Adelaide and Essendon sure to improve from beneath them in 2019, and setbacks to important players over pre-season, a drop is well and truly on the cards.