Today my list analysis and offseason preview series continues with Port Adelaide, a team which has now come achingly close to finals only to miss out for the second year in a row.
Port Adelaide’s win over West Coast on Friday night was a demonstration of everything that Port can be – one of those odd, intimidating evenings where everything goes right for one team.
The game was a series of big-bodied contests in which Port invariably had the bigger bodies.
Travis Boak, Sam Powell-Pepper, Ollie Wines, Tom Rockliff, Brad Ebert – these are giant, rampaging humans who are mean, crushing masses on the field. They were relentless in Perth, punishing a team that hadn’t come to play.
Port’s physicality and ability in the contest have always been there.
A plan to maximise it, and a requisite non-Robbie Gray spark to ignite them, has not.
This year feels different.
They have a plan, which is to take the game on at all costs.
They can’t really kick, so now they just handball instead. They run and carry through the middle of the ground, and if a handball misses the target, they converge on the opposition with sufficient mania to force a stoppage and limit the damage.
They are playing magnetic defensive football, with crunching tackles and a vicious work rate. They are closing space and making the opposition timid. The Eagles were overwhelmed in the first five minutes against Port and then decided it was all going to be too much for the rest of the night.
The offensive spark has come through youth.
Three rookies contributing in significant ways for a finals contender is almost unheard of, but in Connor Rozee, Zak Butters and Xavier Duursma, that’s what the Power have got. Rozee is the headliner but Butters is every bit as absurd, with skills, vision and creativity beyond his years.
The defence – perennially uninspiring on paper – is looking unusually stout, competing in the contest and helped by the pressure up the ground.
Scott Lycett has been significant – much more significant than one would figure him to be. The ripple effect of his arrival has pushed other pieces into snugger fits, with Paddy Ryder in his ideal role of forward/ruck.
The team is quick with ball in hand, ferocious without it and has enough strength and height to physically compete with anyone. When the game is played at breakneck speed, their pace, physicality and endurance will win out.
The questions will come when the game slows down. Are the Power just a headless chicken with a gritty purpose, or can they develop a second speed?
Can they when necessary chip the ball around and find the narrowest of gaps in a determined, structured defence?
Perhaps not, which is bad for them but great for the viewer.
But if Port do develop that patient complement to their wonderful mania of bruising collisions and territory domination, they can go as far as anyone.
They’ve already chalked up the best performance this year of any team to date.
Most importantly, it did not feel like the performance of a contented team – it felt like the start of something.