After a tumultuous year of coaching changes in the AFL, one man’s name sits above the rest on this year’s hot seat: Ken Hinkley.
But the embattled Port Adelaide coach was handed a lifeline when the AFL scheduled his side to take on Gold Coast in Round 1 and they took that opportunity with both hands, smashing the Suns by 47 points.
But with the club clearly stating it’s finals or bust for Hinkley in 2020, he’ll need more than that.
Here are four burning questions for Port Adelaide as we approach the resumption of this season.
You don’t beat someone on their home deck by eight goals and hold them to 29 points at this level without doing something very right.
Any win over Gold Coast comes with an asterisk, but you can only beat who’s in front of you and the Power were very comprehensive in their effort.
In addition to belting their opposition on the scoreboard, Port came out way ahead in virtually every statistic. They crushed the home side in inside 50s, amassing 62 to their 31, while racking up huge advantages in disposals (up 61), clearances, contested possessions (both up 11), marks (up 31), marks inside 50 (12 to four) and tackles (up 19).
Maybe the Suns were just putrid and West Coast will beat them by 300 next week, but at least last week, the Power were as impressive as they possibly could have been given the circumstances.
The equation appears to be as simple as if they make finals, yes, but if they don’t, no.
Ask some Port fans, however, and they’ll tell you he shouldn’t earn an extension unless they actually win a final – something they haven’t done since 2014.
The Power were just one appalling holding-the-ball decision away from the 2014 grand final, but have four September absences and a heartbreaking extra-time loss in an elimination final since.
Whatever happens, however, Hinkley deserves a hell of a lot of credit for bringing this club out of the absolute doldrums earlier this decade. The former SANFL powerhouse looked perilously ill in 2012 and Kenny turned things around immediately.
A lot of people forget that a lot of candidates allegedly knocked the job back before he took it.
In terms of the near misses, I also reckon Hinkley deserves more credit than he’s received over the last few seasons too.
You can look at it from the point of view that three tenth-place finishes and one ninth in five seasons is evidence of catastrophic under-performance.
I look at the fact there are only seven players from the 2014 preliminary final defeat still around and they haven’t bottomed out in that time.
He might not win them a premiership, but Hinkley should go down as one of this club’s most important figures eventually.
But, on the other hand, we have to ask whether making a finals appearance a necessity this season is reconcilable with their recent drafting strategy.
The triple acquisition of Tom Rockliff, Jack Watts and Steven Motlop at the end of 2017 certainly saw some chips pushed towards the middle of the table and it simply hasn’t worked out.
I can also understand being reluctant to rebuild after signing premiership ruckman Scott Lycett to a five-year deal in 2018.
But, just last off-season, the Power moved a lot of pieces around to secure four draft picks inside the top 25 – hardly behaviour consistent with a team in the premiership window.
They’ve unearthed some absolute gems over the last handful of seasons, with Sam Powell-Pepper already closing in on 60 games, Todd Marshall looks to be a winner, while last year’s debutants Connor Rozee, Xavier Duursma and Zak Butters are some of the most exciting youngsters going around.
Even recent draftee Mitch Georgiades had a debut to remember, kicking two goals in Round 1.
Youth has arrived at the club via trade too, and I suspect they’ll end up huge winners in the Chad Wingard for Ryan Burton deal once all is said and done.
If I was a Power fan, I’d be wondering why we’re so desperate to finish eighth this season when we could be taking a step back to pump more games into the youngsters.
As with a lot of clubs, contract time will be interesting.
Port are no exception and there will be several veterans to make a call on this season.
They got Travis Boak out of the way, signing the former skipper to a two-year extension, but Justin Westhoff and Brad Ebert – both over 30 – will hit free agency this off-season, but you’d imagine both players will either re-sign or retire.
It’d also be hard to see Charlie Dixon moving on, but stranger things have happened. The future is unclear for the likes of Cameron Sutcliffe, Jack Watts, Sam Mayes and Trent McKenzie.
While not a veteran, Powell-Pepper is also out of contract and, curiously, was allegedly offered as trade bait last year.