Naïve and stupid is how I feel after allowing myself to be seduced by Port Adelaide in 2021. Why did I think this year was going to be any different to the disappointment we have come to expect from Port Adelaide for the best part of 20 years?
Karl Amon has been Port Adelaide’s most valuable player in season 2021 and should earn his first All Australian jacket.
In a year where the club continues to fight hard for a top-four position, placing itself in the best possible spot with games against Collingwood, GWS, Adelaide, Carlton and the Bulldogs to finish the season, Amon has been the single hardest worker at the Power.
Indeed, this is a time where Ollie Wines is deemed one of the top chances to win the Brownlow Medal, Aliir Aliir is a contender for recruit of the season and Charlie Dixon didn’t kick multiple goals for the first time in two months against St Kilda.
With 12 wins from 17 games and a current occupation of fourth spot, Port Adelaide have been enormous beneficiaries of some standout performers, rather than genuine cohesion across the ground.
They’ve beaten the teams one would expect a top-four contender should beat and have struggled in other contests, having a record of two wins and five losses against teams currently in the top eight after 18 rounds, sitting undefeated with ten wins against bottom ten teams.
Given their run home and the obvious trends emerging, the Power really should be getting a double chance; what they do with that is another conversation.
Regardless, few players have performed as consistently as Amon, who has taken on the workload of being both the team’s main conduit between defence and offence as well as being the sole occupier of a wing position, which would have otherwise been shared with Xavier Duursma and Zak Butters spreading from contests.
The 25-year-old has averaged a career-high 24 disposals, six marks, four tackles, four inside 50s and three rebound 50s a game in 2021.
More specific numbers like 18 uncontested possessions, five score involvements and 476 metres gained per game are clear bests too.
In marks, uncontested possessions, rebounds, effective kicks, metres gained and shots on goal, Amon is rated elite.
The 68th pick in the 2013 National Draft’s impact goes beyond the impressive numbers though – it’s his work rate which really has the biggest influence on Port Adelaide’s style of play that differentiates him from his impressive teammates.
Wines in particular seems to be the public’s standout, given the plaudits he is receiving and the numbers he is posting. He has bolted into Brownlow consideration and has plenty of fans.
The 26-year-old is averaging 33 disposals, six clearances, five inside 50s and five tackles a game as the club’s main extractor who gets the ball forward at all costs. Wines is ranked in the league’s top ten for inside 50s, handballs, contested possessions and clearances per game.
Wines hasn’t finished with under 25 disposals in any game in 2021 and is blitzing any and all career-bests this season.
Yet the way in which Port Adelaide plays, built on effective defence and hard work up the ground to create pockets of space and trying to find the relieving man before an aerial bombardment to contested markers, only really works with the hard work of Amon.
In fact, you’d push Wines down a couple of spots in terms of actual value to the team; Aliir’s dropped off a bit defensively but is still relied upon aerially which is important, while it might even be Trent McKenzie’s incredible bodywork against larger opposition and laser-like disposal that has him as Amon’s main rival.
For a team sitting in the top four, the Power are horrifically average statistically in almost every category, which is either a tell-tale sign that they’re a prime candidate for an immediate finals exit, or perhaps they possess an intangible factor that wills them to win.
The former seems more likely.
Wines’ strength and the part of his game he receives the most praise for has been his inside work, whether it comes in the form of clearances or contested possessions, whereas Amon is almost exclusively the opposite, but has actually been far more relevant to Port’s successes.
The big question always hanging over the big-bodied midfielder is, do his numbers actually result in anything substantial for his team?
The individual numbers are huge, but Port Adelaide are ranked 14th for clearances, eighth for tackles, ninth for contested possessions and 13th for inside 50s.
People may argue the validity of these numbers given all things are not equal in the competition, but the Power are 11th in clearance differential, 11th in inside 50 differential, 13th in contested possession differential and tenth in tackling differential, the celebrated strengths of Wines.
Of course, if we’re going to discuss the immeasurable, intangible aspect of Amon’s game, it behoves us to ignore Wines’ clear on-field leadership and the improved ability to – and of course it’s an overused sporting phrase but it’s valid – “throw the team on his back”.
He has taken strong contested marks at key stages and chipped in with handy goals when Port Adelaide has most needed it.
It’s also important to note that one statistic a wingman is often measured by is metres gained, where Amon is rated elite, but the Power are ranked 15th in the competition in that category.
This can be attributed to chipping the ball around and losing ground at times, while also showing the strength of the midfield to keep the ball between the arcs.
Given the similarity of Port Adelaide’s midfield though, keeping the ball between the arcs isn’t enough.
Wines, Travis Boak and Willem Drew have been the main midfielders and, while all are different builds and styles of player, their strengths are the same and no point of difference is provided.
The prospective All Australian wingman, however, is anything but the same and his style of play specific to Port Adelaide is as influential as it is unique.
Follow Amon for one game and you will see him in every single space on the ground throughout the four quarters.
When the ball movement is at its most painfully stagnant, Amon can be found in the back pocket creating movement to at least drag the opposition out of position so Port can find targets.
That’s what a good wingman does that often goes unnoticed, which is perhaps why they go largely unrewarded in award ceremonies.
Melbourne’s Ed Langdon and Geelong’s Isaac Smith are the two other obvious candidates if we’re discussing All Australian wingmen, although, let’s face it, the selectors will always look to squeeze in the 12th and 13th on-baller into these positions.
On top of the work rate and the numbers though is Amon’s contribution to the necessary defensive half pressure that Port Adelaide has needed to become a good defensive unit.
The Sandringham Dragons product averaging close to four tackles per game is extremely impressive for a player in his position; he averages almost as many tackles per game as he does contested possessions.
Amon averages nearly nine defensive half pressure acts, only slightly less than Wines who attends all stoppages, while Langdon averages five and Smith averages four per game.
Defensive running is a standout feature to Amon’s game and it has proven to be a vital factor in the ways Port Adelaide can continue to sneak over the line.
Just three seasons ago, it appeared as though Amon was being deprived of deserved opportunities and seemed to be on the way to Hawthorn.
Since that point, he has graduated from being a best 22 player, into an important part of a minor premiership team, into someone that deserves the highest possible honours given to someone in his position.
How Port Adelaide’s season plays out from here is almost irrelevant in relation to how Amon’s season should be appreciated, whether they become premiership fancies in the backend, or suffer the ignominy of a straight sets exit.
The allure of impressive midfield numbers will reward Wines inevitably and he himself deserves his own recognition, while the team defence of Port Adelaide deserves a shoutout as it can be truly excellent at times.
But there is no conceivable way this team would be in the position they are without the hard work of Amon, whether it be measured statistically or just by watching him play and appreciating the gut running.
Hopefully the selectors receive the memo this season and actually put appropriate players in their positions in the All Australian team.
Don’t be surprised by a strong best-and-fairest showing either, even if the coaching staff love Wines.
Karl Amon has been Port Adelaide’s MVP in 2021 and deserves recognition for his efforts.