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Don't let their winning streak fool you, Port are still bang average

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Expert
19th May, 2022
24
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With a 4-5 record after nine rounds, Port Adelaide have been one of the AFL’s most disappointing teams in 2022.

If ever we needed an example of how prevalent recency bias is in AFL media, Port Adelaide’s four-game win streak has somehow saved the club from criticism, simply because it’s an improvement on a winless opening five rounds.

It’s just another chapter in the story of a team that has somehow been able to shake the “pretenders” tag that has been previously earned through regular-season obliterations of lesser-opposition and an extremely average record against finalists.

The validity of such a label can be argued against – fans of the club have had a minor premiership and two preliminary finals appearances in the last two seasons, a source of great pride and are genuinely good accomplishments.

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Yet there is truth to their poor record against good teams and the performances against bad ones. It has hardly ever been popular to assess the club as disappointing having had high placings, but the 71-point preliminary final loss to the Bulldogs in 2021 wasn’t completely shocking either, which is an indictment on all parties.

None more so, really, than Ken Hinkley, who was under incredible pressure after that particular performance. Piling on in the aftermath was simplistic and easy, but to do it earlier was a fool’s errand.

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Nevertheless, the criticisms flew in thick and fast from everywhere, including from Power fans themselves.

Hinkley’s an interesting one – this is his 10th season in charge, for five finals appearances and three preliminary finals to show. In 2014, they lost by three points to the eventual premier. In 2020, it was a six-point margin.

Ken Hinkley
Ken Hinkley the coach of the Power speaks to the media during a press conference (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

He led them to finals in his first season in charge (2013), their first appearance after the scarring 2007 Grand Final.

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Tactically though, Port Adelaide’s performances in crunch matches over the last two seasons have been uninspiring and a weird combination of safe, yet unconvincing that a victory is on the table.

This circles us back to the initial point made, in the fact that the Power have been absolutely disappointing, but aren’t under the microscope because they’ve strung a few wins together.

Port Adelaide haven’t proved anything in 2022, which makes it strange as to why we have largely accepted where they sit, after a mini run-on.

Ironically, the best footy they’ve played was in the second half of the loss to Carlton, where they came from the clouds to nearly pull off an incredible comeback.

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It was the most free-flowing, daring football seen in recent times by Port and signalled a rare positive shift in tactics and positional moves from Hinkley, but perhaps best peaked at that time.

The winning streak the team has been on has been much the same as previous seasons – they demolished the two worst teams in the league, beat a Bulldogs team outside the top eight and of course, the Saints.

Many may hang their hats on that victory, the Saints had only lost one game to that point, but that victory was less being successful in a war of attrition and more somehow stumbling over the line in the worst game of the season.

If that seems overly dismissive, it doesn’t give enough credit to the fact Port went from completely outplayed early, to gaining some sort of ascendancy in the second half.

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Still, the grey in Port’s kit that night was the most colourful part of that game.

So now, after nine rounds, Port Adelaide sit in 10th position on the ladder of 108.8, which has been largely dictated by their performances against hapless opposition.

Tom Jonas of Port Adelaide leads his team off after their massive loss to Hawthorn.
Tom Jonas of Port Adelaide leads his team off after their massive Round 2 loss. (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

We absolutely have a right to look at the team from the most simplistic of viewpoints if we want, because the Power have always placed emphasis on wins and losses.

Prior to the commencement of 2022, the fixture that presented itself for Port Adelaide would have indicated that the team would have, at the very least, six wins from their opening nine games.

A winless opening five rounds was absolutely unfathomable at that time, with games against Adelaide, Hawthorn and Carlton. Jordan Dawson will give the supporters nightmares for years to come.

Reality is the best source of truth and the truth is, that no one can possibly be happy with how Port Adelaide have gone this season.

Like any other team, injuries have been a factor. For Port, many will believe that they’ve been particularly restrictive.

The main two have been Aliir Aliir missing three games, and Charlie Dixon’s absence to date. Scott Lycett’s impact around the ground is often overstated and has been replaced by a far better tap ruckman, while Trent McKenzie started this year off poorly and who knows if Orazio Fantasia’s body will ever give him a good crack.

Aliir’s only experienced a slight regression in his defensive numbers, still rating above average overall. However his intercepting numbers have decreased and he’s averaging three less disposals at a worse efficiency, providing very little of the dual threat he did in 2021.

The team is conceding 72 points on 48.1 inside 50s a game, compared to 67.8 points on 47.5 inside 50s last season. We know St Kilda kicked 4.18 against them too.

They’ve been easier to score against inside 50 and their opponents have averaged nearly 400 more metres gained than last season, indicating the Power aren’t defending more direct ball movement.

Offensively, Port Adelaide has gone from an average of 13 contested marks per game (ranked second) to 8.8 this season (16th). Accuracy in front of goal has completely flipped too, while they’re averaging a full seven points less per game, also likely impacted by the Saints game.

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There’s a direct correlation in these drop-offs with Dixon’s absence, as one of the AFL’s best contested marks and accurate shots on goal in 2021.

Yet the reliance on a 31-year-old key forward with an injury-ridden past with just 23 goals in 15 games against top-six teams in his last two seasons, which is reduced to 17 in his past 14, is another source of great worry about the Power.

Given they’ve barely handled just a couple of injuries is particularly concerning.

The positives out of the disappointment of 2022 have been Connor Rozee’s midfield move, averaging 25 disposals, five clearances and four inside 50s in the last five games, while Todd Marshall and Mitch Georgiades’ hands have been really good.

Dan Houston’s having a career-best season, while Sam Hayes finally debuted and has been good, when can be around the ball.

But overall, four consecutive and somewhat predictable wins cannot and should not excuse this club, making them exempt from the criticism that went their way a month ago.

The beauty of fixturing, however, is that now is the time where the Power and Ken Hinkley can prove their relevance in 2022.

They face Geelong, Richmond, Sydney, Gold Coast and Fremantle in their next six matches. If Port Adelaide want to truly turn their season around and provide actual cause for optimism, they win four of these games and make a stand. It seems far more unlikely than likely.

If the best fans can hope for is sneaking into finals, the club has let down its most important stakeholders.

Don’t be misled by a couple of wins, Port Adelaide have arguably been the league’s most disappointing team over the first nine rounds of 2022.

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