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The Roar


'Sold part of their future to tread water': Power failure leaves Port in the dark post-trade period

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19th October, 2023
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Port Adelaide’s attempts to fill gaps on their list in the trade period haven’t made them any better and could come back to haunt them in the future.

At least needs were addressed, one would respond with. Indeed, the key defensive post has been an issue for a long time and the lack of a ruck presence was quite restrictive in terms of flexibility throughout the season, with the Power looking at their best with Jeremy Finlayson in the role.

Ultimately, we knew which players were coming in from a mile out, it was discussed during finals and while they’ll say it wasn’t a distraction, it certainly didn’t help their September case.

Even so, this all felt like, ultimately, a botched attempt of what the Swans pulled off, filling gaps cheaply. Really, they needed a number one key defender and a good ruck who can follow up at ground level. Instead, the Power have given up a future first-round pick, a young, albeit maligned, midfield and a bunch of picks that other teams will inevitably take advantage of later in the draft.

Esava Ratugolea and Brandon Zerk-Thatcher are tall, so the added height will be welcomed to a completely undersized defence. What the club desperately required was a lockdown type who could thrive in multiple defensive schemes. What they recruited are two intercept-first players who’d much rather peel off their opponent than be in a contest with them.

Ratugolea was pretty good for a player learning his craft, but his defensive success rate was also a testament to the way Geelong sets up behind the ball. Zerk-Thatcher has improved in one-on-ones every season, but appears to thrive as a third-man-up sort of guy.


When Aliir is the existing lynchpin of the defence, a player who is also an intercept, counter-attack defender rather than anything above average in one-on-ones, it means the Power project to be overly aggressive in the way they defend.

All it does is apply more pressure on the midfield group to work even harder defensively to force the opposition to launch high balls into attack – it worked for the three-month undefeated stretch during the season, but in finals, it was difficult for those players to find an extra gear.

When the rest of the defence is made up of excellent, aggressive players in terms of both kicking and field position, it only increases the pressure on these new recruits to succeed in ways they’ve not shown consistently in the past. It feels like a big season for Lachie Jones as part of that group, whose development will likely require him to mirror the successes of Brayden Maynard as soon as possible, to ensure accountability is held by someone in the defensive arc. That sort of barometer player can straighten looser players up, but it’s a big ask for a 21-year-old.

In terms of ruck fits for successful teams, you either want someone who is a strong marking target around the ground with a work rate to find space, or one that follows up at ground level in the contests, either by tackling, winning a clearance or really good tap work.

In Jordon Sweet, it felt like a player worth picking up cheaply and giving an opportunity to. In the final seven weeks of the VFL season, he averaged 17.7 disposals, three marks, 44.4 hitouts, 5.2 tackles and a goal a game to help secure a finals berth for Footscray.


Watch the footage and regardless of the level of opposition, which varied at times, his desire to attack on the ground felt meaningful and lost at state league level.

It’s why overpaying for Ivan Soldo, the premiership Tiger, creates more questions than it solves problems. The former Bulldog moved for more opportunity and to be closer to home, but then Soldo’s move himself was to be the number one ruck.

Soldo’s encountered some injuries in his time and has been handcuffed to Toby Nankervis for his entire career. In the spurts we’ve seen of him as the main guy, he does the right things: he can stick tackles on those around him and this year, he developed his tap work.

Albeit unnatural, he was an unlikely forward target at the struggling Tigers and started clunking them around the ground. Throughout his career, though, he has always been a low time-on-ground player, more impactful in spurts and as the solo ruck.

Richmond was happy in the end to let Soldo chase his dreams as the big banana at a club and in getting Fremantle’s future second-round pick, it was an outstanding deal for a player who may have ended up slipping to third on the depth chart at the club by the end of 2024.

But for Port Adelaide, they’re banking on this being a successful restructuring of their own ruck depth and putting their eggs in the basket of swift Soldo’s solo development.


He doesn’t have the tank to stretch the field and run the opposition ruck into the ground, and the options will be limited if they end up wanting to play both Soldo and Sweet, as neither figures to be an AFL standard forward option for a contending team.

Both are likeable characters with upsides, it’s just curious to recruit both, spending more than necessary when young Dante Visentini showed similar signs.

Maybe this is their way of deciding to develop the 20-year-old as a key position prospect, but the Power have been guilty for a long time of driving young ruck prospects into the ground at state league level without senior development opportunities.

All of this makes for a curious set of moves that haven’t necessarily put the Power in a better position for the 2024 flag, while giving away some decent future pieces.

Power coach Ken Hinkley looks on

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

By no means is this a death knell on Port Adelaide as a whole, but the fans are already disenfranchised by the senior coach and the end to 2023, so the failure of the recruits to have immediate impacts on this team with different roles to what they’re used to will cause a lot of issues.

The Power aren’t notoriously a team that rallies after a tough start, under pressure either.


While the recruitments of Ratugolea, Zerk-Thatcher, Soldo and Sweet addressed obvious gaps in a top-four team, the price paid for questionable fits have put the Power in a difficult situation.

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Many teams improved and there’ll be plenty of competition for a spot in the top eight in 2024, while the Power sold part of their future to tread water.