It’s only Round 6, but already the drama has reached boiling point, and as usual, Port Adelaide are right in the thick of it.
In a nutshell, the AFL ladder is a complete mess. Five of the top eight teams sit tied on points, but good luck figuring out who the favourite is, because this season, anything goes.
Isn’t this what makes footy great, though? It’s upsets galore, but you Port Adelaide people probably disagree. Here’s the Power doing their old weekly wobbles trick, and just like last season, that same brand of “hot and cold” footy has already caused so much distrust in a club that should be a punters pal.
Two week’s ago the Power were sitting pretty at $5.50 to win the flag, but following back-to-back losses to Essendon and Geelong, Port now find themselves on the bubble at $9.00. Sure, there are 17 rounds left to play, but after a fortnight of scrutiny and blame, suddenly this dream team looks more like a disorganised nightmare.
The general consensus seems to be that Port, somehow, might still be one step away. They spent the entire offseason in recruitment mode, utilising all avenues to refurbish a club that finished 14-9 last year. An agonising two-point loss to West Coast in the Elimination Final can only be erased with a strong surge towards September, but after the Power stacked their list through trades and free agency, suddenly the bottom has fallen out of one of the league’s perennial flag favourites.
Sitting ninth on the ladder, it’s certainly not time for panic stations just yet, though. If you’ll recall, the Power lost back-to-back games in Round’s 7/8 during their 2004 Premiership run, so this recent rough patch isn’t exactly the end of the world. If anything, it’s just a chance for coach Ken Hinkley to regroup and figure out how he can get more from this elite list of players. Now the question just becomes, how exactly does he do that?
Pressing the Reset Button
On paper, the Power looked to be the most complete team entering the season. Charlie Dixon and Robbie Gray headline up forward, Hamish Hartlett down back, while the midfield is complemented by new arrivals, Steven Motlop and Tom Rockliff. There’s no question Port are stacked with talented individuals, but as a unit, there’s been one important factor missing since the start of the season: defensive cohesion.
For any team, team chemistry often lacks in the early stages, especially when you throw together a talented list of this magnitude in one offseason. The stats don’t lie, Port pick and choose when and where they want to defend, and that’s why we’re seeing shock losses to teams they are more than capable of handling.
Last season the Power ranked second in forward half intercepts, while this year, they rank as low as 16th. When they want to play hard they can be one of the stingiest teams down back, but at the same time, they can also allow 12 goals to Geelong in the fourth quarter.
Big injury blows to the likes of All-Australian ruckman Paddy Ryder certainly don’t help matters. Since injuring his achilles in Round 3, his loss in the side has been felt enormously, forcing the likes of Charlie Dixon to lend a hand in the ruck. That plan hasn’t really worked out so far, and the on again/off again fight between Sam Powell-Pepper and the AFL hasn’t made life any easier. His absence has placed more work on the shoulders of Brad Ebert and Chad Wingard, two players the Power would ideally like to be focusing their efforts on attack.
But while Powell-Pepper is likely to return soon, life without Ryder will continue well into the season. Now the blame falls entirely on Hinkley, because after two rounds of confusing footy, the Power’s structure is in need of a serious shake-up. One move that has to happen is for Travis Boak to spend the majority of his time in the midfield. He played 58% of his game time as a forward last year, and although he’s one of the more accurate set-shots in front of the sticks, his tackling pressure and efficiency is exactly what the Power need in the midfield. With a dangerous North Melbourne side up next, hopefully, we see a slightly more creative game plan from Hinkley this week.
How does a team score just 50 points at home? The Power had only one less inside fifty entrance than the Cats last week but managed just four marks in front of goal. All season it’s been a familiar theme for Port, who currently rank 12th in goal accuracy and 11th in average goals per game. Their inefficiency on the scoreboard is calling for a leader, and although the team does rank fifth in contested possession, players like Robbie Gray and Chad Wingard need to take control, rather than relying on lucky plays from stoppages like this snap from Ollie Wines.
— AFL (@AFL) April 21, 2018
For all of the Power’s offseason spending/trading, an elite list doesn’t equal a premiership. Things become even more difficult now that new recruit Lindsay Thomas is set to serve a three-match ban following his hit on Scott Selwood, a typical brain-fade from the 11-year veteran. But is it too late for the Power to overcome all these injuries and setbacks to make the eight, let alone win the flag?
At $1.24 to finish inside the eight, bookies aren’t writing the Power off just yet. This next month is huge however, with games against North, West Coast, Adelaide, and the Suns ahead. All up the Power made 11 changes to their list during the offseason, but another fifth-place finish isn’t good enough for a team that should be rivaling their neighbours for the flag.
Punters shouldn’t panic, either. This is the same team that had won the same amount of games as they had by this point last season, only with some extra added talent. If they lose to their Adelaidean neighbours in three weeks time, though, maybe ask again.