Story Of The Summer

Only a kick away from the 2014 Grand Final, Port Adelaide were always only going to be looking for a quality top up player to get them to that next step. What they found, courtesy in part to the Essendon drugs saga, was the perfect foil to current ruck Matthew Lobbe in Patrick Ryder. Ryder has the ability to win bulk hitouts, winning 549 in 2014 to rank seventh, and to go forward and kick goals, with 20 in 2014, at least double that of those ranked above him in total hitouts. Ryder will complement Lobbe and add another potent tall to Port’s already dangerous forward line.

Apart from the Ryder trade, Port Adelaide’s summer was exactly what coach Ken Hinkley would have wanted – quiet and without a major injury. In fact it is almost a story in itself that the Power will have only two players on their list unavailable for round one selection due to injury, a testament to the conditioning of Hinkley’s players over the past couple years.

Former captain and club stalwart Dominic Cassisi was lost to retirement during the off season, while delistings included Cam Hitchcock and Brent Renouf.

Having traded away picks 17 and 37 to gain the services of Ryder, the Power were never going to be major players in the draft. With four picks ranging from 56 to 84 Port recruited Dougal Howard, Logan Austin, Jesse Palmer and Billy Frampton, all picks looking towards the future as they will take time to develop into AFL ready players. This shapes up as a perfect strategy for Port Adelaide as their current list, with the addition of Ryder, is good enough to win the flag, while these young development projects should hold them in good stead in a few years time.

The story of Port’s off-season that would have captured the attention of most part-time footballers in the country was that of Johann Wagner. The winner of Foxtel’s The Recruit found himself at Alberton Oval after beating 13 contestants and thousands of applicants to gain a rookie list spot at the club. The TV series created a huge amount of hype around the contestants in the show, but realistically Wagner has a long way to go to play AFL. A NAB Challenge match against Richmond, which netted him four disposals and as many tackles, gave the lively forward a taste of what could be if he improves on his fitness.

Tom Logan was re-listed via the rookie draft along with Nathan Krakouer to round out the list changes.

Where They Excel

Port Adelaide’s fitness and ability to run out a game is by far their greatest strength. In the past two seasons the Power rank second only to premiers Hawthorn for percentage of final quarters won, with 69% to the Hawks’ 72%. To put this into perspective, Sydney and Fremantle, who contested the last two grand finals against Hawthorn, have won 54% and 57% of final terms respectively in that time. This shows that once the opposition tires, Port’s speed and endurance reigns supreme, further highlighted by the Power having 380 running bounces in 2014, a whopping 50 more than the second ranked North Melbourne.

This fast paced style allowed them to penetrate inside 50 around 56 times per match, ranked second, while not giving the opposition a chance to flood the forward line, allowing Port to take more marks than any other team inside 50 in 2014. This running game style, built on a fitness regime implemented when Ken Hinkley first took the reigns, allows the Power to move the ball quickly into an uncongested forward line boasting names like Jay Schulz, Robbie Gray, and now Patrick Ryder.

It isn’t all one way traffic though. The Power are a hungry defensive unit when they don’t have the ball, ranking second in total tackles and third in contested possessions last year. This means they hunt the ball once they lose it, and get it back more often than not. The combination of a brilliant offensive package and a hungry defensive unit hell bent on success creates an all-round package that will be hard to beat again in 2015.

Where They Struggle

The terms ‘Port Adelaide’ and ‘struggle’ haven’t been used in the same sentence since the dark days of the pre-Hinkley era. The team most likely to stop Hawthorn’s run of premierships excels in most areas, making them hard to beat on any given day.

A by-product of their fast and attacking game style is that they ranked number one for clangers and 16th for disposal efficiency in 2014. This might sound alarming, but when you look closer the numbers are misleading. Second on the clangers list in 2014 were eventual bridesmaids Sydney, while Port’s disposal efficiency of 71.2% places them only 3.1% behind the top ranked Hawks. This isn’t to say that these numbers should be completely ignored, just that they don’t spell the end of  a team’s premiership hopes in the modern era.

In reality, Port Adelaide is a strong, well-rounded team with a game plan that scythes lower ranked opponents and the talent that allows them to compete with the best.

The Year Ahead

It’s all about the start for the Power this season, with fellow top four aspirants Fremantle, Sydney, North Melbourne and Hawthorn in the first four rounds, followed by Showdown 38 against the Crows. If Port can negotiate two or three wins from their tough first four matches then a top two spot is theirs to lose. Falter in more than two of those sure to be close games and the competition will have a chance to push up behind, jeopardising a home final.

With the addition of Ryder and another year of experience into their younger brigade, coupled with the pain of a close preliminary final defeat Port Adelaide should be too powerful and too hungry for most of the competition, and it would be surprising to see them miss the top two.

Ladder range: 1-2

Best 22

B: Cam O’Shea, Alipate Carlile, Tom Jonas

HB: Jared Polec, Jackson Trengove, Jasper Pittard

C: Brad Ebert, Ollie Wines, Kane Cornes

HF: Robbie Gray, Justin Westhoff, Matt White

F: Angus Monfries, Jay Schulz, Chad Wingard

Foll: Patrick Ryder, Hamish Hartlett, Travis Boak

Int: Matthew Lobbe, Jack Hombsch, Matthew Broadbent

Sub: Jake Neade