Story of 2015

After a sharp rise in 2013 and 2014 under Ken Hinkley, Port Adelaide surprisingly missed finals altogether in 2015. The addition of Paddy Ryder from Essendon was seen as the final piece of the puzzle, however the change in team dynamic proved too much as Port strung together a patchy, inconsistent season.

The Power weren’t as dominant at home and couldn’t put teams away as easily as they did in the previous two seasons under Hinkley’s tutelage. Losses to Brisbane and Carlton ultimately cost them a finals spot, with the team finishing ninth, one game behind North Melbourne.

Excuses can be made for Port Adelaide’s failure to make finals in 2015, but they won’t accept that. Ken Hinkley would have been extremely frustrated with how the season panned out and the team’s 2016 preseason would suggest that a full season performance like that won’t be tolerated again.

What went right

The Power finished with four wins in a row to narrowly miss finals and they beat eventual premiers, Hawthorn, twice throughout the season. These performances were what many were expecting to be maintained throughout the whole season and would have surely put them as premiership contenders.

The emergence of some inexperienced players is what will really be seen as the shining light of the 2015 season. Sam Gray was excellent in the final stages of the season when given more of an opportunity through the midfield, Brendon Ah Chee was fantastic in the same stretch of games and Jasper Pittard improved significantly, averaging close to 20 disposals a game. Karl Amon was another that emerged during the season.

Getting players with fewer than 50 games experience to continue on a path of good form can be difficult, but the signs were there for Port fans to take a big positive out of the season.

What went wrong

To start with, the fixture was unkind, having to play 2014 finalists on 13 occasions throughout the season. According to Champion Data, Port were ranked 13th for inside 50s per game and 12th for time spent in forward half compared to their opponents in the first eight rounds of the season, which was a significant drop from their 2014 form. After only two months, it looked clear that Port were a shadow of their former selves.

Incredible fitness was where Port Adelaide set themselves apart, but 2015 saw opposition teams catch up in this regard, and therefore able to set zones to prevent Port from efficiently taking the ball inside 50. Even though he kicked 44 goals, Jay Schulz wasn’t the presence he has previously been. Chad Wingard was the most dangerous player in attack for Port, and he should’ve been playing up the ground more often than he did.

It simply seemed as though the Power were tired in different stages of the season, and couldn’t will themselves over the line. The defence looked a lot shakier than it did in 2013/14, and the two-way running we became accustomed to, seemed to be lacking. It was disappointing to only see the entertaining side of Port emerge in the latter stages of the season.

2016 prevew

To kick off the season with year-long suspensions to Paddy Ryder and Angus Monfries due to the Essendon supplement saga was hardly inspiring for Port Adelaide, but perhaps it will be the spark that gets Port Adelaide off to a good start in 2016.

The effect of Paddy Ryder’s suspension is strangely positive, despite the loss of a fantastic player. First off, Matthew Lobbe thrived in 2013/14, when he was the sole ruckman in the Port team. Over those two seasons (45 games), he averaged around 11 disposals, 30 hitouts and over five tackles per match. He used his size to create space for his teammates and put enough pressure on the opposition to be a crucial part of protecting the likes of Robbie Gray and Travis Boak.

The second positive from Ryder’s suspension is heavily linked to Charlie Dixon’s trade to Port Adelaide. Dixon was brought in prior to Ryder’s suspension but now his role in the team looks a lot clearer. While injury-prone, Dixon is a dominant presence. He is 202 centimetres tall, is extremely strong in one-on-one situations and can be an effective second ruckman. Crucially, he is a forward that can ruck, rather than the other way around. He allows for the other talls to understand what their roles are, instead of the Power having to force players to play in positions they feel uncomfortable in.

The final positive is that it allows Port Adelaide to be smaller on the ground. It would’ve been extremely difficult to see how so many players over 193 centimetres could fit in, given not many of these talls are prolific. Now, we can expect to see Schulz and Dixon as stay-at-home forwards, Carlisle, Trengove and Hombsch to stay back at all times and Justin Westhoff to thrive in a utility role. It’s a big season for Westhoff, who won’t have the pressure of needing to play centre half forward for the majority of the season. Expect him to play on a wing, as a third tall up forward and an interceptor down back.

The other big question mark is on Port Adelaide’s defence. Carlisle and Trengove are troopers, but will they be able to cover the monsters of the competition? Will Hombsch put behind a year in which his progress stagnated and become the player we expect? Will Impey breakout and become the premier lockdown defender in the AFL? Answer two of these with a “yes” and it’s full steam ahead for the Power.

The depth has improved with a number of 1-50 game players now wanting to break into the team with form behind them. Jared Polec and Ollie Wines are like new recruits and Jimmy Toumpas actually is one. There’s the perfect mix of pace and endurance in the midfield, the perfect mix of uncontested and contested ball winners, the perfect level of two-way running and enough in attack to average 100+ points.

Matthew Lobbe is Port Adelaide’s most important player this season, even if he doesn’t reach the heights of his 2014. If he can play every game, Port Adelaide can win the premiership.

They’ll surprise a lot of people this year and be crowned minor premiers.

Best 22

B: Jarman Impey, Alipate Carlisle, Jack Hombsch

HB: Matthew Broadbent, Jackson Trengove, Jasper Pittard

C: Hamish Hartlett, Ollie Wines, Brad Ebert

HF: Chad Wingard, Charlie Dixon, Sam Gray

F: Jake Neade, Jay Schulz, Justin Westhoff

Foll: Matthew Lobbe, Travis Boak, Robbie Gray

Int: Jared Polec, Brendon Ah Chee, Tom Jonas, Matt White

Ladder prediction