The year to date
After finishing fifth during the home and away season in 2014 and then getting within three points of making the grand final against eventual premiers Hawthorn, the expectations were high on Port Adelaide coming into the 2015 season. Many had them as strong favourites to win the flag, especially after managing to snag a discontented Paddy Ryder from the Bombers.
The price of success is often a difficult draw, and Port Adelaide’s was arguably the toughest in the opening rounds of the 2015 season: in the first four rounds, it was matched against finalists from 2014. In addition to this, the Power were forced to play without their first string ruckman in Matthew Lobbe, who was a late omission. In the game of the round, the Power lost by a narrow seven points to a fast finishing home team Fremantle.
Lobbe failed to make it back in round two and this time the loss was more clearly felt, with Sydney dominating hit-outs 57-30. The Swans used the ball cleaner despite losing inside 50s (52-62), keeping Port to its lowest score since 2011 – a measly 6. 8. (44).
Port Adelaide’s first win of the season came against a side it often struggled with in North Melbourne. The Power led for most of the match, off the back of blistering work from the engine room got them out to a large enough lead to hold out a fast-finishing North.
An unlikely victory over Hawthorn – unlikely because Port Adelaide lost the inside 50’s by a remarkable margin of 36 (79-43), and a victory in similar circumstances over Adelaide, (71-42 i50’s in Crows favour) and it was Port Adelaide’s efficiency in front of goal that gave it the 8 points and set its season back on track.
Consecutive, similar victories against Hawthorn (with a record inside 50 deficit for a winning side) and Adelaide looked to have Port’s season back on track. However, a loss from what looked to be a comfortable position against West Coast provided a pre-cursor for what was to come for Port.
The hardest part of the season should have been over – and perhaps the Power players though it was. They looked flat-footed and suffered a shock belting after inaccuracy in front of goal let Brisbane into the game: their loss to the Lions is one of only two Brisbane wins to date. Their poor form continued, as Port succumbed to a dominant Richmond – a team it had embarrassed in the 2014 elimination finals – by 33 points.
A 61 point win against Melbourne was followed by a 38 point win over the Bulldogs: the victory had largely come about through brutal efficiency in front of goal (16.4), despite having again lost the inside 50 count.
A snarling Geelong withstood Port Adelaide’s early assault, continuing their excellent form line against the Power: the walls of the ‘Portress’ crumbled around Ken Hinkley’s men, in what was their fourth loss for the season at home.
Under the guidance of caretaker coach John Barker, cellar-dwellers Carlton kept with Port Adelaide, managing to hold on against a last quarter Power surge that ultimately lacked the juice to get the job done. While many would argue the difference in this game was Patrick Cripps, most Power fans would be rueing the lack of a semi-concussed Robbie Gray as well as Kane Cornes, arguably one of the league’s best taggers who retired after his 300th game.
Chad Wingard. The exhilarating forward was off his game towards the end of 2014, but he has undoubtedly played himself back into form particular recently. Wingard is Port’s leading goal scorer with 26.13 for the campaign, which is all the more impressive given his slow start which saw him average a goal a game. From round 10 onwards, however, Wingard’s output has continued to lift: his five goal performance in the loss to Carlton saw him nearly drag his team over the line single-handedly.
Robbie Gray, Brad Ebert, Travis Boak, Hamish Hartlett, Ollie Wines, Jay Schulz, Patrick Ryder – the list goes on. Port Adelaide doesn’t lack in talent, and that very point – regardless of their ladder position – should give Port fans hope for the second half of the season. Despite a raft of disappointing losses, Port have the list capable of turning its mid-season malaise around: it just needs to bridge the gap between best and worst across four quarters.
Kane Cornes. A team cannot lose a 300 game player without it having an impact. Port Adelaide had planned on having Cornes as an integral part of their midfield in 2015, but those plans were shattered when the veteran unexpectedly retired to pursue a career change.
Whether it’s Lobbe lacking form after injury or the midfield missing Cornes’ seasoned presence, Port Adelaide have been allowing their opponents too many inside 50s and too many scoring shots as a result.
Two of the greatest providers of Port Adelaide’s run in their scintillating 2014 season were Matt White and Jared Polec, but both have come under ominous injury clouds. Polec’s body appeared to respond brilliantly to fitness guru Darren Burgess’ program in 2014 after luckless seasons with the Lions. However, complications with his foot means he’s likely to miss 5-7 weeks, more than likely meaning he’ll struggle to have an impact on the remainder of Port’s season. The severity of Matt White’s injured hamstring has yet to be confirmed, but it’s unlikely he’ll return for the must-win match against Sydney.
Where to from here?
As a team, many of Port’s statistics (goal accuracy, disposal efficiency, inside 50s, tackles, contested possessions) are actually better than they were in 2014: however, the key component this year has been the differentials. It may well be that the Power have not actually gotten worse – as it appears – but that their inconsistency, combined with an improvement from their opponents, has resulted in them being left behind the required curve.
Both coach and captain have acknowledged that Port Adelaide are struggling, too often failing to provide the required intensity and consistency between ferocious attack and stern defence. It isn’t the game plan that’s causing the Power to blackout – it’s a lack of belief. Hinkley’s game style has always thrived on a total buy in from the players. However, whether it was the changes to the coaching panel or the external (and perhaps internal) pressure of chasing a premiership in 2015, the Power have faltered.
The Power could require a minimum of 12 wins to make the finals (although 13 is more realistic), and from there anything is possible. Port should take heart and look back to last year, when they got within a kick of a grand final after finishing fifth.
After a dismal performance against Sydney earlier in the year, this weekend’s game is a chance to relaunch the 2015 season. With the suspensions of Lance Franklin and Kurt Tippett and the possible return of Patrick Ryder to Port Adelaide’s line-up, the stars could yet align for a resurgent Power to shock fellow finalists in 2015.