The AFL season is four rounds in, and only three teams remain undefeated. Essendon have shown resilience following their horrid pre-season to be top of the ladder, with their impressive season already claiming two interstate victories, and the evergreen Cats have already defeated both Grand Finalists from the previous season. However the surprise packet of 2013 has proven to be Port Adelaide, with four victories coming with relative ease.
Critics of the Power will be quick to claim that three of their victories have come against relatively easy sides in Melbourne, GWS and Gold Coast. However, in 2011 Port Adelaide suffered the ignominy of being the first side in history to lose to Gold Coast. In 2012, the Power was the second team in history to lose to GWS, with Gold Coast being the first. While most clubs would pencil in matches against Gold Coast and GWS as matches that should be easy wins, Port Adelaide viewed these games as potential hazards.
This season, Port has turned a corner. Off-field, the club has a new president, coach and captain. New coach Ken Hinkley was finally rewarded with the Port Adelaide position after paying his dues as an assistant coach at St.Kilda, Geelong and Gold Coast. Hinkley’s influence has been clear early, with Port Adelaide leading the AFL for uncontested possessions and marks. This demonstrates Port’s vast improvement, as Port was 17th for uncontested possessions and 18th for marks in 2012.
Players such as Justin Westhoff and captain Travis Boak have gone forward in great strides under the new regime, with Westhoff leading the AFL for marks and Boak embracing his leadership position by leading the club in clearances and contested possessions.
Port have sparked new life in off-season recruits Angus Monfries, Campbell Heath and Lewis Stevenson, the latter two not registering a senior game in 2012 at Sydney and West Coast respectively. All three have played every game this year for Port Adelaide, and can expect a solid season in the starting 22.
It is not only mature-aged recruits that have provided a spark for the Power as debutants Ollie Wines, Jake Neade and Kane Mitchell proving to be more than capable at a senior level. Wines in particular has impressed, having already been rewarded with a NAB Rising Star nomination for his Round One performance against the Demons.
The Power face a season-defining month, with winnable matches against bottom eight teams West Coast, North Melbourne and Carlton, as well as a challenging home match against the improved Tigers.
Port Adelaide has appeared to improve, with the impressive nine-point victory in the Showdown providing the team with newfound self-belief. However, this season will only get harder for Port, with a relatively soft start to the season behind them.
At four wins and no losses, Port Adelaide’s start to the season has been as good as new coach Ken Hinkley, new captain Travis Boak and new president David Koch could have hoped for. But with an increasingly challenging road ahead, Port’s season ahead will be clear.
The real question is, has Port made the step to becoming a challenge for the finals or are they still a few seasons off? This time next month, that answer will become clearer. They have done everything right so far, but the season has only just begun.