15/04/2024

Can Port Adelaide make it back to a preliminary final and potentially further? Picture: portadelaidefc.com.au

Port Adelaide has exited at the preliminary final stage twice in a row now, so can it finally make the leap?

For the second consecutive season, Port Adelaide missed a golden chance to make the AFL Grand Final after bombing out in a home preliminary final again.

Yet, it was more of a massacre than the 2020 match, as it was blown out of the water by a rampant Western Bulldogs by 71 points.

So, how does it get better?

Last season:

Second (17 wins, five losses, 126.3%)

It was a similar story for Port Adelaide in 2021.

Very much able to challenge the big boys, but not get the job done, while comfortably accounting for the teams at the lower end of the spectrum.

It was summed up in the first three rounds of the campaign – thumping wins over North Melbourne and Essendon before receiving a belting from West Coast.

A thrilling win over Richmond at Adelaide Oval felt like the times may have changed, but it started an ugly injury run.

Xavier Duursma and Zak Butters would suffer setbacks against the Tigers, before Connor Rozee, Robbie Gray, Orazio Fantasia, Tom Clurey, Tom Rockliff, and Kane Farrell would all miss significant matches throughout the year.

They’d all return for the pointy end of the season, bar Rockliff, as Port once again defeated Geelong in a Qualifying Final to make another home Preliminary Final.

Despite the preliminary final result, Port had some positives as it handed debuts to Lachie Jones, Miles Bergman, Marty Frederick, Dylan Williams, Jed McEntee, and prized recruit Aliir Aliir.

Furthermore, the club celebrated its first-ever Brownlow Medallist, as Ollie Wines claimed the most prestigious individual prize in the AFL.

Ins:

Jeremy Finlayson (Traded – GWS Giants), Sam Skinner (Delisted Free Agent), Josh Sinn (National Draft – Pick 12/Sandringham Dragons), Hugh Jackson (National Draft – Pick 55/North Adelaide), Dante Visentini (National Draft – Pick 56/Sandringham Dragons), Jase Burgoyne (National Draft F/S Selection – Pick 60/Woodville-West Torrens), Trent Dumont (Rookie Draft – Pick 16/North Melbourne).

Outs:

Trent Burgoyne, Joel Garner, Hamish Hartlett, Jarrod Lienert, Boyd Woodcock (delisted), Tyson Goldsack, Tom Rockliff (retired), Peter Ladhams (Traded – Sydney).

Track Watch:

There’s been an early setback for Port with Charlie Dixon and Orazio Fantasia undergoing surgeries, with the latter set to miss a chunk of football.

The club also is monitoring Sam Powell-Pepper and Scott Lycett following the pre-season practice game to Gold Coast.

Prior to the injury against the Suns, Powell-Pepper was taking his off-season challenge seriously and had booted three goals in the club’s intraclub.

However, there’s positive news as young trio Josh Sinn, Jackson Mead, and Sam Hayes are aggressively pushing for a round one berth.

Robbie Gray hasn’t missed a session all season which is certain to send chills down the spines of opposition defenders and potentially midfielders.

Zak Butters, Connor Rozee, and Xavier Duursma are also eyeing off more time in the midfield which should help alleviate the pressure on Travis Boak and Ollie Wines.

What to look forward to:

As there has been in the last few seasons at Alberton, there’s another youngster to keep an eye on and this year, that’s Josh Sinn.

He’s AFL ready and is likely to make the trip to Queensland to take on Brisbane in round one and play out of defence.

Pending his injury setbacks, a rejuvenated and challenged Sam Powell-Pepper is an exciting prospect.

The lad who tore Sydney to shreds in his debut match back in 2017 has shown glimpses and if there’s consistency, then the competition must watch out.

The midfield dynamic is going to be different this year, with many options set to rotate through Port’s engine room, but the work on forward entry is what needs to be a big improvement.

It’s a big year for:

Todd Marshall

The tall forward is one of coach Ken Hinkley’s favourites and the stats don’t lie – Port plays better when Marshall is in the side.

The 23-year-old had his best return for goals in 2021, booting 24 majors in 21 appearances, including three bags of three – against West Coast, Adelaide and Collingwood.

With the club crying out for Charlie Dixon‘s successor, Marshall can take the leap early days if the former Sun is missing with injury.

With confidence comes form, and once Marshall finds his confidence at AFL level, he can be a force to be reckoned with, especially with his terrific marking ability.

If key forward doesn’t work out, a Justin Westhoff-Esque role could also be an option.

Biggest unanswered question:

Can they get there again?

In 2020, it was Richmond and Geelong in the grand final.

Last year, it was Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs who leapfrogged Port Adelaide to make the decider.

The preliminary final loss was the third in Ken Hinkley’s reign after Hawthorn in 2014.

Port wouldn’t win another final for six years following that, and while only a practice match, the loss to Gold Coast left a lot to be desired.

Opening quarters need to be addressed at Alberton – Port trailed North Melbourne, West Coast, Richmond, Brisbane, the Western Bulldogs thrice, Collingwood twice, Sydney, Melbourne, St Kilda, Adelaide, and Carlton all at the first break in 2021.

In five of Port’s six losses last year, it trailed at quarter-time.

Get that right and it’ll go a long way to changing its trajectory in 2022.

Coaching pressure index:

Very High

It seems ludicrous to suggest a coach who has made back-to-back preliminary finals could have extremely high pressure on him.

However, that’s the case with Ken Hinkley as he enters his 10th season at the helm of Australia’s most successful club.

Missing September action could almost certainly spell the end for the former Geelong star, while anything less than a preliminary final berth will see questions asked.

With former Port assistant and Hawthorn legend Alastair Clarkson waiting in the wings across the competition, the pressure has ramped up on all coaches in the hot seat.

Early season form could be crucial for Ken.

Predicted round 1 lineup:

Ladder range:

1st-4th

Port Adelaide is set to again push for a top-four berth as it searches relentlessly for its first grand final appearance since 2007.

It has the list, it has the class, it has the youth and it’s the right time for it to make the leap – but can it get over the mental demons of the past two preliminary final exists?

Time will tell.

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