14/04/2024

Port Adelaide has added the height of Ash Woodland and Janelle Cuthbertson as part of the PSP. Picture: Port Adelaide Football Club

Port Adelaide’s sophomore AFLW season is shaping as one to watch closely after the club lured two former All-Australians at either end of the ground.

Despite finishing second last on the ladder last year, Lauren Arnell’s side showed plenty of promising signs and was in most of its games.

But like any expansion team, there were holes in the list and the squad’s overall inexperience and youth cost it at times.

At the conclusion of last season the club expressed its desire to bring in a dangerous forward and tall defender.

It only took the first three days of the Priority Signing Period for Port to satisfy both of those needs, with the team securing some of the league’s best at either position. 

Now armed with last year’s leading goalkicker Ash Woodland and elite intercepting key back Janelle Cuthbertson, Port Adelaide is well placed to improve on its one-win and one-draw record in 2023.

The players:

It would be hard to find another player who made a bigger leap in 2022 than Woodland.

Initially beginning her AFLW career at the Demons in 2019, the 176cm key forward landed at the Crows after a dominant SANFLW campaign with North Adelaide.

A promising first season at West Lakes was followed by a breakout year in AFLW S6, where Woodland played a key role in the Crows’ third premiership in early 2022.

She led the league in goalkicking with 21 majors and was named in that season’s All-Australian team.

Woodland backed up her form later that year in AFLW S7, where she booted 14 goals to finish equal third across the league.

At just 24 years old, Woodland ominously still has the ceiling to grow and improve as a player as she continues her career at her childhood club.

Cuthbertson’s journey is one of the many great cross-code stories littered throughout the league.

The West Australian initially pursued tennis while studying sports management at Texas A&M University.

She started playing Australian Rules Football for the first time in January 2019 and was drafted by Fremantle just 10 months later.

The 175cm key defender enjoyed a breakout second season in AFLW S5, where she announced herself as one of the league’s best intercepting defenders.

Her form earned her a spot in the 2021 All-Australian team, an incredible rise after she had started playing amateur footy just three years earlier.

Unfortunately Cuthbertson endured an injury-interrupted 2022 where she only played four and five games in AFLW S6 and S7 respectively. 

Now at Alberton, the 32-year-old will bring experience both on and off the field for Port down back.

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The fit:

Port Adelaide struggled to find the big sticks in its inaugural season, with the team’s total of 35 goals the equal third lowest last year.

While the Power assembled a strong midfield group filled with experienced and young talent, their engine room lacked a connection with their forward line, which proved to be costly in their close losses.

An ankle injury to star key forward Gemma Houghton didn’t help matters, with the two-time All-Australian limited to just four games in her first year at Alberton.

The forward line lacked any real structure in Houghton’s absence, which hurt Port’s small and medium forwards.

The club’s leading goalkickers (Houghton, Hannah Ewings, Jade De Melo and Britt Perry) finished with just four each, while skipper Erin Phillips went goalless for only the second time in her career despite spending plenty of time forward of the ball.

Phillips’ other goalless season was in AFLW S4 where she only played two games off an ACL injury.

Woodland’s arrival should hopefully solve these issues, as she brings a new forward target and proven goalkicking ability to the club.

If Houghton can stay healthy, the Power will suddenly have one of the most dangerous key forward duos in the competition.

Woodland will also take pressure off Phillips, who was often signalled out by opposing teams due to Port’s lack of other credible forwards.

While the quality and quantity of inside 50 deliveries might be down from what Woodland experienced at the Crows, the Powers’ emerging midfield group should still find a way to get the ball to her.

Developing chemistry with young stars like Ewings and Abbey Dowrick should be a priority during pre-season.

Unlike Port’s forward line, the team’s back five showed it had the makings of a very strong group.

The key posts were all held down by young players, who stood up well despite often being put under pressure in the club’s first season.

The trio of Amelie Borg (18), former premiership Lion Indy Tahau (20) and Alex Ballard (20) has the potential to serve the Power for years.

The latter two both finished top 10 in the team’s best and fairest, while Tahau also received a Rising Star nomination.

They were supported by experienced players like tough small defender Ebony O’Dea, ex-Suns skipper Hannah Dunn and two-time premiership half-back Ange Foley when she wasn’t needed up the ground.

The main quality Cuthbertson will add is an experienced tall defender to a young emerging group.

The 32-year-old is one of the league’s best interceptors when healthy and should help take pressure off the rest of her teammates. 

The balancing act for Port will be whether Cuthbertson’s inclusion will be at the expense of one of its young defenders.

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