15/04/2024

Esava Ratugolea playing in defence for Geelong. (Photo: Geelong Cats)

Port Adelaide promised supporters it would be aggressive in this year’s AFL Trade Period and proved just that, securing the services of Jason Horne-Francis and Junior Rioli. However, there was still one more piece to complete the perfect puzzle that unfortunately couldn’t be acquired.

An area of weakness identified by the Power was the lack of key position defenders and to rectify that, the club was keen on luring Geelong tall Esava Ratugolea.

Not only was the versatile Cat starved of opportunities at senior level, but he showed promising signs in the VFL as a key defender.

Port Adelaide’s pick 33 was on the table for Ratugolea (197cm), but his club refused the offer and chose to retain him for his contract year.

There is still a gaping hole left in the Power’s defence, as the trio of Tom Jonas (188cm), Trent McKenzie (191cm) and Tom Clurey (193cm) have struggled against tall forwards like Tom Hawkins (198cm) and Eric Hipwood (203cm).

Although Allir Allir (196cm) is more than capable of playing as a lockdown defender, his best role for Port Adelaide that awarded him an All-Australian blazer in 2021 is an intercept marker that rolls off his opponent.

Ratugolea would have been a solid fit for the Power to fix their defensive issues. While it may seem disappointing, there are multiple suitors already at the club who could fill this need if Port Adelaide is to contend again in 2023.

Jake Pasini

Jake Pasini at training. (Photo: Port Adelaide Football Club)

Recruited with pick eight in the 2019 Rookie Draft from Swan Districts, Jake Pasini is a big-bodied defender who reads the play well and has performed up to standard in the SANFL.

In his time with Port Adelaide, the Western Australian product has been able to put on more muscle, building his stature as a key defender. He signed a two-year contract extension with the club in August, indicating he is a likely part of its future.

In his draft year, Pasini was likened to four-time All-Australian Jeremy McGovern, who has always been a thorn in the Power’s side when they meet the Eagles.

Although he only stands at 193cm, the 21-year-old still has a plethora of time to develop his craft and has been well-led to this point by Chad Cornes in his progression as a key defender.

He was lined up to make his senior debut this year before having his momentum halted by a torn ACL.

Pasini started this year’s SANFL campaign off well, averaging 4.5 marks and 8.2 rebound 50s across six games before sustaining his season-ending injury.

Therefore, it would be no surprise to see him don the Power’s AFL jumper some time in 2023 once he is healthy and develops some form in the Magpies. Port Adelaide has clearly shown faith in him, and will not hesitate to debut Pasini once the time is right.

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Ollie Lord

Ollie Lord (right) at training. (Photo: AFL)

Selected at pick 49 by Port Adelaide in the 2020 AFL Draft, Ollie Lord was recruited from the Sandringham Dragons as a tall forward. He transitioned down back however in the latter stages of the 2022 SANFL season.

At 197cm, Lord also poses as another option to slot in the senior side as a key defender with a sound marking ability. He has proven his versatility for the Magpies, and could be lined up for a debut for the Power before Pasini, adding depth to the club’s key defensive stocks.

The Geelong Grammar and East Brighton product is also in the same boat as Pasini, in terms of being able to bulk up for a hopeful senior debut in 2023. Lord averaged 3.6 marks and 0.9 rebound 50s in a Magpies side that had a season to forget, finishing in eighth position with five wins.

Another pre-season will help his case for a possible selection in the AFL team. Whether he is utilised in the forward line or in defence in the SANFL in 2023 remains to be seen.

Jeremy Finlayson

Jeremy Finlayson celebrates a goal. (Photo: Port Adelaide Football Club)

Jeremy Finlayson had an outstanding season for the Power in his first year with the club, dominating in the ruck while Scott Lycett was out with injury. He has proven his versatility across his career, and may be made to play in the backline, which he has done previously with GWS in 2018 over 14 games.

He had reasonable numbers in his time in defence, averaging 1.4 intercept marks, 5.4 intercept possessions, four rebound 50s and 2.3 spoils. However, he swung into the forward line in 2019, where he kicked 44 goals in a team that made the Grand Final.

Lycett will be back as Port Adelaide’s number one ruckman, and it is hard to envision Finlayson in the same forward line as Charlie Dixon, Todd Marshall and Mitch Georgiades.

The latter’s name has even been floated as an option to swing in defence with his exceptional marking ability, but has shown he has too much potential inside attacking 50.

Finlayson’s best football is also in the forward line, and while he could still rotate in the ruck temporarily, Ken Hinkley might need to use the 197cm utility in the area they struggle the most in – key defence.

He does have some mild experience there, and we have seen examples of forwards transitioning into defence and doing a superb job, like Paddy McCartin of Sydney in 2022.

As for the draft…

Jason Cripps fronts the media. (Photo: Port Adelaide Football Club)

Port Adelaide hold picks 33 and 60 in the AFL National Draft, originally planning to offload the former to Geelong for Ratugolea. General Manager of Football, Chris Davies has declared the club would consider using their first selection for a key defender.

Finlayson, Pasini and Lord are currently the Power’s best listed options to play the vital role that has exposed their defensive issues various times.

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