Look Back/Look Ahead: Port Adelaide

Welcome to Look Back/Look Ahead, a series where every team is analysed in-depth, and their temperature taken. The plan here is to figure out where a team is at with their on-field style and overall list health before transitioning to their most pressing issue, and whether they can solve it over the off-season.

At the start of 2022 I was adamant Port Adelaide were on the right track with their list build, but with external expectations being too high they were in the perfect place for criticism.

At the end of 2022 I’m not quite at the adamant stage with their list build, but still relatively confident.

What concerns me now isn’t the individual talent, but the (apparent) internal expectations and game style. There feels like a disconnect somewhere…

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Look Back/Look Ahead will run during the weeks of September, taking us right up to Grand Final day and finishing with the top two shortly after.

$10 Patrons will have exclusive access to these posts for the first 24 hours after publishing and they’ll be free for all after that. The schedule for non-finalists (not including North Melbourne):

West CoastReadGWSReadEssendonRead
AdelaideReadHawthornReadGold CoastRead
Port AdelaideTodaySt KildaReadCarltonSep 13

Here are all the Patreon details and how to sign up.

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If no image appears here, head to the List Management page for the most up-to-date graphic
If no image appears here, head to the List Management page for the most up-to-date graphic

Shout out to Port for being the most organised team so far when it comes to contracts – makes it easier to analyse.

With six delistings/retirements, only three players left out of contract, and two picks in the top 50 of the draft (once Amon’s compensation arrives), it looks like the Power’s focus will be more needs-based rather than best available.

Which makes it surprising there hasn’t been any noise about trying to improve their key defensive stocks. When we look at the age demographic we see an aging cohort: Tom Jonas (32 in 2023), Trent McKenzie (31), Tom Clurey (29) and Aliir Aliir (29); all either not suited to taking the number one key forward or undersized in their respective roles.

It doesn’t match up to the timeline at the other end of the age scale. There we see a bunch of midfielders and forwards 23 and under organised well to either build on their 2022 or replace this year’s departures.

Josh Dunkley and Junior Rioli make sense – the latter much more than the former from a structural point of view – but with no word on their most pressing need down back it makes for a confusing time. Which leads into the two key points when it comes to Port’s next phase.

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Posts continue to come thick and fast. If you’ve missed anything recently, here are links to catch up:

Wednesday 7th: Look Back/Ahead: Gold Coast (12th, 10-12, 102.8%)
Tuesday 6th: Look Back/Ahead: Hawthorn (13th, 8-14, 89.8%)
Sunday 4th: Elimination Final Analysis: Fremantle v Western Bulldogs
Sunday 4th: Qualifying Final Analysis: Geelong v Collingwood
Saturday 3rd: Qualifying Final Analysis: Melbourne v Sydney

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Where do Port think they’re at?

Charlie Dixon, about to turn 32 years old and with plenty of miles on the legs, is still the fulcrum of Port Adelaide’s forward line. There’s no indication of future planning behind him – either in a change of style or a similar type of player waiting in the wings.

Even Dixon’s absence in the first half of the year didn’t prompt any change in the Power’s ball movement, still entering 50 with the same style – just without a foundation providing a base for others to work around.

As touched on, there’s already an undersized, aging key defensive group – again with seemingly no inclination to refresh it any time soon.

But in nearly every other position there is talent either not quite in their prime, or with promising prospects. Either way, they’re not in a position to carry the load of a flag contender unless they all develop rapidly and simultaneously.

The phrase ‘flag contender’ may seem unrealistic, but consider the following line by Port’s general manager football Chris Davies in a post-season interview with the Advertiser:

“But, when you set out at the start of the year to win the premiership, anything other than the flag sees you leave the year disappointed.”

In a media-managed world, that line doesn’t come out by accident. There’s a disconnect somewhere between how the list is developing and what it’s capable of at the moment.

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As we head towards free agency and trade period, a reminder that the plan is to have a post for every move that involves a player:

For first access, head to Patreon to sign up.

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The uncontested possession style

Port leaned heavily into possession as a defensive measure throughout 2022 and it led to some eye-watering uncontested differentials.

2022 H&A SeasonUncontested Possession DifferentialAFL Rank
Port Adelaide+8701st
Fremantle+6432nd
Carlton+6223rd

To be roughly 25 percent ahead of second is a staggering gap and it did work as damage limitation…

– 5th in points against from turnovers
– 6th in points against from opposition’s defensive half
– 4th in points against from opposition’s forward half

…but it restricted Port’s ability to score far too much:

– 13th in points for from turnovers
– 15th in points for from defensive half

It’s a dated method of ball movement which limits their ceiling. It’s arguably priority one for what needs to change because they’re not going to trouble the best sides with this style. 2022 bore that out:

Port Adelaide’s games v 2022 finalists

Total: 11
Wins: 2
Losses: 9
Scores Per Inside 50: 39.8% (would rank 17th in the AFL over a full season)

While it’s unrealistic to say Port should have won most of those 11 games – especially after I’ve just spent hundreds of words saying they’re good but not a top four side – they’re not the second worst offensive side in the competition.

Fix the ball movement, get on the same page with the medium term planning, and the Power should be able to move forward smartly. Until then they’re on a watch list for odd decisions.

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