How Port Adelaide’s midfield works in tandem

Originally this post was supposed to be all about Zak Butters, Connor Rozee, Jason Horne-Francis, and the impact they’re having as a trio.

But after some digging into the vision, I came to the realisation that would sell the rest of Port Adelaide’s midfield short.

While Butters, Rozee, and Horne-Francis have been taking the lion’s share of plaudits, the work of Willem Drew, Ollie Wines, and to a lesser extent Travis Boak, are all crucial to the health of their midfield rotations.

A mix of two-way runners, explosive power, youth, and experience; it’s a key part behind Port’s 11-game winning streak.


This type of standalone post is exclusive to those on the $10 Patreon tier for 24 hours before anyone else sees them, and it’s because of all those subscribers that I can dedicate this sort of time to analysis.

For those coming to this post late, there are plenty more features available to those who sign up. You can find the entire list here.

Some features are new, some have been refreshed, and there’ll always be more in the works. Here’s the link to the Patreon page.


The important note to start on is how none of the midfielders play heavy on-ball minutes.

While centre bounce attendances aren’t an exact replica of a player’s on-ball splits, without access to exact Champion Data minutes it’s the closest we’re going to get.

Rozee is at 71 percent over the season, Horne-Francis 58 percent, and Butters 56, although the latter is 65 percent from Round 4 onwards, using numbers from

After that Wines is 55 percent, Drew 42 percent, and Boak 17 percent in the games he’s played.

It’s a different approach to some other teams with designs on a finals campaign, but that’s the benefit of a deep midfield.

For example, Brisbane’s on-ball rotations work around Lachie Neale and Josh Dunkley as centrepieces, the Bulldogs have progressed to a heavy reliance on Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Liberatore, and Adam Treloar (when fit), and Melbourne, obviously, look to the trio of Clayton Oliver (again, when fit), Christian Petracca, and Jack Viney.

The Power have the luxury of mixing and matching depending on game state and opponent. We’ve seen two clear examples of it over the last fortnight.

Against the Bulldogs, clearly there was something missing with the initial midfield mix, because about halfway through the second quarter a move was made to get Boak on-ball rather than the wing.

As we can see from sequence data, the former captain switched with Drew and the move had its desired effect. And if there’s a way to track this that isn’t manually and centre bounce by centre bounce, someone please let me know. Please.

*a reminder this is being used as a proxy for exact midfield minutes

Then last week against Geelong, Wines moved back on-ball after his stint on the wing, essentially switching with Boak after the latter’s second half.

However, the Cats’ midfield was well on top in the first quarter before a relatively even second term.

This time the lever pulled was getting Horne-Francis into more of the action, along with triggering a team-wide increase in aggressiveness. In theory it could have left an opening for Geelong were they good enough to expose it the other way, but they were simply blown away.

The second half clearance count was 26-9 Port’s way, their scores from stoppage advantage was 37-6, and there was even a 31-18 tackle edge to boot.

You’d think given the major personnel move was a Horne-Francis move, he’d be the key driver behind the midfield dominance on the stat sheet.

Not quite. If anything, he was even quieter in the second half than the first. But the key behind his move was the different looks it forced Geelong to defend against, which gets into the next part of illustrating how depth in options hurts opponents.


Now the mid-season draft is in the books, all the relevant list demographics, contracts, and depth chart pages have been updated to play around with.

The depth chart pages are available for those on the $5 and $10 tiers. Hopefully everyone finds the tool as useful as I do.

Here is where to find the page.


Nearly all of Port Adelaide’s midfielders are two-way players, able to hurt both with and without the ball.

Rozee leads the team in pressure acts and ranks second in tackles, while also having more score involvements than any teammate.

Butters is either the Brownlow favourite or very close to it for good reason, causing maximum damage per possession and also getting a lot of them. Yet we know he maintains midfield structure without the ball and throws himself around like he’s 195cm and 100kg. Does he know he’s 181 and 77 instead, or is it some sort of Jedi mind trick?

Meanwhile, Wines explained during the week his 2022 post-season knee surgery is still something he’s recovering from…

“It’s probably a 12-month injury to be honest and it’s just something that’s going to take time and a bit of a rest is going to do it well. It’s just about ticking off months to get it used to being normal again.”

…and potentially as a result of that he’s slotted seamlessly into a secondary role, as evidenced by the centre bounce numbers highlighted earlier.

While Wines’ raw disposal count has dropped – averaging 23.4 this year compared to 32.4 in 2021 and 28.4 in 2022 – because responsibility is lessened by his teammates blossoming, he’s able to play within his limitations.

Horne-Francis is being managed ideally, used at somewhere between burst and first choice levels on-ball. He’s normally attached to at least one of Wines, Drew, or Boak in his midfield minutes as well, allowing for some cover as he plays offensively and also providing a greater margin for error as he steadily improves his work without the ball. The growth from pre-season to this point has already been large.

Even Drew, who it’s probably fair to tab as the most ‘defensive’ of the unit, led the team for kicks retained inside 50 through the early stages of the season and sits third at the club for clearances.

This allows Ken Hinkley and the Port coaching staff to throw all sorts of different stoppage looks at opponents – it’s no wonder they rank first for scores from clearances in both total points and points per clearance. Quantity and quality.

They can use a traditional triangle-type setup, with a standard target man:

Or a personal favourite, one player – normally Rozee – clears way out to create huge space in starting positions, allowing each player to thrive in that space:

Here two start on the aggressive side:

And here two start on the defensive side:

From secondary stoppages, they sometimes bring Dan Houston all the way up to act as an extra midfielder on the defensive side, allowing the starting midfielders to get on the move:

But on other occasions they keep half backs and half forwards out of the way, allowing the same starting four another attempt at beating direct opponents:

This is only a snippet of what the Power offer – I’ll have plenty more combinations to share in three weeks after seeing them live against Essendon and Carlton – but even so, when you combine all this with the talent running through that midfield, no wonder they’re so hard to defend.


If you’re enjoying this standalone team deep dive post, here are the others (non-North category) from 2023 so far:

How a contested ball dominance is fuelling Collingwood’s leap forward (after Round 3)
St Kilda, an AFL team’s litmus test (after Round 6)
How sluggish ball movement is holding Carlton back (after Round 8)
The tweaks to Fremantle’s ball movement (after Round 12)


The interesting part about the midfield combinations is through tracking it we can see a pattern emerge of which players are trusted in tandem.

The Horne-Francis partnerships have already been touched on, and as a result it’s rare to see him, Butters, and Rozee all in at the same time.

Rozee and Butters are viewed as the top two, with Wines behind from an inside/on-ball perspective and Drew the safe pair of hands. Boak is comfortably playing a situational role, able to float between wing, on-ball or half forward depending on what’s required.

Potentially in time I’ll be able to carve out enough time to go back and track the centre bounce attendances over a longer period, but that would require a few more Patreon subscribers. Hint.

Nevertheless, most of Port Adelaide’s improvement starts with this midfield group. The dominance they have shields the defence and allows them to start from more attacking positions. Coupled with the renewed focus on sharper, snappier ball movement compared to the stodgy 2022 version, they’re clicking on all cylinders.

Those two items of ball movement and team defence are set to be covered at a future date though – most likely in the annual Finals Dossiers reserved for the top four teams.

Because with at least a three-game cushion – possibly four – and just nine matches to go, it’ll take something spectacular for the Power to enter September without a double chance.

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