2023 Finals Dossier: Port Adelaide Power

Welcome to the fourth annual (with a year missing in the middle) Shinboner Finals Dossiers. For new readers, the aim is to comprehensively profile each of the top four teams. All the positives, along with potential negatives, and where it leaves them heading into this year’s finals series. To finish off it’s a look at a Port Adelaide side bouncing back after a disappointing 2022.

After two straight losses in Round 2 and 3, Port Adelaide found themselves goalless and trailing Sydney by 25 points halfway through the second quarter in Round 4.

At that point if someone said the Power were about to begin a 13-game winning streak, they’d have been laughed out of whatever building they were in.

Flash forward and Port have earned a third top four finish in four years, rectifying their 2022 game style ailments and adding a healthy dose of late game fortune along the way.

A 2-7 record in games decided by two goals or less last year flipped to 6-2 this year, but to overly focus on the heroics of Aliir Aliir (Sydney), Dan Houston (Essendon), and Connor Rozee (Melbourne) would be a disservice to the team’s drastic improvement in their process.


With this being the last of this year’s Finals Dossiers, the previous three are now available for all to read:

Collingwood’s Finals Dossier
Melbourne’s Finals Dossier
Brisbane’s Finals Dossier

Here’s a link to the Shinboner Patreon page.


A snapshot of Port Adelaide’s home and away season

Telling a story about Port Adelaide’s season can be done by looking at the uncontested possession stat.

Last year it was ludicrously high. The Power were +870 in uncontested possessions over the 2022 home and away season: 227 more than Fremantle in second and 248 more than Carlton in third.

But all the possession counted for nothing because it was tiki-taka without any end product. Or for those who don’t like that style, it could just be called tiki-taka.

Nevertheless, something had to change as I wrote in their 2022 end of season analysis. And thankfully, it did. Even if it was hard to see early on.

The damaging kicks in their side – particularly from the back half – are now used to, well, damage the opposition. With that shift in mindset, it becomes about moving it into their forward half as sharply as possible, looking to exploit a defence before it gets set and then locking it in with pressure close to goal.

In short, the ball movement became what it needed to be to highlight their strengths and keep play as far away from their weaknesses as possible.

Port Adelaide’s strengths: How they beat you

Port’s ball movement wouldn’t be possible without their midfield allowing them to dictate games.

Everything starts from the onballers who are set up for the next decade, with Zak Butters and Connor Rozee leading the way, Jason Horne-Francis growing every week, and Willem Drew as the jack of all trades (Ollie Wines is still a vital part of the group, he just won’t be around for another 10 years I assume. Sorry Ollie if you’re reading).

No side has scored more points from clearances or at a more efficient rate, and that combination of quantity and quality is down to these players and the two-way threat they cause.

Earlier in the season I delved deep into how the Power’s midfield worked and although the stats have shifted slightly since then, the general concept remains. From that piece:

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, 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.

With a firing midfield and renewed focus on quicker ball movement, there’s still one more area to highlight: their forward pressure.

No side has scored more points from forward half turnovers than the Power, a far cry from 2022 when they were mid-table for total points and bottom six for efficiency.

While Jed McEntee and Darcy Byrne-Jones aren’t household names – and the latter has ‘enjoyed’ whipping boy status amongst some portions of the fanbase at different times – they’ve played a crucial role in this improvement. Turnovers created by McEntee have led to more points than any other Power player,

That type of ground level pressure – along with Sam Powell-Pepper’s continued presence, who also needs to be highlighted – has created an atmosphere where opposition errors aren’t let off for a mistake.

And all those three areas mentioned – a firing midfield, quicker ball movement, and a much-improved forward half pressure game – is needed, because without any one of those three, it exposes Port’s well-known weakness.

Port Adelaide’s weaknesses: How you beat them

Whether it’s life, or football, to get something you normally have to give up something in return.

For Port Adelaide, that manifests in a back half group who can cut teams up with disposal but is shaky defensively.

If I’ve done my sums correctly in adding up all individual columns from the AFL stats website, no team loses more one-on-one defensive contests than Port Adelaide:

Team% of defensive one-on-one contests lostAFL rank
Port Adelaide31.6%18th
North Melbourne27.9%16th
Please let this manual addition be right

So while the decision, detailed in previous sections, to speed up ball movement and play a forward half pressure game was undoubtedly the correct one, it also places a lot of stress on those systems to execute correctly.

If they don’t, sides find plenty of joy in transition. In fact, only two sides have allowed opponents to go from defensive 50 to forward 50 and kick more goals than the Power: Hawthorn and North Melbourne.

The flip side? As mentioned in the previous section, no team has scored more from forward half turnovers than Port. It’s very much feast or famine and explains why they’ve been so fun to watch this season.

To get to a situation where Port’s weaknesses can be exploited, looking at this year’s Showdowns proves instructive.

The Crows were able to dictate around contests…

2023 Showdowns: Contested possessions

Round 3: Adelaide +22 contested
Round 20: Adelaide +18 contested

…and from that, the speed of their ball movement constantly put Port’s defence under pressure…

2023 Showdowns: Adelaide’s inside 50s + score

Round 3: 59 entries, 18.9
Round 20: 56 entries, 16.16

…particularly in the last quarter where Port’s defence eventually broke completely:

2023 Showdowns, Q4: Adelaide’s inside 50s + score

Round 3: 14 entries, 7.1
Round 20: 16 entries, 5.5

Zeroing in on the ball movement aspect of things, if an opponent can stop Port from setting up in its forward half it can find gaps everywhere. Take this from the first quarter of Round 20 as an example:

Or, relitigating the defensive one-on-one aspect, key forwards can get off the chain. Taylor Walker had no right to win this:

For the record, this was before the ‘incident’ with Aliir and Jones

It’ll arguably be the storyline Saturday’s final is decided on, given Brisbane’s powerful forward line.

While it’s been an issue for a few years, a look at what’s on the horizon suggests it may not be an issue for too much longer.

The question: Is this a curtain raiser for Port Adelaide?

If we go all the way back to 2020’s Power Dossier, the list was profiled as very much ‘youngsters and veterans’, with few players in their hypothetical prime years.

At the time, I wrote the following:

“It’s not the traditional list profile commonly accepted as a premiership contender, which is why the Power can sit top of the ladder for literally the entire season and still not be considered favourites. But it’s working this year because the veterans are still producing.

“They provide the support to ease the less experienced players into AFL life, allowed to develop at whatever pace suits them.

“It means while this current stint near the top projects as temporary (current day edit: not quite) given the veterans are bound to drop off sooner rather than later, in theory the drop time should be minimal because of the Power’s list profile.”

If we compare the 2020 list to 2023, we can see significant change:

Eight of the players remaining from 2020 entered that season with fewer than 25 games to their name and have now become key members of the 2023 outfit.

And if my math is correct, a further 21 from the 2020 group is no longer at Alberton – essentially half the list. Add those two numbers together and it’s nearly an entirely different team.

We can see the age profile has shifted ever so slightly as the youngsters have matured into taking leading roles – especially in the midfield where it’s the first year Rozee and Butters have taken the responsibility of leading the way in there.

But for all that, there are still plenty of areas for improvement. The slight drop off in team performance over the last third of the year is something that goes away with an extra season or two into younger bodies as they hit their peak. Given Rozee and Butters’ play style it’s entirely feasibly they could be better again next year – especially after a full pre-season from Horne-Francis alongside them.

There are still holes in the list that the Power are in the market to fill. Whether they believe Esava Ratugolea is the answer as a key defender after his recent trade request, or they’re also after Brandon Zerk-Thatcher, it’s clear their back seven will look markedly different in 2024.

Then there’s the case of Brodie Grundy, who – if he does depart Melbourne – would be a dream addition for the short to medium term while younger ruck stocks develop at their own pace.

All this is to say there’s to say there’s still plenty of improvement internally and likely coming in from outside sources before Port’s 2024 campaign begins.

Given that, and because Port don’t come into September with the best of form, this – to me at least – almost feels like a bonus year. As long as no individual flaws are revealed, with players or coaches.

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