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Where to for Port after disappointing 2022?

Ken Hinkley will be at Port next year, so where to now? The message at Alberton is 10 years old, where will the new challenge come from if not from a change at the top?

Clearly some decisions need to be made as this list appears to have a mental fragility about it. However, the talent is already there for the most part.

I premise this article on the need to be ruthless with the aim of winning the flag next year, that’s what we’re all here for isn’t it?

How do Port do that? How do they get out of the middle of the pack with a few ageing stars and a seeming lack of depth (the Magpies have been getting flogged in the SANFL all year)? Glad you asked.

We’ll start at the trade table – by all reports Karl Amon is off to Hawthorn, Melbourne or St Kilda, for somewhere around pick 18-20, the Power are banking on Josh Sinn to develop and overcome the syndesmosis injury he has suffered this year replacing Amon on the wing. I however have a different option for the position as you’ll read further down the page.

Amon is a great player in his prime, but if there is an abundance of any type of player at the club, it’s running half back/wingmen. This could be a win/win for two clubs as Amon is only 26 and entering his absolute best years, he’s already pretty darn good.

Other trade bait would be Willem Drew, Riley Bonner, Tom Clurey and Kane Farrell. I would estimate these players to be in the mid-to-late second round, some the early third, with Riley Bonner probably having the most value at around pick 26-30.

That gives Port pick 18, this year’s first which at present is pick 6 and possibly a couple of second rounders, which could be important given Port has given this year’s second-round pick to West Coast.

At a wild guess, I would estimate Port would have about $1.8 million of salary cap to play with now that the great man Robbie Gray has retired, add to that the 500k that Amon is currently on, and there is a big lump of cash in the kitty.

An article in The Advertiser stated that if Port were to miss a big fish in this year’s trade pool that they were tracking Kozzy Pickett for next year with confidence, however, Ken needs to roll the dice and bring in fresh elite talent now and go all-out for a flag in what will almost certainly be his last year in the job without one.

Players like Rozee, Butters and Georgiadis will need a chunk of this money, most likely Duursma as well once his injury funk is over, the club will also be keen to retain Josh Sinn past his initial two-year contract, so whilst there is money in the wallet now, I would expect that to be swallowed up by acquisitions and new contracts for the core group mentioned over the next two off-seasons.

Zak Butters of the Power is seen bleeding from the face.

(Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Jason Horne-Francis is the No.1 target, one year into his regulation two-year rookie contract and with his club uber keen to keep him on the books and happy, he would appear difficult to prise out of the northern suburbs, but let’s be real, the kid just looks unhappy.

I can’t see him staying past his initial contract and this could be a way for North to get maximum value for their player, while at the same time giving a young man what he ultimately wants.

The club should throw everything at him: this year’s first, the Amon pick and next year’s first. Still, I worry that North won’t let him go, but it would be a win for both parties at that exorbitant price.

A midfield of Rozee, Wines and JHF/Butters will win you premierships. The current setup of Boak, Wines and Drew isn’t powerful enough, or clean enough once they are away from stoppage, when the opposition’s quicker players exit stoppage they can also be found short of pace at times.

Boak is a good, hardworking footy player, but he lacks in the skills department, and players like this can sometimes be detrimental to the club.

At he grand old age of 35, he is past his prime as unfortunate as it is, I have similar views about Patrick Dangerfield.

They get the ball 30 times and run at 58 per cent, it hurts the team for someone to have it so much and use it poorly. Now, Boak isn’t anywhere near the ball burner as Hollywood Dangerfield and they’re a different footy beast in many ways, but you get what I’m saying.

Something that goes unnoticed about Boak is that he doesn’t really tackle anymore, which if you’re a Dustin Martin, or a Lachie Neale or Nat Fyfe, the No.1 man in the middle I could maybe, but still probably not understand.

This is how Hinkley uses Boak, as if he is the main man, but at this point in his career, that’s not his role to take.

Travis Boak of the Power and Ryan Burton after the loss

(Photo by Sarah Reed/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

There’s a Brownlow medallist or a Rozee and a Butters who would be far better suited for that attacking midfielder role. This absolutely needs to change for the Power to have any chance of matching it with the big midfields of the comp and was a black mark on Hinkley’s coaching this year, the fact it took until the season was effectively over to get Rozee more on ball is frustrating.

Brodie Grundy, if he wants to come home to Adelaide has it would appear an offer on the table from Port. Would he and Collingwood consider a deal to offload some of his enormous salary? Would Grundy take a $150,000 pay cut to come back to his home state?

We then look at a potential midfield group of Grundy, Wines, Rozee, Butters and a way out of the midfield pack begins to appear. Port have the cash to make this happen so I’ll be watching this space keenly.

Apart from that, I would also try to manufacture a trade for Isaac Rankine, however I think it’s probably him or JHF and I can’t see how the Power organise a fair trade for both.

There are a few players on the list who, whilst handy, are inconsistent and perhaps not quite AFL standard, the likes of Willem Drew, Riley Bonner, Kane Farrell, Marty Frederick, Sam Mayes, Jed Mcentee and Tom Clurey are decent footy players but have a range of issues that make them suspect at AFL level.

Trent Dumont who went down with injury was playing well and will likely be offered another contract, why did North let him go? I’m not sure.

Willem Drew is an inside beast and stopper, but he’s also a very good user of the football. As much as I like his profile as a player, he simply doesn’t get the ball enough.

This is from Wikipedia talking about probably the best stopper to ever play the game, Kane Cornes’ 2010 season – “Kane Cornes’ 36-possession, two-goal game against the Western Bulldogs in Round 16 of that year was a highlight, in addition to a 38-possession effort against West Coast late in the year.”

Cornes kept his opponents scoreless and below 20-odd touches almost every game for a decade, so to say Willem Drew getting 13–16 touches per game is acceptable from a defensive midfielder at this club in particular, would be being generous.

I’d be happy to see Drew stay, but he needs to absolutely lift his game and become more of a ball getting offensive threat whilst stopping his man.

Tom Clurey is not big enough. Riley Bonner is a booming left kick with a natural game, but his disposal is suspect at times and Kane “Superboot” Farrell hits more opposition with his boot than his own players.

Much like Drew he also doesn’t get enough of the footy, unlike Drew though, his hands aren’t clean and he can be a liability going the other way with a lack of effort being apparent at times.

The rest are just good ordinary football players, SANFL stars. Perhaps Mayes and Frederick have a place as depth but I can see a few delistings coming from this group come year’s end.

Port’s injuries this year were a problem, losing their dominant forward and premium small forward for a half and a full season respectively hurt their scoring power. Aliir going down with Port leading at the Gabba in Round 1 cost the club that game, and Aliir for a large chunk of the early part of the year.

Aliir Aliir of the Power handpasses the ball

(Photo by Sarah Reed/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Todd Marshall and Mitch Georgiadis’ extremely slow start to the season only exacerbated the Power’s scoring woes, and with Aliir not returning for six weeks their defence, which was once one of the stingiest in the league, became leaky. Even when Aliir returned he was clearly hampered by the injury for a number of weeks.

Sam Skinner, who was bought in to provide height and support in defence, lasted one game before also succumbing to injury, leaving Ryan Burton as the tallest man in defence as Clurey, who is actually shorter than Burton, was also, yep, injured.

That’s when Scott Lycett went down and Robbie Gray spent a few weeks out, Butters had 10 weeks off etc, so yeah, there were issues.

Port’s recruiting has a reasonable amount to do with the predicament they found themselves in.

Charlie Dixon and Orazio Fantasia have both been incredibly injury-prone throughout their careers, and as fun as watching both these guys play is, it’s devastating to have probably our two biggest attacking weapons be absent for so many important game.

The big man is a continuity player, if his season is interrupted it seems to take multiple games for him to return to form.

Dixon’s injury history has stopped him being a much better player than he could have potentially been, and along with his wayward kicking for goal this makes him almost a liability to the team.

Never has Dixon kicked more than 50 goals for a full home-and-away season, and that’s not enough when other teams have two key forwards kicking 50 goals a year. It’s just never quite happened for King Charles, much like the Power in fact during his tenure… coincidence?

A well-known recruitment issue has been the lack of effort to both acquire and keep a key defender. With Dougal Howard and Jarrod Lienert both heading to St Kilda and getting regular game time, the club now finally, exasperatingly, know that either Trent Mckenzie and/or Tom Clurey aren’t the real answer.

Tom Hawkins marks in front of Tom Clurey.

Tom Hawkins marks in front of Tom Clurey. (Photo by James Elsby/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

They’ve recently shifted young 196cm forward Ollie Lord back in the magoo’s which has been a moderate success and they’ve recruited Sam Skinner from the SANFL, but he’s only been seen once this year due to injury. I’m not sure he’s the answer to such an important question.

Perhaps Lord will pack the muscle on during the off-season and be the type of player we need? It’s a huge gamble however, trying to win a premiership without a fullback, or even a rookie one at that, I’m not sure it can actually be done.

Sam Hayes was bought in for seven games after dominating at SANFL level and dropped, Georgiadis was dropped twice, Amon once, Drew once, Farrell a couple of times and Clurey twice. Georgiadis in particular has lost confidence as he’s struggled to find his groove as the third tall, he had some decent games but has been a shadow of his former self this year.

Dixon not being present with an underperforming Marshall and newly minted Jeremy Finlayson getting used to being in teal & black meant Georgiadis was asked to do too much for a medium forward, and as happens with some young people the pressure has taken its toll. He’ll be back, though, he’s a ripper.

Sam Hayes’ treatment was quite strange. After performing seemingly well and armed with an impressive leap for a 207cm goliath, he was dropped, told he had things to work on and went back to dominating the lower levels. He may win Port’s SANFL best and fairest, such has been his form.

Jeremy Finlayson and Charlie Dixon have been serviceable once the ball hits the deck but have been dominated at hit-outs, even in last week’s dead rubber against a very ordinary Essendon, Hinkley refused to play the young big man.

Charlie Dixon of the Power and Max Gawn of the Demons

(Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

The shining light from this situation though is the form of Jeremy Finlayson, who has kicked a couple of bags of five and given port real drive from the midfield when he’s gone in. He’s seemingly fit in well at the club as his teammates love to get around him after a goal as well.

This trade has been a raging success for the Power and Finlayson will figure strongly in both the best and fairest, as well as next year’s planning. I’d play him on the wing once Lycett gets back, he’s mobile and has a superb boot, plus he’s 6’7” which is very nice. Not bad for pick number 247 in last year’s draft.

So, back to the main question: how do we get out of this midfield malaise?

• Make a couple of token assistant coach changes as well as some role shuffles within the surviving coaching staff, this gives the players a new andoice to listen to and with a new voice can come new belief
• Trade Amon, Drew, Farrell & Bonner for picks
• Trade aggressively for either JHF or Rankine, forget Dunkley, he’s not needed
• Get Grundy if possible
• Find the best fullback in the state leagues and put him on the list
• Hire a full-time sports psych if they don’t already have one. Port’s major problem is they lack belief, work on the mental side of footy more
• Lock Marshall in as the main man up front, Dixon plays up the ground and pinch hits in the ruck when the ball is in the F50, Georgiadis third tall
• Play Finlayson on the wing or at CHB if we can’t find a fullback
• Pull Boak from the midfield, it’s time for the new brigade to own the middle of the ground, perhaps move Boak to the wing
• Play SPP in the midfield 30 per cent of the time, he’s not been in there all year and is having a cracking season, it’s time to put the big bald bull in the middle
• Stop Playing Tom Clurey or Trent Mckenzie as fullback, they just aren’t big enough
• Get Orazio fit! What sort of a difference could he have made to a Port team crying out for scoring power this year?
• Stop DBJ dump kicking, what’s happened to the vice-captain? He no longer has that composure that won him the AA small back role, it’s, get it and dump it, which then leads to a turnover. Lachie Jones and Jase Burgoyne would be breathing down his neck, so DBJ needs to fix his disposal, or lose his spot.

The bones of next year’s team could look something like this:

B: DBJ, Big Fullback, Ryan Burton
HB: Jonas, Aliir, Houston
C: Duursma, Wines, Finlayson
HF: Rankine/JHF, Dixon, SPP
FF: Orazio, Marshall, Georgiadis
F: Grundy/Lycett, Rozee, Butters
I: Burgoyne, Jones, Mckenzie, Boak
E: Sinn, Lord, Dumont, Hayes

The big three issues are the lack of a fullback, the lack of a small forward and the lack of a big man that can kick 50 or 60 goals per year.

The last issue can hopefully be fixed by Todd Marshall who has had a breakout year and will only be better for another pre-season in the gym, 40-odd from Dixon would be helpful as well.

Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully Orazio can fix the second issue and then it’s down to the coaching staff to either find a steal somewhere, or develop Ollie Lord into a fullback after he was drafted as a forward.

This does leave us short in the young tall forward department and that is concerning, especially with Port likely to use a lot of their picks as trades this year rather than going to the draft. Talls take time and this could hurt the club down the track.

Get the trade/draft period right, get a softer draw courtesy of our lowly finishing position and who knows?

As an aside, and maybe I’m wrong, but it feels like Port’s draw this year was extremely hard. They’ve played North, West Coast, Hawks and GWS only once (and got our worst belting from Hawthorn at home somehow), the others from the bottom were Essendon twice and Adelaide twice, Adelaide always being a 5050 match.

Pity this draw issue will never be sorted, wouldn’t it be nice just to play everyone twice, home and away?

Port can and should bounce back next year, will they though? I’d have swapped the coach, and I’m a Hinkley fan, but it would have been nice to get that new voice and perspective in whilst the list is still in pretty good shape, but it is what it is and as Ken loves to say, it’s a results-based business, so let’s see the results, Mr Hinkley.

It’s D-Day, my old friend.

Like Kochie said, “turn it around or watch out”.

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