THE GOOD, BAD AND UGLY – PORT ADELAIDE 2020 SEASON PREVIEW

 

So, we’re making this an annual tradition now – extensive season previews for all 18 teams in this format because… well, people seem to like the Good, Bad, Ugly format for game reviews and I thought why not? Also, I really like Clint Eastwood.

Port Adelaide were disappointing in 2019. That about sums up their season. They relied on a bloke that used to be captain to lead them as the heir apparent faltered in his chance at the top.

The Power have learned their lesson, and after breaking a tradition stretching almost 150 years, they have reverted back to having a sole captain after just one season of co-captains. Makes you wonder why they tried, huh?

The Power were buoyed by the emergence of young stars last season, and would be looking forward to their continued improvement, but is has been the inability of some of their bigger names to fire that has to be the concern heading into 2020. Can they turn it around, or will they be also-rans again?

Can Port Adelaide defy the critics and begin the climb back into finals contention in 2020? Let’s explore with a little bit of the old good, bad and ugly, Mongrel-style.

 

THE GOOD

 

COMING UP ROZEE

There was a quartet of youngsters at Port Adelaide that caught my eye in 2019, with one in particular dominating that vision. Seriously, you would have had to be blind not to see what Connor Rozee was doing last season.

In a season that should have left Port supporters saddened by the performance of their team, it was the actions of Connor Rozee, and fellow youngsters Xavier Duursma, Zak Butters and Willem Drew that would have left them disappointed, yet optimistic about what was to come.

Whilst Sam Walsh was the Rising Star winner, there were no young players in the league as consistently exciting as Connor Rozee. Playing in a tough position, and in a team that struggled offensively, his efforts consistently rated as some of the best on the team.

Whether it was making something out of nothing, or starring as the standout forward, Rozee brought something special to the table just about every time he stepped on the park.

Adding to his outstanding season was the hard run and long kicking of Duursma, who got attention due to his “bow and arrow” celebration that brought back memories of Mark Williams’ ‘Shotgun” celebration. Duursma is the logical long-term replacement for Jared Polec, who left to play at Arden Street after the 2018 season, and due to the presence of Duursma, isn’t really missed.

Butters, I’ll touch on below, but one bloke who really didn’t get much play in match reports and reviews was Willem Drew.

He played ten games in 2019, and whilst 15.90 touches per game is nothing to sneeze at, it was his 5.6 tackles per game that impressed most as he showed a tenacity and determination to stop his opponent. Drew has the makings of a fantastic run-with player, and at just 20 years old, has plenty of time to refine his craft.

These four, led by Rozee, are the future of the Port Adelaide Footy Club, and their progression in 2020 will go a long way to determining just how potent the Power can be.

Could Rozee top two goals per game to give the Power an amazing one-two small forward punch alongside Robbie Gray? Could Xavier Duursma start burning players off more and more to move into the top three at the club in metres gained? Could Willem Drew capitalise on his solid start to his AFL career and develop into a top line defensive mid?

And what of Zak Butters? Could he hit one goal per game to round out a forward line of small to mid-sized players that will be as hard to cover as any combination in the game?

If Port are to go anywhere in 2020 it will need two things – one is covered in the next section, and the other is the rapid development of the young players that made Port fans believers in 2019.

 

SOLID AS BOAK

What kind of season would Port Adelaide have put together if the entire team had committed themselves to the cause the way Travis Boak did?

The former skipper applied himself in the off-season, doing additional work and trying some innovative training practices to improve his decision-making under pressure. And it seems to have worked.

I’m surprised the rest of the team didn’t spend days underwater in preparation for 2020 given the results Boak had last year. With career-highs in a number of statistical categories, Boak shouldered the responsibility for the team in 2019, refusing to allow the Power to go quietly into the night.

His first month of the season was outstanding, as he averaged just under 34 touches per game, and he would go on to have 30+ disposals in 13 games throughout the season, with only the last month seeing him taper off somewhat. Boak led the Power in disposals, contested touches, metres gained, score involvements, clearances and tackles in 2019 – as a 31 year old, which is amazing.

The way he elevated his game should be a shining example of how to prepare for a season correctly, and the hope would be that many of the youngsters looking for someone to look up to and emulate would see the impact Boak had in 2019, and would want to replicate it in their own games henceforth.

While he made the AA squad of 40, there is a strong argument that Boak should have made the actual team. Such was his importance to Port Adelaide, I believe they were 2-3 games worse off without their former captain in the team.

It makes you wonder what Boak has to do to get the AA nod again, doesn’t it?

 

THEY CAN’T GET NO WORSE

I’ll run down a few names that any football supporter will know, and you tell me whether they had an above-average, below-average, or on-par season in 2019.

Charlie Dixon.

Justin Westhoff.

Robbie Gray.

They are three of the Power’s absolute stars, and in 2019, for a few different reasons, they were well below their best.

We’ll get to Dixon in a little bit, but he gets a semi-pass due to the injury he was trying to overcome from the season before.

Robbie Gray is a tough one. He played 19 games, but appeared to struggle most of the season. His 24 goals were his lowest total since 2013 and yet he still managed to get up for the Showdown and win himself his fifth medal in that game, and the third in the last four outings. He lacked his explosiveness over the course of the year, and his inability to hit the scoreboard was telling in terms of his health.

Justin Westhoff has never been able to settle into a role, and he never will. Thrown around all over the field, he is the Mr Fix-it for the Power. He is also 33 years old and went missing for long stretches in games in 2019.

All three of these guys had poor seasons by their own standards, and you’d think that there would be no way that all three would falter to that degree again in 2020. Robbie Gray was a perennial All-Australian selection, with blazers in 2014, 15, 17 and 18 before missing out this season. Westhoff has been the ultimate swingman, and Dixon has threatened to be the forward the Power need.

The new season means they can shift focus away from what they couldn’t do last season and focus on what they can in 2020. If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t mind having a wager that Gray will erase the negativity of 2019 with a stellar 2020 and return to his rightful spot on the half forward flank in the AA team. If he does that, Port are a much better team as a result.

 

NO PROBLEM, HOUSTON

So, Dan Houston spent his first couple of season as a pretty good addition to the Port Adelaide defence. The combination of him, Tom Jonas and Tom Clurey were like the three amigos back there in 2018, but there was a midfielder waiting to get out and do some damage, in Houston.

2019 saw that player emerge.

Houston hit the midfield with purpose, elevating his disposals per game by +4.61 per game, but was able to maintain a good efficiency, which is impressive (he did drop from 77% on 2018 to 75% in 2019) considering his contested disposals increased from 5.55 to 8.00.

Houston’s improvement and subsequent move into the guts was one of the genuine positive take-aways from the Power’s 2019 campaign. The challenge is now to improve again and become a regular fixture of a string midfield contingent. Travis Boak was the powerhouse in there in 2019, but north of 30 years old, he needs the help of players like Rockliff and Wines to maintain the standard of the Port Adelaide midfield unit.

Houston is the next generation poised to take the reins.

His 21.43 touches per game in 2019 are a great launching pad for a successful career in the middle. His clearance work still needs some improvement, but with more time on the ball will come more responsibility, and 2020 should provide the opportunity for him to grow into the role.

 

ALL THE WAY WITH DBJ

The way Darcy Byrne-Jones emerged as an attacking defender, spending more time running through the middle of the ground than his own defensive 50 gives an indication as to where he is headed in his fifth season with Port.

Used as the springboard from half back, only Travis Boak, in his career-best season for Port, gained more ground for the team in 2019. DBJ’s run and carry became a weapon in the second half of the season in particular, causing many to start floating his name as a potential All-Australian candidate.

For the fourth consecutive season, Byrne-Jones played over 20 games, and his disposals per game average had an impressive jump of +4.98 to have him sit right at 22.36 per contest. With his ability to collect the footy and go, how much of the 2020 defensive game plan will revolve around his ability to make space, and make teams pay on the rebound?

A rarity for a defender, DBJ had more inside 50 disposals than rebound 50s, again emphasising his get-and-go game style from half back/wing.

What will we see from DBJ in 2020?

Teams must certainly be aware of his prowess running off half back by now. Between him, Riley Bonner and Ryan Burton, the Power have a wonderful nucleus of young defenders-cum-wingmen. This year should see Byrne-Jones move a little more into the middle for the entire season. Port have the talent to cover him at half back, and his run is required to support some of the ball-winners on the ball.

The chance to better his 2019 output is well and truly in play for DBJ.

 

THE EBERT EFFECT

The elder statesmen at Port Adelaide really seemed to fall in a heap in 2019. Blokes who were so reliable in the past had years that were way below expectations. Dixon, Robbie Gray, Westhoff… all experienced a decline in production that was compounded by the failure of Ollie Wines to take the necessary steps as a co-captain.

One player that has an indelible impact on the way Port operates is Brad Ebert, and unfortunately for both him and his team, he was sidelined for over the half the season with concussion and knee issues, which robbed Port of one of their most reliable and versatile players.

With 246 games under his belt, Ebert is a mature leader at the club. With a season average of 1.2 goals per game, he is one of the hardest men to cover in the game as his ability overhead is on a par with anyone his side, and his tackling is outstanding as well. He was ranked fifth in the league for average number of tackles inside 50 – something that was desperately missed with him out of the side.

With Ebert in the team, Port have the capacity to lock the ball inside 50 more effectively. He is tenacious, and the sort of player that simply cannot be left alone. You zone off Brad Ebert at your own peril. He can clunk overhead marks as well as any player his size in the league, and better than plenty who are taller.

In 2020, the Power need him to be a solid contributor who can slot in and attend the occasional centre bounce when required. As valuable as he is as a forward target, Ebert had a game as little as two seasons ago where he was collecting 14 clearances. He can legitimately read the ball off the tap and get the Power off and running when necessary.

When watching Ebert in 2020, I won’t just be concentrating on what his personal returns are in a game, but how his influence impacts those around him. When I have watched him, he has been rather selfless, and his willingness to sacrifice for the team (as indicated by his acquiescence to move forward).

Ebert is about to hit 30 years old, but his role in this Port Adelaide side remains vital to their success. Even if he has a down-day, the way he competes at ground level will see others benefit greatly from his pressure.

 

WINNING TRADES

The jury might still be out on the Chad Wingard trade from over 12 months ago, but the play of Ryan Burton in 2020 may go a long way to making peoples’ minds up.

As it stands, Port have had the better end of the deal that sent Wingard to Hawthorn following the 2018 season. Burton has slotted in at half back and looked quite at home as the season progressed. Teaming with Tom Jonas and Tom Clurey, his ability to both defend and zone off allowed the Power to play with their defensive structure a little, both releasing Dan Houston to play midfield, and Darcy Byrne-Jones to attack more from half back.

Whilst Burton should continue to develop, it is the net gain of his presence in the defensive 50 that has allowed the Power much more room to move.

In terms of the 2019 trades, it is far too early to start selecting winners here, and I doubt we’ll even have answers half way through the season. I fully expect both Dougal Howard and Paddy Ryder to take some time to adjust to their roles at St Kilda, and that may mean that they appear to be doing worse as a result. I think it would be prudent to pump the brakes on any discussion around those trades until this time next year.

Of course, how Bergman and Georgiades travel in 2020 will also dictate the tone of the conversation.

 

TIME FOR STICKS TO STAND UP

I reckon the entire football public, when they’re not playing against Port Adelaide, are rooting for Todd Marshall to make a big leap in 2020.

Given what he’s been through since joining the Power, Marshall has had an interrupted run at it for more than just the normal, injury-associated reasons. After a bit of time to get things right and start to get over the tragedy of losing both parents in such quick succession, Marshall will enter the 2020 season with something on his shoulders that wasn’t there in 2019.

High expectations.

You see, Marshall showed some wonderful signs back in 2018. He was fantastic in Sydney as the Power rolled over the Swans on the road, demonstrating a knack for getting into the right spot and reading the play beautifully to help steer the ship home.

Still painfully thin, ‘Sticks’ should have spent a fair amount of time in the gym over summer and is one player whose improvement can make a significant impact on the fortunes of the Power. Watching Marshall early in his career, you got the feeling you could be watching the formative years of a genuine star. He had wonderful hands, and once a little more meat was added to the skin and bones, the sky appeared to be the limit.

Here we are a couple of years removed, and so much water has passed under the bridge. In the grand scheme of things, Marshall may have learnt how insignificant football is over the past couple of years, but he also may have learnt that the footy club is a surrogate family, and one that welcomed him back when he was ready, with open arms.

Ken Hinkley and his crew have been understandably patient with Marshall. They have seen the potential of the footballer, but they have also seen the needs of a young man experiencing loss. They have bided their time as he has dealt with the grief and as we enter the 2020 season, it may be time for the young man to repay the faith and deliver on the field.

 

ROCKY THREE

Firstly, can we all agree that Rocky 3 was the best Rocky movie of all? If we can’t, I’m afraid we really can’t be friends, or stand next to each other at urinals. I have to draw the line somewhere.

Rocky 3 had it all. Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed, Mr T threatening to bang Rocky’s wife, a really homo-erotic embrace on the beach between two muscly guys, some awesome training montages and Burgess Meredith’s death. Sure there was no Dolph Lundgren yet, but hey… Hulk Hogan was in it and he was a beast!

The third chapter of the story was always the one that made me sit up and take notice. It was flashy, it was meaty, and it grabbed me by the balls and made me watch it… several times over the years.

In one of the most tenuous tie-ins in the history of this column… we are now entering the third season of Tom Rockliff in Port Adelaide colours, and after a “rocky” start (haha) in year one, we are now at the point where he has to have his best season for the club.

As you would’ve read above, Travis Boak was forced to put the Power on his back in 2019. He was the one player to consistently stand up and refuse to allow his team to capitulate. Whatever chances Port had of making finals were due to Boak’s influence, but he desperately needs help, and those starry-eyed kids coming through are still a little while away from taking over and leading the team. He needs a reliable, big-bodied mid that can take the heat and give a bit back.

He needs Tom Rockliff to go full Rocky 3 in 2020!

Rockliff was serviceable in 2019. He played 18 games and had a significant increase in numbers on his first year at Port, yet here we are asking for more. He is capable of it, and if he brings it, not only does it ease the burden on Boak and possibly Ollie Wines – it enhances the chances of Port being a lot better than some are predicting.

Eye of the Tiger, Rocky… Eye of the Tiger.

 

THE RUCK BULLY

I’m a big Scott Lycett fan, and I loved the way he beat up on Max Gawn early in the season in 2019. And then the AFL decided it was a bad look, or some other shitty reason and all of a sudden, free kicks were being paid for the equivalent of “contact, wing defence!”

Lycett is at his best when he is hustling, bustling and banging into people. Furthermore, as a non-Port supporter, I bloody love it when he hustles, bustles and bangs into people. This is still a man’s game, and physical intimidation, particularly in situations where there is still a genuine one-on-one contest like the ruck, has a part to play.

Port possesses one of the most physical rucks in the game, but I feel as though his style has been compromised by a competition who covers its collective eyes whenever two players make contact because they don’t like the way it looks.

I’m hoping that Scott Lycett does what he was supposed to do last season and runs roughshod over some of the other rucks in the game. He has an ample back-up in Peter Ladhams, and perhaps the two of them can become the combination that Lycett and Ryder could not.

And if they knock a few blokes over in the process, so be it!

 

THE BAD

 

WHAT TO DO WITH SPP?

It’s a tough thing to carry – the weight of expectation.

At 19 years of age, Sam Powell-Pepper looked like a midfield bull in the making, with many conjuring comparisons to a young Dustin Martin in the way he attacked the contest. What did I say about expectations? They’re bloody hard to live up to.

SPP is basically the same player he was three years ago, causing those who made their predictions of his greatness to reconsider them. He is still hard at the contest. He still looks like he could run through a brick wall if it was placed in front of him. But sadly, he is still playing like an over-excited labrador running after a tennis ball.

There has been no marked improvement in his game. He is still blowing up when spending time in the midfield. He still kicks indiscriminately so much that when it actually goes directly to a teammate, I’m pleasantly surprised. Don’t get me wrong – I love a player who will throw himself into the contest and fight, scrap and claw to gain possession for his team… I just don’t trust him with the footy once he gets it.

As I was writing this, I had a thought (it happens, sometimes…). What if Sam Powell-Pepper came into the league as a complete player? Inasmuch as he was already as good as he’s ever going to get?

You know when you play junior footy and there is a bloke there who has developed early, and had a moustache in Under 14s and he clearly just dominates because he’s peaked early? What if that bloke is SPP (Sal from Seddon Football Club… I’m thinking about you with this comparison – you were trash by Under 18 level).

After three years in the system, the now-22 year old Powell-Pepper needs to be one of the Power players to stand up. His name has been thrown around in trade conversations, and right now he is probably as well known for stupid incidents outside of footy as he is for what he does on the field. This has to change.

So, I’m in a speculative mood – what is the pass mark for SPP in 2020? I don’t think a very marginal improvement is good enough from him in the slightest. What I want to see is a player who has realised that things don’t come easily at this level and as a result, has put the work in over summer.

I want to see +3 in total possessions, taking him to 21 per game. I want to see him hit an average of 10 contested touches per game, and somewhere around the five clearances per game mark as well. All would indicate a significant improvement in not only his play, but in his application.

I’ll be watching, and crossing my fingers the penny drops for him in 2020. A raw talent of this magnitude would be a horrible thing to waste.

 

WILL CHARLIE DIXON EVER BE A GREAT FORWARD?

Charlie Dixon is a monster. He looks like a lumberjack who has dropped in from felling trees all day to play a game of footy. If you were choosing a power forward on looks alone, he would be high on the list of those to consider.

But if we write off his 2019 due to that ankle injury he suffered late in 2018, what have we got from Dixon? And will we ever be getting any more?

As a number one forward option, Charlie Dixon has never kicked 50 goals in a season. He went as close as you can go in 2017, but his career to date has been one of… underachievement? I’m not sure that’s the correct word, but it is the one jumping out at me when I look at his career over the journey.

Again, we eliminate last season from the record, because that injury looked like a tough one to get back from, but after notching 41 goals for the Suns in 2015, Dixon’s move to Port seemed to be the move that would see him take a step into the upper echelon of forwards in the game.

As a comparison, the following players in the top 10 goals scorers from last season have not kicked 50 goals in a season.

Tim Membrey.

That’s it. Every other player on that list has bagged 50 goals at least once, and that was a season without Buddy Franklin and Jack Riewoldt having good years.

At 29 years old before the season begins, Dixon is at a now-or-never period of his career. In 2018, I watched him rival Hawthorn’s Tim O’Brien as the bloke who ALMOST took the most marks. Good body position, both hands to the ball and… nothing. Either spoiled or the ball bobbled out.

In 2020 the equation for the Power, and Dixon is simple. They need a power forward that will not just bring the ball to ground for the Connor Rozee and Robbie Gray-like players of this team, but someone who will be more than just an intimidating presence. They need Charlie Dixon to be a mark and goal man.

Top five in contested marks is a goal Dixon should be aiming for.

And 50 goals for the season.

 

THE UGLY

 

LOSSES AND GAINS

I have to admit, I was a little bemused by Port Adelaide during the trade period.

When I heard that Dougal Howard, with three years remaining on his contract, was exploring options, I thought it might have been a bit of a ploy from Ken Hinkley and company to let the young fella know he isn’t indispensable. The next thing you know, he is off to St Kilda with Paddy Ryder, and really, I was a little aghast at that move.

Not for the Ryder component – he was cooked as a Power player with Lycett and Ladhams the preferred options, but the fact that Howard was permitted to wander off to continue his career in Victoria. Strange days, indeed…

I am sure there are plenty of Port supporters reading this who have a far more intimate knowledge of the reasons why Howard was allowed to go (not a hard worker, wanted to play defence whilst Hinkley wanted him forward) but Port is one of the few teams in the trade period that, on paper, looked to get worse.

This was compounded by the fact that Sam Gray was allowed to walk into free agency as well. I thought he was pretty bloody handy in 2019, personally. What prompted that? Gray was third on the Power’s goal kicking list last year. I know they have some young stars coming through, but losing him for nothing… it’s frustrating.

And in one last move, Billy Frampton wanted a move cross-town to Adelaide that was granted.

Other than the draft, the Power picked up Wylie Buzza, who sounds like an evil, if slow-witted coyote, but the re-signing of Karl Amon has been something that hasn’t got anywhere near enough play in media circles. He emerged as a good outside mid in 2019, and should get better as he enters his peak years.

I’m not sure many will be too impressed with Port’s trade period unless Mitch Georgiades and Miles Bergman burst out of the blocks in a similar fashion to the Rozee/Duursma/Butters class of 2019.

 

THE END OF KEN?

There is a bit of a groundswell for the removal of Ken Hinkley amongst Power supporters. Read their forums, or comments on our past articles on our socials, and there is a large amount of angst directed at the Port coach.

Hinkley has said it, himself – it is finals or bust this season, and he definitely has his work cut out for him. I think it is safe to say that if the Power are sitting with a losing record by about Round 14/15, his assistants had better start preparing their presentations to take over as the interim coach.

Port can improve this season. They have players who played well below their best in 2019, but if they experience a further drop off, only one man will shoulder the blame. Ken Hinkley has a very simple equation in front of him – win or you’re gone.

 

 

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