Port Adelaide have been around the mark for two years now. With consecutive Preliminary Final losses, they are so close to success that they can smell it… almost touch it.
But what puts them over the top? Or what causes the bottom to drop out?
Over the last few weeks, I have been slowly compiling questions relating to each team to include in our season previews. There were so many questions in need of answers. When I finally sat down and started the previews, it quickly became apparent these articles were going to be huge. There were simply too many things in need of addressing.
So, the way this is going to work is that the first five questions are available for free for each team, to whet your appetite and the next 14 are for our members.
So, it’s a ploy to get people to join the site?
Ummmm, yeah, kind of, but it also about providing value for those who support what we do here and enjoy the content – those who are already onboard. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
I am aiming to provide the most comprehensive team previews out there, so if you like sinking your teeth into articles with a bit of meat on the bone, that’s what you’re getting here. No flippantly thrown together article with a stupid prediction at the end – I’ll leave that to those with restrictions on word counts and pressure to make space for gambling ads. We’re diving deep.
So, without further ado, here are The Big Questions about Port Adelaide in 2022.
WHAT DOES A HEALTHY ZAK BUTTERS MEAN TO THIS TEAM?
He is a rare breed that combines skill, aggression, and that undefined attribute known as x-factor. Butters makes things happen – he is the catalyst for chaos in a an already chaotic game.
Coaches like to control a game. They like structures, predictability, and formation. You see the way teams play – kick to the pocket so if you can;t mark it, we get a stoppage and a chance to set up for a throw in… yadda, yadda, yadda… They love regimentation. They love a machine that hums along and all they need to do is tinker with it.
Butters is a spanner in the works. He is a short circuit that causes things to go haywire. He does the unexpected – a bloke at his size throwing his body into a pack, not to win the footy, but to clear a path for his teammates – it is something that little blokes have not done for years, but Butters does it like he was born to! He is the fly in the ointment, the sand in the vaseline, the corner of the cupboard you keep stubbing your toe on – he is the disruptor that is more valuable than goals and possessions.
And when healthy, he is a game-changer for Port Adelaide.
His 2021 was ruined by injury. Yes, he got back late in the season, but the damage was done. When you start talking about potential nerve damage, you know a player is going to take a while to get back to being at their best. I am afraid that once he suffered his injury, we only got to experience a watered-down version of Zak Butters in 2021.
2022 already feels better knowing that he will be back to his best.
It takes a bit to excite a seasoned footy fan. I’m sure many of you are in that boat. So many players are cut from the same cloth – cookie cutter production. Not Butters. He is the point of difference and if he stays healthy, 2022 could be the season he starts banging on the door of superstardom.
In terms of numbers, seeing him top 22 touches and a goal per game would not surprise me at all. As he ventures through the midfield, I expect his tackling numbers to increase and his name to be right in contention for an AA half-forward slot. He has already made the squad of 40 in 2020. Now, after a year of frustration, it is time for him to take the next step.
WHERE DOES TRENT DUMONT FIT INTO THIS TEAM?
North Melbourne don’t seem to be screwing around with players who were not going to be there for their next premiership, are they?
Ben Brown – one poor year and out you go.
Shaun Atley – yeah look… thanks for the 214 games. You’re 29… out you go.
Trent Dumont – well, you had a poor 2021, too. Your time’s up.
After four seasons of 20+ disposals per game, a delayed start to 2021 had Dumont on the back foot, and with North obviously not looking at propping up any old guys, they deci… hey, hang on a second – Dumont is only 26, damn it. What is going on at North?
I’m sure it came as a rude shock to Dumont to learn that he would not be offered another contract with North Melbourne… particularly given North’s amazing depth and plethora of superstars.
Yes, that was sarcasm.
Cutting Dumont, who could have five years left at the level, whilst in what is arguably his prime makes zero sense at all to me? Maybe he and David Noble didn’t get along? Maybe he has been sent to undermine the stability of the Port Adelaide list as payback for Port allowing the worst contract in footy to be part of the Kangaroos (you know who I am talking about, Port fans… right?)
Whatever the reason, we now find Trent Dumont ostensibly playing for his footy life at Port Adelaide, and the challenge is before him when it comes not only to breaking into this team, but carving out a niche for himself.
Dumont primarily played on the wing for North Melbourne, but Port are very well-stocked for wingmen, with Karl Amon and Xavier Duursma capable of so much in the roles (I’ll dive into that tandem later). The Power also dabbled with Miles Bergman on the wing, and Riley Bonner had a crack as well. I’m actually not sure Dumont could have landed at a worse team if we’re looking at what he is up against.
Some players can drift through their AFL lives and never really excel. Do you know what I mean? They are part of the team, but they never have that standout moment, game, or string of performances that make them special. They’re on the list. They’re playing games. They’re just… there.
That’s who Trent Dumont became at North Melbourne, so maybe this shock to the system was exactly what was required. Maybe this is the foot in the backside that makes him take things a little more seriously and come to the realisation that playing AFL is a privilege, and one that can be removed at any point.
Track watchers will have the inside scoop, but if Dumont is not in the top handful of players in time trials and fitness drills right now at Port, this will be his one and only season there. It’s all in front of him in 2022. He has to earn his place in this side and he has to keep it.
DOES ROBBIE GRAY HAVE ONE BIG YEAR LEFT?
I want to say yes, but I can’t. He may have big games, but the Robbie Gray that could back up and have two or three blinders in a month is a little bit down the road at the moment. You can kind of make him out in the rear vision mirror, but like the little warning sticker reads – objects may appear closer than they really are.
Aaaaand that’s the sound of thousands of Port Adelaide fans clicking off the article, but having a diminished version of Robbie Gray is not a terrible thing. I did not say he won’t have an impact. Father Time gets all of us. Robbie will have moments, but he no longer needs to be the best small forward on the park. He doesn’t have to be the best mid/forward combo player in the game. He doesn’t need to lead Port in goal kicking. He just needs to bob up here and there and do Robbie Gray things – you know, the mercurial little tap ons, toe pokes and crafty handballs to set up his teammates. Sure, he can kick a game-winner if he likes, as well, but the point is – he no longer has to.
He now has some of the best support in the league
Despite a down year in 2021, Connor Rozee could still be the best elusive forward in the game. Zak Butters is freakishly good at just about everything, and Orazio Fantasia… well, I will touch on him a little later.
With those three patrolling the forward fifty, Robbie Gray may start to experience something he has not had in years – space. He will always draw defensive attention – he is Robbie F’n Gray, after all – but the opposition simply cannot afford to focus everything they have on him like the bad old days. They now have to cover so many more dangerous entities.
No, Robbie Gray probably does not have one big year left in him. He turns 34 in March and is entering year 16 in the league. Time for him to enjoy the fruits of his labour. Let the young stars do the work – Robbie Gray can now be the finishing touch.
COULD WILLEM DREW EVOLVE INTO THE BEST TWO-WAY MID IN THE GAME?
There is a fair bit of competition out there – Jack Steele, Touk Miller, Elliot Yeo, Tom Liberatore, Jarryd Lyons, but when I think of Willem Drew, I think of a player who has flown under the radar for a couple of seasons and really made people sit up and take notice in 2021.
And he did that by playing good, hard accountable football.
Whilst Steele and Miller would probably be the benchmarks at the moment, the player most likely to make up the ground in the next two seasons is Drew. He will not turn 24 until after the 2022 season is in the books, and even a marginal improvement on his 2021 output will see him start to sit in some esteemed company.
Averaging a team-leading 6.8 tackles per game in 2021, it was the willingness of Drew to do the dirty work that allowed Ollie Wines the freedom to freelance his way to a Brownlow. I’m not saying that Wines was not accountable, but when he attacked the contest with eyes only for the footy, Drew was the man who often zoned over to Wines’ opponent to ensure there was no heavy price to pay. Ollie got the medal, but I don’t think anyone would have been smiling wider than Willem Drew when it was announced – he made that possible. In part, at least.
Despite being drafted in 2016, Drew debuted in 2019 and was pretty handy for Port. He played ten games and managed 5.6 tackles to go with almost 16 touches. After missing 2020 (and let’s face it – it was a good year to miss), he bounced back with a stellar 2021 as if to reintroduce himself to the AFL fraternity with a wave and a drag down tackle that said “remember me?”
We remembered here, at The Mongrel. Quickly establishing himself as a Mongrel favourite, Drew’s hard-nosed approach to footy is difficult to dislike. He is all steak – the sizzle is left for others.
But what can he do in 2022 to further establish himself as a top-tier mid in the league?
Well, top tier mids rarely average under 20 touches per game, do they, so if that is how he wants to be perceived, expect a jump in that category this season. And what of his tackling? Can he maintain a defensive mindset whilst chasing more footy?
I’m setting the bar high, here. And I am doing that simply because I genuinely believe Drew is capable of clearing it. The league is full of great tacklers – Steele and Miller are amongst them, and so is Hugh Greenwood. Can Willem Drew knock them off their perch? Can he sit atop the league for tackles per game in 2022 and force the people a little slow on the uptake to recognise what he is bringing to this Port Adelaide team.
The current version of the AFL is built for tacklers, and Willem Drew is already one of the best. 2022 may just be the year he becomes THE best.
WHO GETS STUCK IN THE HALF-BACK TRAFFIC JAM?
I was listening to a couple of blokes having a joke about how many half-back flankers Carlton had last season. They were rattling names off of those they were trialling elsewhere and having a good laugh at the Blues’ expense.
But looking at Port Adelaide’s list… they’re not too short of players whose best footy is off the half-back flank, either.
Darcy Byrne-Jones, Ryan Burton, Riley Bonner, Miles Bergman, Dan Houston, Lachie Jones. Already, it’s a little bit busy back there. Above I mentioned the name of Trent Dumont – throw him into the mix as someone who’ll be wanting a role in one of those positions. It’s a nice problem to have, but how in the hell are Port going to manage this?
Of course, with three small/medium defender spots up for grabs (when you factor in that three of Aliir, Jonas, Clurey, and McKenzie will take the bigger forwards) it leaves four quality players on the outs when the team is named. Of course, injury will open the door for some and close it for others, but as it stands, who starts in the defensive six from the players listed above?
Two seasons ago, Darcy Byrne Jones was an All-Australian. He gets a spot, but we’ll be diving a little deeper into his position in this team a little later. I am a big fan of the way Dan Houston goes about it – he would be picking up a spot in my team. That leaves Bergman, Bonner, Burton, Jones, and Dumont vying for one defensive post.
Again, great problem to have, as the depth is incredible, but there is some real quality that is going to miss the cut, here.
Port Adelaide have cultivated a well-balanced list, with multiple players capable of slotting in and out of roles as injuries and/or form dictate. Never has this been more apparent than with the embarrassment of riches they possess at half-back.
There is going to be a few disappointed boys when the first team of the season is named, and the preceding weeks of footy in whatever the preseason competition is called these days will go a long way to dictating who gets the nod, and who starts the season on the outer.
And that’s it for non-members. The next 15 questions are for those members who support us. I want these to be the biggest season previews you’ll read and am determined to give value for money. Some sites will give you lip service about your team – I will be diving deep. The Mongrel does the work… always. Want to join us?