The Big Questions – 2023 Port Adelaide Season Preview

To say that Port Adelaide had a bit of a disappointing 2022 would be the biggest understatement since Lady Godiva rode into Coventry and lamented that she had literally nothing to wear.

Yes, it was a disastrous year from a team that had high hopes, and after being right in the thick of it for the previous two seasons, were viewed as a legitimate threat to take the flag home.

There are plenty of reasons to give Port the benefit of the doubt heading into 2023 – they had a horror start, going 0-5, which almost sealed their fate. They rallied late in the season, but by the time they started displaying any semblance of good form, they were in a situation where finals were a long shot.

They lost a ruckman for the majority of the season, saw a club legend slip enough to have him call it quits, and watched on as players who stood up in previous seasons fell over when they were needed. Yes, Port were not… well, they weren’t Port Adelaide in 2022.

But could they regain their swagger and push deep into September again in 2023?

That’s what I am here to answer.

It’s that time of year, already.

The break after Christmas and New Year is over. The holidays are finished for AFL players, and the hard stuff starts now. Yes, the teams had been training for well over a month prior to Christmas, but as we head into 2023, the ante is upped and the intensity increases.

This is where premierships are won and lost. This is where improvements are made and lists come together. New faces, new colours, old heads with renewed passion… so much feeds into the making of a contender. And as the days tick down toward to the intra-club clashes, practice games, and eventually the real stuff, questions are raised about each team and how they’re going to perform in 2023.

We don’t do things by halves here, at The Mongrel. When we do a season preview, we go all out to make sure it is the best, most comprehensive coverage you’ll receive. We pride ourselves on it. If you are going to read one season preview for your team, or any team, this series provides it.

The way it works is as follows.

Each club has a minimum of 15 questions asked about their 2023 season, their coaches, their players, and their expectations. The answers are not glossed over. We dive deep on each and every one – some singular answers would normally be long enough for an entire column. The first five questions/answers are free for you to consume. The next 10-14 for each club are for our members, including a special appearance from Mrs Mongrel to throw her two cents in the mix.

You will not read a deeper season preview than this – I guarantee it.

And with that, let’s jump into The Big Questions relating to Port Adelaide in 2023.



Talk about  curly one to get started… and I must stress, this is by no means a drive-by on Robbie Gray. If you peruse our archives here, my adoration for him is not difficult to find.

Anyway, my gut reaction is to say no way, but the realist in me says that this could very well be the case. Robbie Gray was not at his best in 2022. A brilliant player who will go down as one of the true greats of the Port Adelaide Football Club – yes, indeed – but he was not the Robbie Gray we’d come to know and love last season. The zippiness wasn’t there. The mind seemed willing but the body did not want to cooperate, and as a result, we saw Gray’s numbers reduced to levels we hadn’t seen in years.

Though I wish he’d gone out on a better note, he was was right to call time on his career.

However, in Rioli, the club has recruited a mercurial forward to take his place, and at 27 years of age, Port should get a bloke at the top of his game, ready to contribute.

Yes… they ‘should’.

What’s that? You sense a little bit of cynicism in the way I am writing about Rioli? Very perceptive of you.

You see, I am not sold that Rioli has ever really put in the hard yards to capitalise on his vast talent. He has seemed to get by on his ability to read the game better, his clean hands, his otherworldly sidestep, and his penchant for slotting goals. In the past, I don’t think he was ever a threat to win a time trial, or find a place within the fit group at training.

And that remains the challenge that will either see Rioli become a star with the Power, or a disappointment.

In watching Rioli run around at West Coast last season… or jog around, as the case may be, he looked like a player that was not in shape and had no real intention of getting there. He played 13 games, was held goalless in six of them (granted, he was hurt in one them), and had Port 300-gamer, Kane Cornes intimate that Rioli has been prone to… errr… not being in the best shape.

I’d like to think that the penny has dropped for Junior Rioli. Footy does not last forever, and for a bloke who was forced to sit out of the game for so long, you’d think that he would have been chomping at the bit to do all he could to maximise his time in the league.

His 2022 flew in the face of that.

Port have gone all-in on Rioli, with his reported salary a tidy little sum. If the investment proves to be a wise one, Rioli will enter the 2023 season in the best shape of his life. If that is the case, he will be better for the team in 2023 than Robbie was in 2022. However, if he just does enough to get by, as I feel he did at West Coast last season, he may end up being a costly mistake.

Fingers crossed for the first option. If Port get the second option, they would have been better off convincing Robbie to run around again. His skills may have slipped, but he always had heart.



Well, we have to look at what what happened last year and weigh up what you prefer.

Do you prefer a big, bad, ruck bully in the middle of the ground, capable of nullifying some of the league’s best tap rucks, and punishing them at stoppages around the ground? Or do you prefer having a makeshift ruckman almost concede the first hands on the footy, but add to the team by running off the big fellas at every opportunity?

Can’t you have both?

That is what Ken Hinkley will be thinking as he eyes off a prospective duo of Lycett and Finalyson as his ruck duo in 2023.

There are some real questions about both the way Finlayson played the ruck role in the back half of the 2022 season, and how Champion Data assessed his performance. Personally, I reckon it was yet another instance that proved CD do not have their finger on the pulse when it comes to being the be-all and end-all of AFL stats-dom. Makes ya wonder where they’ve got that finger, though…

However, there can also be no denying that what Finlayson did was basically play as a fourth midfielder, and it kind of worked at times. He had 20+ disposals in four of the last six games of the season, despite the fact that he averaged under ten hit outs per game in that same period. Having Lycett back in the number one role would improve the hit out numbers, but if we look back at his 2021 performances, he was only able to hit 20+ touches in four games… out of the 20 he played.

What 2022 taught Port is that they don’t need to play a second ruckman if Finlayson is on the park. Yes, he has a style that is a long way removed from any type of traditional ruck role, but if he is going to get beaten in ruck contests, then he is going to make sure the opposition works their backsides off to cover him as he runs and spreads from that same contest.

In a way, we could look at the 2022 ruck situation as a short-term pain/long-term gain type of exercise. I admit, I turned my nose up at the idea of Finlayson rucking all game long – I thought he would get slaughtered in the ruck contests… and he did! However, he found ways to make up for it, and if Port are going to play Scott Lycett in the number one ruck role (and why wouldn’t you?), then they have a bit of an ace up their sleeve with Finalyson slotting is as the relief man.

You think about it – which ruck duo successfully matches up in both power versus Lycett, and versatility against Finalyson?

Fremantle are the only ones that jump out, to me.



Can you remember the incident that saw Xavier Duursma fold up like an accordion a couple of seasons ago. It was the combined head knock and knee wrench that looked horrible . Rewatching the incident prior to starting this section, it is no wonder he has had a hard time finding the form he’d displayed up until then.

It was not pretty.

Back in 2019, the draft trio of Connor Rozee, Zak Butters, and Xavier Duursma were the talk of the league, as Port celebrated the way they had been able to rejuvenate their list with one draft hand. All three bolted out of the gates, with Rozee the standout as a small forward, and Duursma making one of the wing positions his own.

Butters, meanwhile, was a little more of a slow burn – he would catch fire not too long after.

Duursma, however, looked at home right from the outset. His hard run and ability to finish in front of goals (and celebrate accordingly) made him a recognisable face amongst the younger players in the league. The old guard on commentary lamented his “bow and arrow” celebration when the team was down, but the Power fans embraced it – this was a kid enjoying his footy!

He didn’t seem to be enjoying his footy in 2022, however.

Down on form, Duursma struggled to get into games and managed to stave off recording career-low disposal averages only due to the 2020 season being part of his career. Compared to full-length games, he was down over five disposals per game on his 2021 stats.

He looked like a player completely devoid of confidence in 2022 – whether that was in his body, or whether he’d got down on himself to the point where he convinced himself he wasn’t able to produce anything more, I don’t know. He looked so despondent, I actually worried that he may have been used as trade bait to lure Jason Horne-Francis from North Melbourne. Turns out, that wasn’t required.

There are many factors that would make Port Adelaide more competitive in 2023, but Xavier Duursma finding the drive and confidence that made him such a weapon at his best would be right up the top of the list.

How does that look on paper?

The bar has been set by his rookie season. 19 touches and half a goal per game are now his baseline. Anything less would, and should be considered a disappointment.

Port have stuck fat with Duursma. They know what he is capable of and obviously believe he can get back to his best – maybe top it. 2023 will be the season he either turns things around or…

… I don’t actually know what happens if it turns out that he can’t.



It could be, but there is no way I would put my house on it – the bloke is a machine!

How many players in the league get better after turning 30? Of the current players in the league, I reckon you could count them on one hand.

And Travis Boak would be the first name to pass your lips.

I took a particular interest in Boak when I was made aware of the training regime he undertook in the United States as he prepared for a move back into the midfield. Denying himself oxygen underwater as he was forced to make quick decisions… it was lung-bursting stuff, but Boak came back in career-best shape.

He had spent a season occupying a half-forward spot in the team as Ken Hinkley looked to rebuild his midfield. Funny… you don’t start a rebuild by removing the weight-bearing brick… and that was what Boak was to this team. It is what he remains to this day.

He rejoined the midfield group in 2019 and immediately went about notching his first and only season of 30+ disposals per game. He would not be moved back to half-forward anytime soon.

Boak will turn 35 before the end of the 2023 season, and as much as I love the bloke, and can see what he brings to the table for this Port team, there comes a point where the memories become greater than the dream. When that occurs, it is usually time to hang up the boots.

Right now, the dream is still alive for Travis Boak. Port has a list that, if healthy, can make a real run at a top four spot. As I always say, once you do that, anything can happen. However, I cannot help but wonder what happens if Port have a rash of injuries, or things just don’t click – where does Travis Boak go then?

Does he front up for yet another preseason, hoping that things fall into place for him and his team, finally? Or does he start to have moments where the memories do become greater than the dream? Does he come to the conclusion that this team will not be winning a flag in his time with the club?

If 2023 is the Travis Boak swansong, you can bet your bottom dollar that he will go down swinging. He has never been one to fade into the sunset – he will be the last man standing, even if all of his teammates concede. And in a legacy that will hopefully last long after he is gone, we see a group of young players now accompanying him on his preseason camps overseas. He has never just talked the talk – he has walked the walk, and there are now those following in his footsteps.

There is a big part of me that, despite not being a Port Adelaide supporter, would be completely fine with the Power winning a flag if it meant that Trav Boak gets one under his belt before all is said and done. I felt the same way last year with Joel Selwood grabbing a premiership as captain – it was the last thing left for him to achieve, and he did it. Seeing Boak do the same would gladden my heart.



It’s Zak Butters.

With his draft year mate, Connor Rozee, claiming his first AA blazer, the bar has been set for Butters, who went close in 2020 as he had his break out season, making the squad of 40. Sadly, since then, Butters has had to deal with injuries – some significant and others more of the niggling variety, as he has struggled to have the same impact on games.

When he is on, however, there are not many in the game that can do what he does.

You see, Zak Butters is a player who will willingly throw his body into harm’s way if it means an advantage for his team. He crashes into an opponent at a stoppage, will happily lay a body on someone in traffic if it means he can create an opening for a teammate to slip through, and he does this without fear of what may happen to him in the process. He is an enigma – a question wrapped in a riddle that nobody can answer when he gets the game on his terms.

But is he punching above his weight in the physical stakes?

Butters is not a huge guy – the AFL website currently has him listed at just 78 kilograms, and I have seen him crashing into fellas weighing in excess of 95 kilograms. Whilst the result may vary depending on who is doing the hitting, chances are the 95+ kilogram bloke is gonna come off a little better if he sees Zak coming.

But I don’t want to paint Butters as just a physical player – it is a great factor of the game to have in your repertoire, for sure, but it does not tell the story of the way this guy plays. He is a maestro – there is a fair bit of Toby Greene in him – the good Toby, I mean. His hands are brilliant, his vision exceptional, and when he has the footy and Port are streaming forward, the leading forwards’ eyes must light up – he is as skilled as they come when it comes to hitting targets.

If 2023 becomes the year Butters makes the All-Australian team, the Power will play finals. That’s about as clear as I can be in terms of his impact.

So, what does an All-Australian season look like for him?

Ideally, you’d like to see Butters kick goals. That would give him a red hot chance at occupying a half forward flank in the AA team. A good mix of midfield time and hanging around the attacking 50 metre arc should provide ample opportunity, however, he has played more of a creative role in the past than that of a finisher. His goal total has hovered around 11 per game in all full-length seasons since his debut. The midfield is hotly contested in the AA team (which is why they stick so many of them at half-forward or in the pocket), but getting up around a goal per game would not only throw his name into the conversation, it would create a world of problems for Port’s opponents.

With both Butters and Rozee firing at the same time, Port would hit the jackpot. When they were drafted, these two were viewed as the players to turn the team around and take Port back to the promised land. However, when one is up, the other seems to be down, season by season. 2023 has to be the year they put it all together as a duo.

And if that occurs, the Port Adelaide changing of the superstar guard will be complete and the team can enjoy the next several years with two All-Australian calibre young players creating carnage through the midfield and into the forward line.


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