Many were surprised, including me, last season when Port Adelaide didn’t make the finals after showing so much promise in 2014.
Last season, on paper, Port had the team to challenge for the top four, but instead had a miserable year and finished ninth in a season littered with injuries and underwhelming performances.
The Power will need to look back on 2015 as a learning curve and they have made changes to their coaching panel with the arrival of Nathan Bassett, Chad Cornes and Garry Hocking to compliment midfield coach Michael Voss.
Perhaps the most impressive piece of business the club did over the summer was getting their gun players to recommit to the club, with Ollie Wines, Chad Wingard, Robbie Gray, Hamish Hartlett and skipper Travis Boak all penning new deals.
The smart recruiting of forward Charlie Dixon from the Suns and midfielder Jimmy Toumpas from Melbourne should help offset the losses of both Paddy Ryder and Angus Monfries due to the supplements saga.
Many pundits are picking Ken Hinkley’s men to regain their 2014 form, so there will be plenty of expectation once again at Alberton heading into a bumper 2016.
Paddy Ryder, Angus Monfries (both suspended)
Key Player: Ollie Wines
The 21-year old gun midfielder signed a contract at the end of last season that ties him up with the club until the end of 2018, a huge boost for the club as Wines is destined to be a future leader at the club.
Wines is the fastest player to reach 50 games for Port Adelaide and his short career has already netted him three consecutive awards for best under-21 player at the club. However, Wines isn’t a future star anymore, he’s a crucial player to the Port Adelaide set up now and vastly important to their success.
Wines’s averages stack up well, despite a few injury concerns throughout 2015 that saw him only play 13 games for the year. He averaged 24 disposals, 11 kicks, 13 handballs and 5 tackles in those 13 games including a stand-out performance against the Bulldogs in round 10 which saw him rack up 33 possessions and a goal.
It is clear Port struggled when Wines wasn’t there last season, with his tough, ball-hunter like tenacity, clearly missed in the Power midfield.
I’ve could of easily gone with Travis Boak or Chad Wingard as the key player, but I feel the re-signing of Wines was the last piece of the puzzle for Port on the road to premiership success. I rate Wines incredibly highly and I see a lot of Patrick Dangerfield in him. It should be a mammoth year for the Victorian-born midfielder.
Rising Star: Brendon ah Chee
It was a close call between ah Chee and Sam Gray, but I’ve gone with the former, who was taken at pick No.45 in the 2011 national draft, making his debut last season.
An agile midfielder or forward, ah Chee debuted in round 3 and went on to play 11 games, including a blistering performance against the Giants, where he amassed 24 possessions and kicked three goals.
Ah Chee started as the sub in five of his first eight games, but finished the year off strongly, starting on the field for the last three games of the season, and winning the club’s most improved player award.
Ah Chee will most likely start on the bench for Port at the beginning of the season and should provide another big body presence around the stoppages.
Under the Pump: Matthew Lobbe
Port Adelaide plans for 2016 was to have Paddy Ryder playing the no.1 ruck role, but with that plan nipped in the bud, the mantle now falls to 27-year old Matthew Lobbe.
In their second game against Melbourne in the NAB Challenge, Lobbe was absolutely smashed in the ruck by Max Gawn. Gawn finished with 42-hitouts with 15 of them advantaging his teammates.
Lobbe has some work to do if he’s to recapture his form of 2014 in Port Adelaide’s whirlwind season. His figures with severely down last year as well, finishing around mid-table for most effective ruckman in 2015.
What is more concerning is the depth the Power have in this position. Dougal Howard and Billy Frampton are both 19 and yet to play an AFL match, highlighting the Power’s reliance on Lobbe.
At 27, he should be at his peak and the fact that he isn’t, makes the likelihood of him staying on with the Power once Ryder returns very slim.
Weakness: Conceding points
The Port defence conceded the eight most points per game in 2015, a far cry from 2014, when they had the third best defence in the AFL.
This drop off was also reflected in their opponent inside 50 numbers as they conceded the second least in the league in 2014 but fell to eighth in this category last year.
The Power’s big ruckman being unable to consistently get on the field played a significant role in their 2015 struggles with runners aplenty in the back six, Broadbent and Pittard will be relied upon to provide the run and drive that made Port’s 2014 resurgence such an impressive spectacle.
This is one of the best midfields in the AFL, and could well dominate the next four to six years given the age and quality of key players.
Boak is one of the more impressive leaders in the AFL, an contested ball magnet who has thrived as captain, and at 27 may well be entering his prime.
Wines stands toe-to-toe with any young star in the game, with his first two seasons matching the very best young talent of the last 20 years for both impact and quality.
Ebert and both Gray’s round out an outstanding first five midfielders, with Ebert in particular having rejuventated a flagging career at the Power after heading towards mediocrity in his time at the Eagles.
The Power will be looking at a full-strength midfield to provide arguably the best group of contested players of any team in the AFL.
What the fixture looks like: Good
The play potential strugglers Brisbane, Melbourne and GWS on two occasions and they also double up against Adelaide and Richmond, which are potentially tricky match-ups, but far from daunting.
The first month sees them play St Kilda, Adelaide, Essendon and GWS, and provides an opportunity to fly out of the gates, despite them having three 6-day breaks in this period.
One thing is for sure, it doesn’t look like the fixture can be held up as a reason for not succeeding in 2016.