Although the off-season is in it's early stages and all 18 clubs are gearing for another pre-season grind, Port Adelaide are among the clubs looking for redemption.
In a year where the Power finished outside the top eight for the first time since 2019, the club got to work making two important trades.
After much discussion in his first year in the AFL system, Jason Horne-Francis would get his wish to return home to South Australia. His homecoming coincided with Junior Rioli coming to Alberton from West Coast. The duo were part of the largest trade in AFL history, with Port Adelaide, North Melbourne, West Coast, and GWS all involved.
Ultimately, the Power parted way with their eighth overall pick and their future first-round selection, but in the scheme of things bringing the talented duo should alleviate that concern. With standards extremely high within the four walls of Alberton and a team who believes in bouncing back, we'll pick apart why the acquisitions of Horne-Francis and Rioli will help propel the Power.
Horne-Francis helps to blend in the Power's steady engine room
In order to relieve the midfield responsibilities of its two superstars Travis Boak and Ollie Wines, Port Adelaide injected the youthful exuberance of Connor Rozee and Zak Butters. After being swept aside easily by Melbourne in Round 4, a change was desperately needed. From Round 5 onwards, Rozee and Butters would be central in the side's climb, although it didn't result in finals.
Rozee would play all 22 games, averaging a career-high 23.2 disposals, including a 35-disposal outing against Collingwood in Round 20. Like Rozee, Butters' injection would give the Power a much needed spark. Only on four occassions in 2022 did the former 2018 first-round pick have less than 20 disposals, signifying his importance in the middle.
It would answer the question about who the Power's next crop of midfielders would be once Boak and Wines hang up the boots.
Now, the addition of 2021 No.1 pick Jason Horne-Francis only bolsters Port Adelaide's midfield stocks. Although it would not be the debut season the 19-year-old envisioned, he still showed glimpses as to why he is touted so highly.
From his first-ever game against Hawthorn he would show why he is ready for the big stage. A solid frame all ready to go even only at the age of 19. The luxury coach Ken Hinkley has with Horne-Francis is the ability to move him forward, but at the same time play in the midfield. Similar to what Richmond implemented with three-time Norm Smith Medallist Dustin Martin.
Horne-Francis will allow for Rozee and Butters to spread and cause damage on the outside whilst giving a chop out at the coalface for Boak and Wines. A change of scenery returning home to South Australia in front of family and friends no doubt will bring the best out of him.
The majority of footballers who have to move away from home often find it difficult to adjust, thus leading to homesickness. In Horne-Francis' case, it would lead to him requesting a trade.
In his first press conference in a Port Adelaide polo, Horne-Francis spoke about the importance of family, stating: "I'm a big family person and I love my family. I just feel like having my family and friends around me, it's going to create that environment where I can play my best footy."
Over recent years we have seen Brownlow Medallist Patrick Dangerfield elevate to even greater heights in returning home to Geelong, Tom Mitchell flourishing from Sydney to Hawthorn, and going back to 1994 Nathan Buckley becoming a Collingwood legend after playing 20 games for the Brisbane Bears.
Starting from a platform of one solitary season is too difficult to assume whether he turns out to be the superstar everyone is touting him to be. By having a strong, experienced leadership group consisting of captain Tom Jonas, Travis Boak, Ollie Wines, and Darcy Byrne-Jones, it will allow for Horne-Francis to have reassurances and other strong voices to steer him in the right direction.
We shall find out in less than five months from now about how Horne-Francis goes in his first game in the teal, black and white.
Junior Rioli wizardry to help offset Robbie Gray retirement
For 15 years, Robbie Gray would dazzle Power fans with his freakish abilities and match-winning moments. From kicking the match-winner on the run against St Kilda in 2017 to the match-winning goal on the boundary line in 2020 against Carlton to winning five Showdown Medals, he did it all.
Now, Port Adelaide will be looking to Junior Rioli to replicate Gray's exploits. After 51 games for West Coast, Rioli requested a trade to South Australia to be closer to his family. Although the crafty small forward endured a difficult 2020 and 2021 after being found guilty of tampering with a urine sample, there is still plenty of footy left in the 27-year-old.
So what will he bring to the Power's small forward stocks?
Rioli possesses a freakish ability to do the impossible in tight confinements and has an uncanny knack of reading the play in the forward 50. Just like what every exceptional small forward does.
Rioli would display his craft from his first season in 2018, kicking 28 goals and being a key part of West Coast's premiership side. Although he is yet to kick 40 goals in a season, his tackling pressure is immense.
Since his first-ever AFL game, Rioli has only had two outings where he hasn't laid a single tackle. It's exceptional reading and one which Ken Hinkley greatly emphasises.
By adding Rioli, the Power have put to rest the question of addressing its small forward stocks. Having him alongside the vastly improving Todd Marshall, the hulking presence of Charlie Dixon, and Subiaco product Mitch Georgiades in its forward 50 is enough to give opposing defences the runaround.
Whilst Gray's retirement leaves major shoes to fill, there's no doubt the Power's newest acquisition can produce in a familiar environment.