AFL Rd 11 - Port Adelaide v Richmond
ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 08: Ollie Wines ,Scott Lycett and Tom Jonas of Port Adelaide lead their team onto the ground during the round 11 AFL match between the Port Adelaide Power and the Richmond Tigers at Adelaide Oval on August 08, 2020 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

Last Saturday night, Port Adelaide showed the AFL world what they were made of.

In the game of the season, the Power dispatched a brave Richmond side by 21 points at Adelaide Oval to consolidate their lead at the top of the ladder.

From the first bounce in front of a bloodthirsty 10,000 strong home crowd, Port were simply relentless.

Lead from the front by their stars, the Power consistently out-ran and out-pressured an undermanned but notoriously tough Richmond outfit.

In his 150th game, Ollie Wines had a best-on-ground performance, racking up 28 disposals and kicking a major, whilst Robbie Gray caused major headaches for the Tiger defence, booting three goals and finishing with 22 touches.

Charlie Dixon, despite some crucial misses, was regularly too hot to handle for inexperienced Tiger Noah Balta, booting two goals, including an incredible effort from a tight angle in the third quarter.

The performance from the playing group was a far cry from their disappointing 2019 campaign, in which they only managed 11 wins to finish in 10th position.

Entering his eighth year as Power coach, Ken Hinkley’s future was shrouded by uncertainty.

He had no contract tying him to the club beyond 2020, and with no real optimism that the playing group could contend, this season was make-or-break for the 53-year-old.

Hinkley was adamant about the quality of his squad going into the season, sending a stark warning to the competition: “Look out, we’re coming”.

Most of the AFL fans would have chuckled at that comment, but now would be eating their words.

With six matches left to play of the abnormally short home-and-away season, Port are sitting pretty on the top rung of the ladder, winning nine and losing only two this year with a total of 36 points.

The South Australian outfit also boasts the highest percentage at 142.7% whilst having the most watertight defence in the competition, conceding only 557 points.

In comparison to their position at this stage of the league last year, there has been a large improvement.

After 11 games last year, Port were sitting on 24 points, winning six and losing five with a percentage of 110.9%. They had also scored 954 whilst conceding 860 – a 303 point difference from their 2020 total.

However, one must keep in mind the obvious circumstances the world is in, with the pandemic causing a stunted run at the season, leading to less high-scoring contests than usual.

Nevertheless, it is a large improvement over what was viewed as a subpar season for a Port Adelaide side who hadn’t really been anywhere near the top since their 2014 run deep into September.

A big driver of the Power’s form this year has been their game plan.

A big part of this is their pressure. Perhaps taking a leaf out of the Premier’s book, Port Adelaide ‘out-Richmonded’ Richmond.

The inside-50 count finished 55 to 24 – a staggering comparison considering the tightness of the contest.

This included a 19-2 inside-50 count for the final quarter, an overwhelming performance which Ken Hinkley spoke wax-lyrically about.

“The last quarter, the pressure, was the highlight for me.”

The disposal count also demonstrated their supreme presence around the ball in the form of a 321 to 241 triumph. The Power also dominated in clearances, finishing with 40 to 22.

It’s this change in the intensity level around the footy by Port Adelaide that has allowed them to brush aside a majority of opponents this year.

In previous years, the Power’s inability to turn dominance into scoreboard pressure was something that hindered them. And their set shot kicking on Saturday looked questionable at times.

Although booting two majors, Charlie Dixon scored four behinds, with two first quarter misses from right in front making it look like he could live to regret them.

However, it was the saving grace of some of the Power’s new heroes that allowed for the side to triumph.

In his fifth game of the season and the tenth of his career, 22-year-old ruckman Peter Ladhams was one of the shining lights for Port.

His first goal of the game – arguably the goal of the year so far – was uncharacteristic for a 202cm tall player to even think about attempting.

The big man was pivotal all over the ground in his best game yet for the Power, influencing many contests and finishing with 12 disposals, five marks and six tackles – second only to Ollie Wines for Port.

Another one to make a difference was young Zak Butters.

In his second year of AFL, the 19-year-old Melbourne boy was lethal for Port, and has been all season.

Picking up 20 disposals and a goal against the reigning Premiers added to his collection of outstanding performances this season.

His disposal efficiency of 78.1% for the season means that most of the good stuff that Port do usually goes through him.

So with that proving performance against the Tigers, does this mean that the Power are flag favourites?

In short, yes.

Their turnaround from last year’s disappointment has propelled them to the pointy end of the table, with a game plan that, if they play like they did on Saturday, will very much stack up in finals.

Hot shot Connor Rozee was a late out against the Tigers, with other key players like Ryan Burton, Steven Motlop and Todd Marshall still to come back.

This means that the Power will only get stronger, and with the Adelaide Oval amongst the candidates for hosting the Grand Final, they could be unstoppable come finals.