While the general conversation surrounding Port’s minor Premiership were concentrated around a home ground advantage due to South Australia’s modest COVID-19 numbers and generous border restrictions, it was a lazy argument. They didn’t have it significantly better than any other non-Victorian club, and even copped a harder fixture than their fellow croweaters in Adelaide – yet one side finished on top of the ladder, and the other finished dead last. So, as hard as it is to admit, Port Adelaide was just a very, very good football side in 2020.
How did that happen? How did Port go from their 10th-place finish in 2019, to finishing the home-and-away season in the #1 seed last year? Well, while the Power kick-started their current flag tilt with the cream of 2018’s draft crop in Rozee, Butters and Duursma to go with the veteran stars of their most recent Premiership push, it was the middle tier of Port players stepping up that pushed this list to the next level.
The improvement from the players then-aged 22 to 26 years of age was vast. Dan Houston forced his way into a packed midfield group before settling across half-back, but was possibly overshadowed by Darcy Byrne-Jones’ incredible season that culminated in a Best & Fairest gong and All-Australian selection. Ladhams came of age as a ruck/forward, Powell-Pepper matured and accepted his hybrid role, Karl Amon established himself as a first-choice wingman and all of Clurey, Burton and Bonner were regulars in Port’s backline when fit.
With so many contributors last year, Port established themselves as one of the best teams for stacking in DFS, especially through the middle of the ground. They generated the 2nd-most AFL Fantasy points last year, built on the back of midfield dominance that saw them ranked 4th for disposals (including 1st for contested possessions), 1st in tackles, 1st in clearances and boasting the highest clearance win-rate % of all clubs. Quite the resume. Some weeks, opposition sides didn’t stand a chance.
Another thing I noticed with Port is that playing a small forward role there is not necessarily a DFS death sentence. Even if Gray, or Rozee, or Butters, or now even Fantasia plays forward, they’ll still have plenty of opportunities to score as Port kicked the most goals last year on the back of ranking 2nd for Inside 50’s – they even laid the most tackles inside 50 when they weren’t able to score. Plenty of points and plenty of modes for accumulating them.
Ebert, Westhoff, Watts [retired]
Sutcliffe, Atley, Grundy, Buzza, Cox, Patmore [delisted]
Fantasia (ESS), Aliir (SYD)
Like other clubs in the Premiership window, Port was relatively inactive in the draft and looked mainly to strengthen current areas of concern with experienced imports.
Ebert (high half forward) and Westhoff (utility) were the two main list management losses, but Port covered them beautifully in the best 22. Aliir Aliir was labelled a “Westhoff clone” by the Power as they pried him out of Sydney to cover their hole-plugging veteran, and the Power finally got their man in Fantasia. While not strictly a direct replacement for Ebert’s unique forward role, Orazio’s recruitment allows budding superstars in Rozee and Butters to transition seamlessly towards more midfield minutes.
#16 Lachlan Jones – D – 50 avg from 16 games in SANFL
What an absolute unit. Jones looks more like a character straight out of a Boogie Nights montage than a fresh-faced 18 year old draftee; complete with the thick porn moustache, a flowing wig-like mullet and the bursting rig of a lumberjack in his prime. Lachlan was touted as ready-made heading into the draft, which meant Port was happy to match Collingwood’s bid on their NGA product as they prepare to reload for another Premiership tilt in 2021. Jones isn’t much of a scorer in fantasy – he’s more of a one-on-one beast than an accumulator or interceptor – but a full season playing against men in the SANFL ensures he won’t be worried out of any contests at the top level at the very least. He’ll have his days at a cheap price-tag in DFS, so track his development over the course of the season.
#49 Ollie Lord – F – 27 avg from 5 games in 2019 NAB League
The Power then switched focus to the long-term with their second and final main-list pick, selecting key forward Lord as a future Dixon replacement in attack. He has all the athletic and aerobic requirements to play the position, and at 195cm and 84kg, it’s now just about learning the craft of being a key forward with the contested marking, leading patterns and figuring out how to throw his weight around. That takes time, of course, so Lord is unlikely to feature in 2021 without an injury crisis.
Rookie #16 Tyson Goldsack
Only on the list to circumvent the AFL’s football department cap, Port coach Goldsack was quoted himself as saying that if it “ends up (with) me playing AFL, I think we’ve had a really, really bad run of injuries, let’s just say that”. Moving on.
Rookie #37 Taj Schofield – F/M – 68 avg from 12 games in SANFL U/18’s
The son of Port Premiership Player Jarrad Schofield, Taj’s journey in following in his father’s footsteps has come with a slight detour to the rookie list as Port’s commitment to taking him meant he didn’t feel the need to nominate for the National Draft to get to his preferred destination. Port Adelaide is flush with small forwards obviously, so it’s likely to be a year of development ahead for the dilligent rookie.
With Port dominating all the offensive stats I quoted earlier, you can imagine that it’s pretty harsh going the other way and that’s exactly the case. They ultimately conceded the 2nd-least AF points, mainly by strangling their opponents and eroding any kind of easy, outside ball movement. Those numbers were particularly grim, with the Power conceding the 2nd-least uncontested possessions and 2nd-least marks, applying constant pressure that forced their opponents into notching the 3rd-worst disposal efficiency % over the course of the season.
In terms of DvP, Port were brutal across all areas of the ground, ranking:
- 2nd-hardest for Gen FWD’s
- 2nd-hardest for Gen DEF’s
- 5th-hardest for MID’s
- 3rd-hardest for RUC’s
I can’t see Port falling away too harshly in any areas with their list only improving over the off-season, so it’s going to be another year of short-circuiting Power’s opponents ahead of us in DFS.
5 IN FOCUS
1. Ollie Wines
High-ceiling accumulators Boak and Rockliff receive the lion’s share of the DFS interest, which casts Wines as the Chris Bosh of Port Adelaide’s Big Three midfielders. The former co-captain limped into the 2020 season fresh off shoulder surgery, which frames his adjusted 96-point average as impressive rather than underwhelming when viewed through that lens.
So it was encouraging news to read that Wines has completed his first full pre-season in years, with the plaudits coming in thick and fast from the Port camp. His 114 points from 22 touches, 10 marks and 2 snags in the AAMI Community Series then turned those whispers into cold, hard stats; presenting a solid building block for Ollie to build a break-out season upon and, hopefully, allowing him to finally push through his 100-point glass ceiling in AFL Fantasy.
Wines pumped out 7 tons from his last 9 games this year and I’m optimistic he can turn that into his baseline – especially if veterans like Boak and Rockliff are managed with their game/midfield time as we suspect they might in 2021.
2. Karl Amon
Amon finally cemented himself in Port’s line-up last year after a frustrating few seasons on the fringe, culminating in playing every game across a season for the first time and averaging a career-high 81 AF along the way. If 2020 was the year he broke into the team, is 2021 the year Amon breaks out in fantasy?
“Where’s the scope for improvement?”, I hear you say. Fair question. Unlike many talents before him, it won’t come from an increased fitness base as Amon has won Port’s time trial for 6 straight years now. No, his improvement will come via the transition to a hybrid midfield role, with Amon training with the CBA core over the pre-season and looms as another potential beneficiary of the Boak/Rockliff midfield recession.
And we’ve already seen the benefits. Amon pumped out a nicely-rounded 100 AF in the AAMI Community Series hitout against the Crows last week, but the crucial stat here is that he attended 15 (58%) CBA’s in his 87% game-time. On one hand, Boak and Rockliff both only played a half each; but on the other, Drew played a full game and sits beneath Amon in the midfield pecking order, while Rozee’s foot surgery opens up extra midfield time over the first month anyway. I’m keen.
3. Zak Butters
Can you tell it’s all about midfield time at Port? Butters joins the bottleneck of young stars looking to get their foot in the midfield door, and being at full fitness pushes Zak ahead of his main competitors in Rozee, Powell-Pepper and the veteran Robbie Gray for expected onball minutes this year.
But even if he doesn’t, Butters’ high half-forward role has always allowed him to hit a serious ceiling that can help you take down GPP’s. A massive adjusted score of 143 was posted against the hapless Crows back in round 2 last year, and Butters even led his team’s possession tally with an unadjusted 24 touches for an adjusted 121 AF in a tight win over the Bulldogs in Round 10.
While I don’t think he has to rely on this role to score in 2021 – he’s too good to keep holding him back – the small data set we have from the AAMI suggests that high HF’s could see a boost in scoring this year. Jack Higgins (107) and Marc Murphy (92) set the scene in the first AAMI game, with Fredrick (100), Lipinski (100), Berry (119), MacPherson (105) and even Butters himself (111) underlining that trend over the course of the weekend.
4. Aliir Aliir
Sometimes versatility is a fatal flaw in a player’s fantasy game, spending their career plugging holes and never enjoying the consistency of role that everyone needs to improve and excel. That was Aliir’s crux at Sydney; used as a lockdown defender, intercept defender, key forward, back-up ruckman and even main ruckman at different stages over his 5 playing seasons as a Swan.
It’s early days, and we know he’s been recruited to replace Westhoff as something of a utility, but Aliir’s sparkling performance as an intercept defender (99 AF from 14 marks and 18 kicks) in the AAMI Community Series supports the commonly-held belief that he was misused at Sydney. Aliir’s great strength is his size and athleticism; he should be outmarking opponents, not spoiling them.
A deep dive into the records shows that he does indeed scale heavily with marks; in fact, Aliir’s 6-highest scores have all been on the back of collecting 7 or more of them. If that intercepting gig is truly his role for 2021 – and it’s a big “if” for a “Westhoff clone” – then Aliir is massively underpriced heading into his first season as a Power player.
5. Riley Bonner
As the tectonic plates of each club’s midfield shift in the off-season, there’s always going to be someone who’s bumped into a more favourable location, and Port’s beneficiary looks like being Bonner with some potential wing time in 2021.
He’s kind of been pushed into this fantasy-friendly corner from both directions. Port’s backline has strengthened dramatically in the off-season with Houston and a fit Burton full-time starters back there, as well as vastly improved depth through the draftee Jones, recruit Aliir and former forward Bergman. Then, in the midfield, we have Amon transitioning to more of a hybrid role from his customary wing, while Ebert’s retirement contributes with his unique slingshot role no longer covering the overflow from last year’s Duursma/Amon outside combo.
So up the ground Bonner goes, landing in the wing role that played as a junior and was drafted with in mind. And we’ve already seen the potential returns of this move with Riley smashing out a 120 AF from 27 touches and 15 marks in the AAMI hitout. Yes, he won’t get to play the Crows every week, that’s true. But the upside is clear in this role… if it holds. Tectonic plates are constantly shifting, after all.
- The backline squeeze is real at Port, with the impressive Jones and the reinvented McKenzie both chances to miss Round 1 selection through the sheer scarcity of spots back there.
- Likewise, Bergman sits on the fringe in defense, although more as a distributor. He’ll definitely get games this year – the second-year player bulked up over the off-season and switched to a half-back role after being drafted as a forward, and Port loves his development in his new role. Just needs an injury or two ahead of him though, sadly.
- Can all of Houston, Byrne-Jones, Burton and Hartlett play attacking roles in defence? Probably not. It might be time for Hartlett to take a bit of a load off his ailing body by playing a more defensive-minded role, and Burton can always cover the third tall when required.
- Duursma looks to be absolutely locked in to that wing role. I’d love to see more consistency from him, and early signs this pre-season are extremely positive. Will be very relevant in DFS on the days where he hits the scoreboard.
- I’ve mentioned it throughout the article but reading between the lines from Port’s pre-season dialogue, it looks like Rockliff and Boak are both set for dialed-back roles. Rests? More time forward? Lowered time on ground? Probably all of the above across a 22-game season for the 31 and 32 year olds.
- Powell-Pepper was tearing it up during the pre-season, but stumbled at the last hurdle with a broken hand and has now stepped away from the club for the foreseeable future due to personal matters.
- Rozee’s foot was the headline act of the pre-season; a pre-season that included hauls of 6, 3 and last week’s 2 goals. But that wasn’t enough to prove his long-term fitness apparently, so the Power have opted to punch out the surgery now and get it out of the way. Port says he’ll be back to full fitness in a month, but I struggle to see how he can maintain his aerobic capacity with a few weeks off his feet. I’m easing back on my expectations for a significant midfield boost for Rozee this year.
- I’m calling it now – Fantasia will follow in the footsteps of fellow small forward Eddie Betts by getting a forward pocket named after him at Adelaide Oval. The former Bomber was irresistible in his first Power outing, kicking 3.3 before being subbed out at half time.
- I expected Motlop to be the most forward-centric of Port’s fleet midfielder-forwards, but I’ve also read that he’s been spending some time working on his half-back craft during the pre-season. It’s probably a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency situation, but something to keep an eye on over the course of 2021.
- Hinkley says his preference is to continue to play Lycett and Ladhams in tandem, and some eye-catching contested marking from Ladhams this pre-season will make that a very easy pill to swallow. Fingers crossed that his improved forward craft creates more clearly-defined roles for the ruck pair, ultimately allowing Lycett to spend more time in the ruck.
- While this is all happening, the next crop of midfielders are quietly breaking through, with Willem Drew and Jackson Mead both impressing this pre-season. Both will get a chance at some point, with Drew’s full-game in last week’s AAMI suggesting he, in particular, is a serious chance for a Round 1 berth. He scored 93 AF from 22 touches and 8 tackles in that game, attending 42% of centre bounces, so the Power see him as a pure inside midfielder eventually.
- It’s hard to fit 26 into 22, and Georgiades in one of the 7-8 players right on the cusp. Hinkley could not have spoken more highly of him this pre-season, citing his work-rate and athleticism as reasons why they’ve asked him to prepare for Ebert’s vacated slingshot role. Georgiades returned noticeably bigger in the upper body and wiped 15 seconds off his time trial, so he’s certainly ticked those boxes – he just needs to make the side now.
- Like Georgiades, Farrell is in that nasty bracket of players that’ll be watching their back for a tap on the shoulder from the selection committee every week this year. DFS relevant for his upside as a small forward in Port’s system.
- Heard a few good things about ruckman Sam Hayes this pre-season, so I expect he’ll get his chance if Lycett or Ladhams pick up an injury at any point.
Thanks to Morts at DFS Australia for his all awesome tools, plus websites such as FanFooty, DT Talk/The Traders, Footywire, AFL Tables, Draft Central, AFL Ratings, Daily Fantasy Rankings, @Baked_Beams on Twitter and DT Live for their various stats and references.