The pressure is building on Port Adelaide.
After bouncing back in 2023 to qualify in the top four, injuries have hit the club hard ahead of a do-or-die semi-final against the rampaging GWS Giants.
The Power set a new club record of 13 consecutive wins throughout the regular season.
That was enough to secure a double chance, with this Saturday night now presenting a golden opportunity for the black, white and teal to prove why they have been a premiership fancy for most of the year.
The Power’s army of fans will be out in force at Adelaide Oval.(Getty Images: Sarah Reed/AFL)
Standing in their way are the GWS Giants, who have won nine of their past 11 games.
By contrast, Port looks to have the wobbles in finals yet again, after being played off the park after half-time against Brisbane at the Gabba in last Saturday’s qualifying final.
It was Port’s fifth loss in its last eight matches, and the disappointment was compounded by some serious injury concerns down back and up forward.
Here are five key questions facing Port Adelaide ahead of Saturday’s clash against GWS at Adelaide Oval.
1. Can Port handle the pressure?
Port Adelaide has been here before.
Ken Hinkley is looking to create history not only for the Power, but on a personal level.(Getty Images: AFL Photos/Michael Willson)
Finals regulars under Ken Hinkley, the question remains: will the Power once again crumble in September?
Port Adelaide has never played in a grand final under Hinkley.
The veteran coach has been in charge for 11 seasons, with his job under pressure earlier this season.
He re-signed as head coach for two more years in August, having led his side to a top four finish again, making it three top four finishes in the past four seasons.
Port won through to back-to-back preliminary finals in 2020 and 2021, falling to Richmond and the Western Bulldogs at home in both.
The outside pressure is building once again, with Port Adelaide facing the prospect of a straight-sets exit against the in-form Giants.
But the Power did finish in third spot for a reason, winning four more games than GWS throughout the home-and-away season.
2. Can the Power midfield fire?
The Power’s midfield engine room has been a source of strength.
The Power ranked second for centre clearances across the regular season, averaging 13.2 per game.
They’re also the number one team for scores from stoppages.
Giants and Power midfielders Tom Green and Zak Butters compete during the sides’ most recent encounter in Adelaide.(Getty Images: Mark Brake)
But last week’s loss to Brisbane represented a major blip on that front.
The Power conceded 13 goals from stoppages against the Lions — well above the league average of just over five goals per game.
“We lacked some composure, we lacked some ball use at times in that first half, but to their credit when they overpowered us, they really overpowered us,” coach Ken Hinkley said post-match.
Port’s midfield trio of Zak Butters, Connor Rozee and Jason Horne-Francis can break a game open, as they did in the 51-point win over the Giants just last month.
Butters had 34 disposals, Rozee accumulated 29, while Horne-Francis picked up 27 as well as kicking three goals.
Jason Horne-Francis has had a standout first season with the Power.(Getty Images: Daniel Carson)
But the Giants’ recent form is strong, highlighted by a drastic improvement on their centre clearance numbers, with big-bodied midfielders Tom Green and Stephen Coniglio proving dominant.
While the Giants were the eighth best team for centre clearances across the regular season, averaging 11.9 per game, their recent form has represented a significant turnaround.
Over the past five games, they have been the best, jumping up to 15.2 per game.
3. Will Charlie Dixon have an impact?
Charlie Dixon is underdone and battling ongoing knee and foot injuries — will he be a help or hindrance?
Named in the side to play his first match since round 20, Dixon has hardly trained for weeks, getting through two sessions this week seemingly without pain.
The talismanic Charlie Dixon will have a weight of expectation on his shoulders.(Getty Images: AFL Photos/James Elsby)
The key forward has only played 13 games this year, kicking 22 goals, nine of those coming in the opening three rounds of the season.
Since then, he’s only kicked multiple goals in four games, and he’s been kept goalless in six.
In addition to that Dixon dilemma, there’s the question of what impact it will have on Ollie Lord.
The young forward’s played 12 games in Dixon’s place, kicking 14 goals.
Those may not be incredible numbers, but he’s found form at the right time, kicking two goals against Richmond in round 24 and, more importantly, booting four against the Lions last week.
That form has helped Lord keep his place, with Jeremy Finlayson dropped after two quiet games up forward.
4. Can Todd Marshall kick straight?
Ranked fifth for marks inside 50 per game, Todd Marshall is one of the most accurate kicks this season with 34 goals and 15 behinds.
But a late-season hip injury has proved to be a challenge for the key forward.
Despite last week’s match, Todd Marshall is a regular deadeye in front of goal.(Getty Images: AFL Photos/Daniel Carson)
Against the Lions, Marshall missed two relatively easy set shots at goal when Port needed momentum early.
Assistant coach Nathan Bassett earlier this week blamed those goal-kicking issues on Marshall’s ongoing hip injury.
“It wasn’t a great night for our finishing and maybe it impacted momentum at times in the first half, but it was more than that,” he told reporters at Alberton Oval on Monday.
“Todd’s got a few extenuating circumstances around his kicking.”
He still managed to boot two goals against Brisbane and, at his best, he’s an integral part of Port’s forward line.
That was highlighted by his best games this year, in which he finished with 10 marks and five goals against Hawthorn in round 12 and seven marks and three goals against Geelong in round 14.
5. Can Port’s defence stand up?
Port’s backline has been decimated by injury at the wrong time of the year.
Retiring captain Tom Jonas was already on the outer before injuring his calf last week and Dylan Williams is out with a hamstring injury.
Trent McKenzie has been named despite battling another ankle injury against the Lions.
Trent McKenzie tests his ankle during last week’s clash with the Lions.(Getty Images: AFL Photos/Michael Willson)
It leaves him and Aliir Aliir as the only fit tall defenders available, with Ryan Burton likely to man up on a key forward as well.
Aliir is the Power’s number one defender this season, averaging almost eight intercepts and more than seven one-percenters per game.
But he’s also been kept on light duties at training this week as he battles knee soreness.
With holes everywhere, can Port’s backline handle the heat against the in-form Giants, with Toby Greene, Jesse Hogan and Jake Riccardi all fit and firing?
Aliir Aliir’s intercept marking could prove crucial.(Getty Images: Daniel Kalisz)
Across the season, Port Adelaide lost 32.4 per cent of its defensive one-on-one contests — the worst in the competition.
Over the past five games, that number has increased to 33.3 per cent — or one in three — contests lost.
Despite its challenges, the assistant coach this week backed the Power’s defenders to stand up.
“I think the positive in a way is there are less of the bigger forwards left in the finals that we will be likely to play at this stage,” Bassett said.
“I think we can handle most of the forward lines with what we have.”
Source: AFL NEWS ABC