Have Port Adelaide taken the mantle as the flat track bullies of the competition?
flat-track bully. informal. noun (A sportsperson who dominates inferior opposition, but who cannot beat top-level opponents)
After jumping out of the gates with a highly impressive start to the season in 2017, many were expecting the Power to contend for a top-8 and even top-4 place at one stage, however even though they've managed to stay within striking distance of a second chance come September, their inability to defeat those around them could see them miss finals come the end of Round 23.
The public consensus would tell you that West Coast have held the title of the competitions flat track bullies for the last few years, however the reality is that Port Adelaide have only had one win over top 8 opposition since the beginning of the 2016 season, coming against North Melbourne away from home in round 17 last year. In fact, their previous win against a top 8 side before that came in round 21 of the 2015 season and by the time they play on Sunday it will have been one win against top 8 sides in 687 days.
Many excuses could be made for the Power last year. They were missing Patty Ryder - in All Australian contention this season - through suspension, while injuries to Matthew Lobbe forced Jackson Trengove to assume the majority of ruck duties. A reliance on too few to carry the load saw the Power miss the finals for the second straight season. This year however, with a full list to choose from and the return of Ryder there were expectations that Port could rediscover some of the form that saw them reach a preliminary final in a narrow loss to Hawthorn in 2014. Unfortunately, even with the best defence in the league to this point of the year in terms of points allowed, Port still find themselves in the logjam of 5th - 8th on the ladder.
The common theme in the majority, if not all of Port Adelaide's 2017 losses has been poor conversion in front of goal, and although they've had chances late in every game against quality opposition to turn the result in their favour, it hasn't happened. Subsequently, they've acknowledged that they have to wear the tag of "pretenders", as referenced in Ken Hinkley's post match press conference last Saturday night after yet another disappointing loss, this time at the hands of Richmond at Adelaide Oval.
"We've played some sides where we've had great opportunities and we haven't been able to put it away in any of those games," Hinkley lamented.
"So we have to wear the tag of not good enough against the top 8 sides when it counts."
A dejected Ken Hinkley after the Power's Round 15 loss to Richmond. (Image: Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images AsiaPac)
This weekend sees Port visiting West Coast at Domain Stadium, but the Eagles have shown this season they are vulnerable even at home, particularly since the loss of spearhead Josh J Kennedy, and surely last week's disappointment will have the Power wanting to make a statement.
Should they make finals this year, they would be hoping to claim at least one top 8 scalp on the way, to give themselves the confidence that they not only can compete but win against the other participating teams. Their remaining fixtures for the season see them face four more sides inside the top 8, and while it is a valid argument that they have been competitive against those around them, commendable losses count for nothing.