Have Port Adelaide Mastered AFL List Management?

Sitting pretty with a home preliminary final on the cards, Port Adelaide have been a great success story in recent seasons.

The Power have been questioned numerous times, yet have kept ticking the boxes necessary to make them a Premiership contender, having won the minor premiership last year prior to losing the preliminary final to Richmond by a goal. 

They of course comfortably accounted for Geelong last week and are now a 25.8% chance of winning the club its second-ever AFL premiership according to the Stats Insider futures model

Despite a shaky record against fellow contenders, Port Adelaide have won their last 21 games against opposition clubs outside the top eight, often crushing them.

Supporters are thrilled with the current output of the team, and rightfully so, but it's always felt as though 2018 was the big turning point for the club and when they set the ball rolling as one of the better transactional teams in the competition.

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Much of the praise given to Port Adelaide’s recruitment relates to the 2018 drafting of gun trio Connor Rozee, Zak Butters and Xavier Duursma, but the success extends far beyond these picks.

At the end of that 2018 season, the Power had to find something else, having finished 10th twice and ninth once since 2015, with the infamous extra time loss in 2017 the outlier.

In 2014, they lost the preliminary final by three points to Hawthorn which had followed a semi-final appearance and five years of ignominy since the 119-point destruction at the hands of Geelong in 2007.

In 2018, the Power possessed the fourth best defence and were the competition’s best tackling and clearance team, yet bullying lesser opposition was all they had to show for it.

Offensively, they ranked 13th for points scored despite being 6th for inside 50s. They had the second-worst disposal efficiency of any team in the league and were an average team for marks, metres gained and disposals. If they won the ball, it was often wasted.

Throughout the various iterations of Port Adelaide during that period of time, these all remained relatively consistent facts.

Yet that 2018 off-season will go down as one of the best ever, not only for the club, but in the modern era of recruitment and trading.

The Power had a few key pillars that were keen to leave, while others simply weren’t cutting it. The solution, as identified by the coaching staff and National Recruiting Manager Geoff Parker, was to have an eye on the future and grab players that had great potential and fit in perfectly.

Needing more output around the midfield and from their ruckman, the Power acquired Scott Lycett as a free agent in his prime, and fresh off winning a premiership with West Coast. 

Flipping Jared Polec off a career-best year and Jasper Pittard to North Melbourne to receive Pick 11 was a masterstroke in hindsight, but it’s also important to realise that the club identified Polec’s average kicking, along with his lack of scoreboard impact, was restrictive for a team needing to improve its wing work.

The Power flipped picks 11, 23 and 30 in a deal involving pick 6, which they then passed on with a couple of lesser ones to move up a spot, grabbing Sam Mayes in the process, who has been handy depth over the last three years.

The big deal however that the club nailed was turning Chad Wingard into Ryan Burton and pick 15, adding to the arsenal of picks and young players.

Such a set of impressive deals in one trade period cannot be overlooked for their intelligence and a systematic delivery of exactly what the club set out for. 

The senior exposure of their initial draft trio immediately added an edge of class offensively, with the Power becoming the number one inside 50 team, ranking in the top five for disposals, clearances, tackles, intercepts and metres gained.

Lycett was good enough to earn the number one ruckman spot, Burton showcased his silky skills off half-back and Rozee played every game, while Duursma and Butters combined for 39.

In 2019, it was another 10th place finish but with far more all-round optimism and some immediate impact from recruits.

Big news surrounded the departure of the talented Dougal Howard after some on-field mistreatment, but hindsight would suggest the move worked out for all. The Power turned Howard, Ryder and pick 10 into picks 12 and 18, then moving a future first to grab pick 16 before splitting second round picks.

Eyebrows were again raised at the time with Port Adelaide’s aggression and letting player go, but with pick 14, they landed Miles Bergman and pick 18, Mitch Georgiades. Dylan Williams and Jackson Mead were taking with picks 23 and 25 respectively

Having one eye on matching bids for Lachie Jones in 2020, the movement in the 2019 trade period was underrated. 

Port made the big step and won the minor premiership in the infamous 2020 season, thriving in shorter games. Previous moves allowed greater exposure for Karl Amon, Dan Houston and Darcy Byrne-Jones, with competition for spots thanks to the drafting of talented young players improving squad depth.

We know the club went out and got Aliir Aliir for a future second round pick and Orazio Fantasia for pick 29. Allir is one of Port Adelaide’s best ever moves, having recently received All-Australian honours, while it's also fair to argue he's been the AFL's definitive recruit of the season.

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In the space of three seasons, Port Adelaide was able to transform from a one-trick pony that struggled for quality depth and relied on pure defensive play to hold on, into a club filled with excellent young talent that can hold them up for years to come.

A lot of credit must go to Geoff Parker and his team for talent identification, and a clear club directive to go with elite upside rather than be swayed purely by numbers. Zak Butters, Xavier Duursma, Miles Bergman and Mitch Georgiades were all seen as “reaches” at the picks and have already returned more value. Ryan Burton is the unsung hero of the team’s last six weeks.

The team isn’t without its deficiencies on-field, with a lack of cutting speed out of central areas, potential midfield diversity issues and maybe being a key defender short, but what the last three seasons have taught us is that their recruiters are already aware and will work on filling these gaps.

Port Adelaide have become the trend-setters for modern recruitment and are fully deserving of a hosting a Preliminary Final in two weeks’ time.

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Dem Panopoulos

Dem is a lover of sport with a keen eye for analytics. A passion for statistics that defies logic given his MyCricket numbers, you can see and hear him share his thoughts and views on Twitter @dempanopoulos

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