Does It Really Matter If Port Adelaide Are A Flat-Track Bully?
Port Adelaide is an exceptionally talented, well coached footy team whose premiership window is wide open.
Last year, the club led the competition for all 17 rounds and came within 6-points of knocking off the Tigers in the Preliminary Final- and a first grand final appearance in 13 years.
Through seven rounds this year, they’ve comfortably resumed a position in the top-4 while only Melbourne (149) and the Bulldogs (157) boast a better percentage than their 120.
Just as they were last season, Port are a real team, playing for real stakes.
With that said, Saturdays’ Gabba meltdown was yet another reminder that while the Power remains an unquestionable premiership threat, they have developed something of a flat-track bully perception in recent times.
Let’s check in and assess those claims, as well as whether it all ultimately matters.
Bully for you
After a two-season Finals drought, the Power jumped out of the gates at the start of 2020 and have never really looked back.
Theirs was a campaign that ran on rocket fuel all season, altering their short and long term premiership prospects, as well as the job security of Ken Hinkley along the way.
And indeed it’s been against inferior opposition where Port has looked most rampant, demonstrating a level of play that’s arguably been the league’s most intoxicating and imposing.
Since the start of the 2020 season, Port have dialled up a monstrous 12-0 record against bottom-8 teams while posting a pounding 180.1 percentage in the process.
This season, they’ve already easily dispatched of North, Essendon, Carlton and St Kilda to the tune of 178 points, winning 13 of the 16 quarters in those matches.
So What’s the problem here?
Well the problem is Port’s form against the league’s downtrodden is in sharp contrast to what it often dials up against genuine opposition.
Port is the kind of club who enjoys tormenting cellar-dwellers, running up big scores and flexing its muscles along the way, yet it's exhibited a tendency to wilt when pitted against teams capable of punching back.
While the Power did claim its first minor premiership in 16 years last season, they did so with a pedestrian 4-3 home and away record against top-8 opponents, while their 93.7 percentage was actually the weakest number a minor premier has sported since St Kilda in 1997.
And while no, Port’s numbers last season didn’t ultimately get in the way of a respectful Finals campaign, the likes of which began with a rampant Qualifying Final victory over Geelong and culminated with a tense Preliminary Final loss to Richmond, it did provide fuel to Port skeptics that when the going got legitimately tough, they couldn’t truly get going.
Does it actually matter?
So in the AFL, is there any truth to the well-trodden sports cliche that to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best?
In fact, it’s increasingly acceptable to be a relatively middling team against top-8 opposition during the home and away season, with such form not necessarily forming an impediment upon a club’s premiership aspirations.
In 2014, Hawthorn went 5-5 in the home and away season against fellow top-8 rivals yet successfully claimed its third flag in seven seasons. Speaking of 5-5, that was the record the Eagles took into their Finals campaign twelve months later, and it didn’t get in the way of them booking a Grand Final rendezvous against the Hawks.
When the Bulldogs won their ground-breaking 2016 flag, they entered September carrying just a 4-5 record against their Final’s brethren, as well as a forgettable 88.9 percentage.
In 2018, the Pies came within a kick of winning its 16th club premiership. It's record against top-8 foes during the home and away season? How about 1-7, with an 81.6 percentage to boot.
While Richmond’s 2020 flag was achieved with a 4-2 record and solid 121.7 percentage against the best, it’s 2017 and 2019 triumphs were accomplished with suspect form against top-8 combatants, combining for just a 9-8 record and an unremarkable 90.1 percentage.
They’ve got the power to win
Ultimately, being a flat-track bully in the modern AFL is ok, so long as you’re exceptionally good at being a bully in the first place, using that dominance to secure a final’s spot, and preferably a top-4 berth.
While Port clearly has a proclivity for murdering awful teams, and which sits in contrast to what it routinely delivers against serious outfits, it needn’t have too much of a say in its quest to land a second club premiership.
This is a team who’ve worked damn hard to build a list capable of contending, and while the flat-track bully claims have merit, it’s not as though Port hasn’t proven itself against the best.
While Saturdays’ mauling in Brisbane was demoralising, the reality is they beat Richmond just three weeks earlier, while it was only last October when Port nearly stood in the way of the Tigers' steam train.
This week they’ll host the club’s ‘showdown’ against Adelaide, and if Port’s recent record against strugglers is anything to go by, it should win comfortably.
Yet it’ll be the following week when they’ll next get to trade blows with a serious contender when the Doggies come to town.
Win, and it’ll prove just how serious Port are about a 2021 premiership assault. Lose, and really, let’s be honest, it really won’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things.
Did you enjoy this article? Join our free mailing list to get the best content delivered straight to your inbox, or join the conversation by leaving a comment below or on the Stats Insider Twitter or Facebook page.