PEOPLE laughed at Ken Hinkley in February when the Port Adelaide coach said his side was coming. Hinkley is the one smiling now.
In the game of the season so far, Port Adelaide delivered a clear message to the competition on Saturday with its 13.15 (93) to 11.6 (72) win over Richmond: it is the real deal.
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In a slick, tough, fast, gripping contest in front of a boisterous Adelaide Oval crowd, the top-of-the-ladder Power proved their premiership credentials by clearly outplaying the Tigers.
Despite a wave of Power pressure and scoring opportunities, and a weight of statistical measures against them, the Tigers had scrounged their way to a one-point lead by three-quarter time.
But that was quickly wiped as the Power piled on three fast goals at the start of the final term to run out deserving 21-point winners.
Port got the early jump, leaping to a 26-point lead in the first quarter, but the Tigers struck back in the second and third quarters to steal some momentum back.
But with the game up for grabs the Power took on the challenge, lifting to produce a dominant final term.
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Although the margin was hard-won, this was a smashing in all the key numbers: the Power had more than 80 more disposals, nearly doubled Richmond for clearances and recorded a stunning 55 inside 50s to 24. Richmond having Richmond's doggedness was all that kept the Tigers in it.
Such is Port's way this season, it was a mix of old and new faces that delivered it the win. Travis Boak, Ollie Wines, Tom Rockliff and Robbie Gray were influential, while Zak Butters continued his rise and Peter Ladhams enjoyed a breakout game.
Shai Bolton was Richmond's best, while Jack Riewoldt kicked three goals in a valuable contribution in attack. But the onus of this result will be on Port Adelaide, as it should be. If anyone wanted or needed convincing of the Power's flag chances, here it was.
Port's midfield mauling
Port Adelaide's onball brigade put on a midfield masterclass against last year's premiers as former captains Ollie Wines and Travis Boak led a commanding performance around the ball. The Power won the centre clearance battle 20 to Richmond's five, and recorded a comprehensive overall win in the stoppages (41 to 22). Wines was sensational. In one of the best games the powerful, bullocking midfielder has played in the past two seasons, he gathered 28 disposals, one goal and 10 clearances, while Boak continued his brilliant year with 31 disposals and eight clearances.
Stopping Port Adelaide from scoring is going to be some task come finals time. Charlie Dixon was influential again against the Tigers (although wasteful) with 2.4, but the Power continue to find a number of avenues to score. Playing ruckmen Scott Lycett and Peter Ladhams meant that Ladhams played a large chunk of the game inside 50 and he booted two goals, while the squad of smalls, including star Gray (three goals), Karl Amon, Boyd Woodcock and Zak Butters all chipped in with goals too, after regular goalkicker Connor Rozee (heel) was a late out. Dixon's brilliance lies not only in his marking but also his contests that feed the fleet of crafty crumbers.
After unwittingly being at the centre of the Tigers' groping issue that surfaced late in the week, Richmond forward Mabior Chol was important in attack. The much-improved goalkicker booted two important goals in the third term to help edge his side ahead and give it a chance at nabbing the win. Those goals followed an incredibly athletic effort in the first half which saw Chol set up one of Riewoldt's three majors. In a short space of time Chol has become a key part of Richmond's jigsaw with his marking strength and agility for a tall option, giving opposition backmen headaches.
PORT ADELAIDE 4.4 8.6 10.11 13.15 (93)
RICHMOND 3.3 7.3 11.6 11.6 (72)
Port Adelaide: Gray 3, Dixon 2, Ladhams 2, Amon, Butters, Houston, Rockliff, Wines, Woodcock
Richmond: Riewoldt 3, Aarts 2, Chol 2, Lambert, Lynch, Martin, Stack
Port Adelaide: Gray, Boak, Wines, Butters, Rockliff, Amon
Richmond: Bolton, Short, Riewoldt, Vlastuin, Chol
Port Adelaide: Rozee (heel) replaced in selected side by Sutcliffe