PORT Adelaide was hoping it could resurrect the evidence in front of it.
After going on a club-record 13-game winning streak, the Power lost four straight games in the back end of last home and away season. They restored stability with three consecutive victories to close the regular campaign and head into September, but the form line wasn't the same that had powered them up the ladder.
Back-to-back losses in the finals saw them close their premiership tilt two weeks earlier than they had planned, with a number of key players battling with injury issues.
Port coach Ken Hinkley said there were some signs internally that his side wasn't hitting the finals in perfect shape.
"A little," he told AFL.com.au.
"You had the information weekly about what was going on and where we were at. But we weren't going to use anything as an excuse for the way we went about our September action."
Port moved past those games quickly but the fuel has remained over summer. Hinkley and his coaching team have been conscious of keeping plenty of what went right through last season in Port's winning run and having added key recruits Ivan Soldo and Jordon Sweet in the ruck and key defenders Esava Ratugolea and Brandon Zerk-Thatcher as trade acquisitions, feel their list is more balanced in their attack of the 2024 flag.
"Our focuses this pre-season have been about small margin improvement, which is what we're chasing. We use the term 'marginal gains' which we're trying to improve on and that's what we're set out to do," he said.
"We know offensively we were pretty good right through the season. Our end of season was obviously a little less than what we wanted and we were disappointed with that but we knew we had to improve a little bit with our defensive stuff.
"We had to improve our contest stuff with our ruck battles so we went to work and brought in some personnel to help improve a couple of those areas. But the reality is we've got some younger players who are continuing to improve and grow their careers and we need that to continue as well."
It's easy to see where the coach gets his excitement. His superstar midfield pairing of Connor Rozee and Zak Butters are now the club's respective captain and vice-captain and not yet in their peak, while Jason Horne-Francis has had his best pre-season so far and looks a more ready athlete ahead of his third AFL season.
Hinkley has high hopes on Miles Bergman, who knocked back big overtures last season to re-sign with Port Adelaide, Lachie Jones enters his fourth season with a bulk of work under his belt and Mitch Georgiades is about to return from his knee reconstruction. Hinkley is quick to remind that damaging half-back Dan Houston, a first-time All-Australian last year, is also still only 26. Who can be this year's example of Dylan Williams, who emerged last season as a smart and creative defender, will also be crucial.
"Every football club has great internal drive, it's just whether you can turn that into something. I'm sure our drive is real, it's big and it's pushing in the right direction. I just hope ultimately we can get a reward for that," Hinkley said.
Hinkley started last year in the spotlight of a contract season, with the coach and board putting off a decision until August. He signed on for two more years to the end of 2025, but understands it will again be in focus as Port pushes for success.
"It always feels like [the pressure's] there, to be honest. It doesn't matter. If you ultimately don't win the premiership after you've been at a club 11 years, then the focus is always going to switch to someone and it's easy to switch it to a coach. It's a singular person who you can focus on positive or negative and for me that's something I've learned to live with," he said.
Time hasn't diluted his own determination. Asked of his own motivation levels heading into his 12th season at the helm of the Power, Hinkley's enthusiasm is clear.
"It's never been better. Never been better," he said. "You would think after some of the stuff you deal with 'Can it wear you down and wear you out?' It's actually probably pushing me the other way. It's pushing me to the point where I'm more ready for the start than I've ever been. I'm more looking forward to the start than I ever have because I have great belief and trust in the group and the club with what we're trying to achieve."
That goes for his wider coaching team, too. Impressive assistant and 2004 Power premiership player Josh Carr last year knocked back Richmond's interest in him as part of its coaching search to remain in Adelaide, where he had returned with his family at the end of 2022. The midfield coach has continued to progress his own credentials, with Hinkley including Carr in as much as possible to prepare him for the future.
"Josh is on the path to being a senior coach, I think everyone's aware of that, and ultimately no one would be more pleased if for us that was at Port Adelaide at some point in the future. That will be determined in the future and not now. It will be what Josh wants to do himself," Hinkley said.
"I think he can optimistically look forward knowing he's going to have an opportunity at some point in his career to be an AFL coach. He's setting himself up for success I think by taking his time.
"I use Josh as a really strong ally to make sure we're doing some things right and also to ask him some questions and get his opinions on what needs to be done and could be done. I love that he's willing to offer those opinions and not always having to be right or wrong. That's what can make you a successful coach – that you're prepared to listen and then join in the conversation.
"The advice from me would be to just stay patient and be ready."
Port Adelaide, too, is ready for what's next. It is ready for testing its pre-season training against opposition, with practice games coming up against Adelaide and then Fremantle before taking on West Coast in round one.
"We've shown great growth. We've got a great list – the best we've had – and we've continued to work towards improving that," Hinkley said.