L-R: Zak Butters, Jason Horne-Francis, Connor Rozee. Pictures: AFL Photos

IS IT time for Port Adelaide to unleash its 'Big Three'?

As the club's record dropped to 4-2 on Saturday following a brutal 42-point loss to Collingwood, its ongoing reluctance to combine gun trio Connor Rozee, Zak Butters and Jason Horne-Francis in the same midfield was noticeable.

After racing to a 29-point lead early in the second quarter at the MCG, the Power then conceded 55 consecutive points – eight goals and 15 scoring shots – in a dramatic unanswered run on either side of half-time.

Throughout the game, coach Ken Hinkley used 13 different centre bounce combinations within 33 attempts. But the trio of Rozee, Butters and Horne-Francis was trialled just twice.

It was reflective of a trend that has continued for much of the season. According to Champion Data's stats, the set of Rozee, Butters and Horne-Francis have started just nine centre bounces together all year - out of a total of 172.

Those nine centre bounce involvements make up just 5.2 per cent of Port Adelaide's total for the entire campaign, the seventh-most of any of the 20 combinations used by the club this year.

Connor Rozee celebrates with teammates including Zak Butters and Jason Horne-Francis after the R5 match between Port Adelaide and Fremantle at Adelaide Oval on April 13, 2024. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

It's also significantly behind the trio of Rozee, Butters and Willem Drew, who have now started 41 centre bounces together – 23.8 per cent of Port Adelaide's total – which is clearly the most used grouping at the club.

"I'm not sure why Port doesn't put its gun midfielders onball at the same time. It's never Jason Horne-Francis, Zak Butters and Connor Rozee at the same time," Port Adelaide champion Kane Cornes said on AFL.com.au's The Round So Far last Saturday.

"They try and be a bit cute. It's Ollie Wines in there, or it's Jackson Mead, or it's Willem Drew. Put all three in there at the same time, particularly when (Port Adelaide) was challenged just before half-time. That was a frustration."


However, should they be doing it more? While there is a case to be made for using your most influential players in their most prominent positions, the balance added by someone like Drew has been crucial for the club over a long period.

Port Adelaide highly values both the toughness and defensive nous of Drew in its midfield, with his presence giving two of Rozee, Butters or Horne-Francis the freedom to play to their attacking instincts.

For the most part, that has paid dividends. According to Champion Data's AFL Player Ratings points – their most definitive metric to define influence on a game – Drew is Port Adelaide's No.2-ranked player this year.

Drew is now averaging 15.7 AFL Player Ratings points across the season, just behind the top-ranked Butters (18.5) at the club but ahead of Rozee (13.9) and Horne-Francis (13.9).

It's therefore no surprise that Drew featured in all of the top four centre bounce combinations for Port Adelaide last Saturday and has been part of five of the Power's top six groupings so far this season.

Drew also features in the Port Adelaide midfield combination that has the best clearance differential this season. That also features Rozee and Horne-Francis and is now +4 from the 16 centre bounces it has started together.

If you group the top 10 Port Adelaide centre bounce combinations this season, five have positive clearance differentials. But the trio of Rozee, Butters and Horne-Francis is not among them. Their clearance differential is -2 from their nine involvements.





Rozee, Butters, Drew



Rozee, Drew, Wines



Rozee, Horne-Francis, Drew



Rozee, Butters, Wines



Butters, Drew, Wines



Butters, Horne-Francis, Drew



Rozee, Butters, Horne-Francis



Butters, Wines, Mead



Butters, Horne-Francis, Wines



Rozee, Horne-Francis, Mead




Rozee has been involved in four of the five midfield combinations with a positive clearance differential, while Port Adelaide's successful groupings have also included either Drew, Wines or Mead in some variety.

For now, Port Adelaide's midfield is not the club's most pressing issue. The Power remain a top-five clearance differential team this season, although only the Kangaroos have a worse contested possession differential.

However, the way in which the club uses its three key midfield pieces will be an intriguing watch as the season progresses. Particularly if results against the League's best teams continues to evade Hinkley's men.