AS PORT Adelaide closed out another competitive but ultimately unsuccessful season in 2018, there was a realisation from key decision makers that the club was stuck in the AFL's equivalent of no-man's land.

The Power had reached a "critical point" in their recent history and needed to be courageous to get out of the middle rungs of the ladder, where they had resided for four years since making a preliminary final in 2014. 

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Their aggressive investment in that year's NAB AFL Draft is the defining point in the building of a list that coach Ken Hinkley now says is the best he has had in his eight completed seasons with the Power. 

The addition of exciting trio Zak Butters, Connor Rozee and Xavier Duursma that year, combined with a consistent middle tier and a senior core that continues to play at a high level has the Power list "ready" for an assault on the 2021 premiership. 

"We got to a point where we needed to get out of what we call that middle zone of the ladder and we didn't want to stay in there," Hinkley told

"It was a really critical part and a really interesting moment in our football club's career. 

"We had a list that's always been competitive, but we hadn't been able to ultimately get to the Grand Final and win the Grand Final. That's what we were setting out to do. 

"We made some decisions based on, did we think we were going to be able to get there with the current group we had? What was that (2018) draft looking like? 

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"There were some really strategic decisions being made about when the right draft was to go into, when we were going to go into it, and how hard we were going to go. 

"List manager Jason Cripps and national recruiting manager Geoff Parker got that planning very accurate for us, we took the leap, and we are here to today."

The decision to attack the draft so aggressively off the back of 12 and 14-win seasons could be interpreted as a leap of faith from Hinkley, who put the future of the club ahead of himself at a time when he was under pressure. 

We're not satisfied, we're not happy, and we have to get better.

- Ken Hinkley

The 54-year-old has been rewarded for his commitment to the change of direction and was last year named the AFL Coaches Association coach of the year for steering his team to a preliminary final.  

Port's senior players, led by former skipper Travis Boak and four-time all Australian Robbie Gray, also needed to buy into the new direction and are now "fighting like hell" to be part of a successful team reshaped by youth. 

Travis Boak (centre) keeping up with his young teammates. Picture: Getty Images / AFL Photos

"Their desire to be successful was clear to me and they wanted to make sure they were a part of it," Hinkley said.  

"So it took their confidence in what we were doing to come and perform like they did and have done for the last couple of years to help those young guys get to the level they have done quickly. 

"I'm sure they're really confident now that they've got a group that is ready to take them hopefully to the place they want to go. 

"That's to a Grand Final and ultimately to a premiership."

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Hinkley warned his team was rising at the start of 2020, declaring "look out, we're coming" on the eve of the club's 150th anniversary year. 

The message this year? "We're ready". 

The Power are being driven by a "heartbreaking" end to 2020, which saw them lose a thrilling preliminary final to eventual premier Richmond by six points. 

Port Adelaide leave the field after last year's preliminary final loss to Richmond. Picture: AFL Photos

With a blend of exciting and tough football that has earned the admiration of the rest of the competition, there's no doubt they are "ready" to take the next step if their improvement continues. 

"We're not satisfied, we're not happy, and we have to get better," the coach says.  

"There could have been an opportunity for them not to really be motivated. They might have still been feeling the pain. 

"But they let it drive them I reckon. They let the pain drive them and they came back in great shape. 

"They've given themselves another chance." 

Xavier Duursma and Connor Rozee have made big impacts in their short careers to date. Picture: AFL Photos

The bold way Hinkley talks about his team is different to other senior AFL coaches. 

The statement that Port is "ready" is consistent with the honest approach he has taken and he embraces the expectations that come with that. 

"All I can actually do is talk with honesty, and that's what I do. I talk with honesty about what I think and how I think the team is going," he said. 

"What I had seen through last pre-season when the conversation came up that 'look out, we're coming', it was because of my belief in what the group were capable of and what they are still capable of. 

"This year I believe we're ready. 

"People will use that against you if you don't succeed. I'm really confident that we're going to succeed, so the opportunity to use it against me won't be there.

"We're ready and we’re going to go after it and see where it takes us."