PORT Adelaide's evolution in the 12 months since its last preliminary final and the changes to its 22 give a perfect illustration of why coach Ken Hinkley was convinced during the pre-season that his list was "ready".

The Power will run out on Saturday night with five players who didn't play in last year's six-point preliminary final loss to Richmond, getting better but also younger in their quest for the premiership.

It's the best possible 22 from a list that Hinkley declared during the summer was in the best shape it has been during his nine seasons, having made the adjustments needed to go one step further in 2021.

Now the moment of truth arrives, against the Western Bulldogs at Adelaide Oval, and the Power's improvement is put to the test.

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So what gave Hinkley such confidence during the pre-season that his team was ready to contend after being knocked out by Richmond last year?

Port Adelaide players, led by veteran Brad Ebert, lead Adelaide Oval after their 2021 prelim loss to Richmond. Picture: Getty Images

Across the five changes to their preliminary final teams, the Power have lost 862 games' experience and replaced it with 300.


Savvy trading and the significant improvement of the Power's less-heralded recent draft selections has been the key.   

Out from the 2020 preliminary final team are Tom Rockliff (31 years old, 208 games), Brad Ebert (30, 260), Hamish Hartlett (31, 193), Tom Clurey (27, 100) and the likely medical substitute tonight, Sam Powell-Pepper (23, 91).

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In come Aliir Aliir (26, 87), Orazio Fantasia (25, 94), Riley Bonner (24, 64), Willem Drew (22, 33) and Miles Bergman (19, 22), with an average age of 23.2 compared to 28.4.

Trade acquisition Aliir has been a great success, earning selection at centre half-back in the Therabody AFL All-Australian team, while Fantasia has booted 28 goals in 14 games, including seven in the past two.

Port Adelaide's Aliir Aliir in action during the 2021 qualifying final win over Geelong. Picture: AFL Photos

Inside midfielder Drew and versatile outside runner Bergman have produced one-field output beyond their years and held crucial roles in the team, while Bonner is much improved on his nine-game season from 2020.

Recruiting manager Geoff Parker and list manager Jason Cripps would have every right to look at the 22 selected for Saturday night, rub their hands together, and know they have done their bit.  


The fact that Clurey (11 games in 2021) and Powell-Pepper (15) are among those from last year's preliminary final team now missing from the 22 is proof of the depth Port has built.

Port Adelaide's Sam Powell-Pepper celebrates a goal against Geelong in the 2021 qualifying final. Picture: AFL Photos

It also points to the health of the list, now having only young forward Mitch Georgiades (hamstring) missing from their preferred line-up.

Port Adelaide's list also captured the attention of former West Coast and Essendon coach John Worsfold during the pre-season.

Worsfold, who will present the Jock McHale Medal to the premiership coach in two weeks, wouldn't be surprised if it is Hinkley on the dais on Saturday night after coaching his first premiership.

Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley speaks to his players during the qualifying final against Geelong in 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

"My pre-season tip was Port Adelaide," Worsfold said.

"I felt as though Port Adelaide are probably the most prepared of those (preliminary final) teams, other than Geelong.

"They have been knocking on the door and I felt they were the ones who were ready to step up with maturity and talent.

"I'm probably leading towards Kenny. He's done a wonderful job building that list."

Port Adelaide's 2020 preliminary final team

B: Tom Jonas, Trent McKenzie, Tom Clurey
HB: Ryan Burton, Darcy Byrne-Jones, Hamish Hartlett
C: Karl Amon, Tom Rockliff, Xavier Duursma
HF: Brad Ebert, Robbie Gray, Zak Butters
F: Todd Marshall, Connor Rozee, Charlie Dixon
Foll: Scott Lycett, Ollie Wines, Travis Boak
I/C: Sam Powell-Pepper, Dan Houston, Steven Motlop, Peter Ladhams

Emerg: Riley Bonner, Boyd Woodcock, Justin Westhoff, Jarrod Lienert

Port Adelaide's 2021 preliminary final team  

B: Ryan Burton, Trent McKenzie, Aliir Aliir 
HB: Miles Bergman, Tom Jonas, Darcy Byrne-Jones
C: Xavier Duursma, Ollie Wines, Dan Houston
HF: Karl Amon, Todd Marshall, Zak Butters
F: Robbie Gray, Charlie Dixon, Connor Rozee
Foll: Scott Lycett, Travis Boak, Willem Drew
I/C: Steven Motlop, Riley Bonner, Orazio Fantasia, Peter Ladhams

Emerg: Sam Powell-Pepper, Sam Mayes, Jarrod Lienert, Tom Clurey