Ken Hinkley and Connor Rozee after Port Adelaide's win over the Western Bulldogs in R13, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

IT TAKES courage for an out-of-contract coach to choose to leave his captain out of a premiership-contending team.

It takes serious courage to do it in two consecutive matches, which happen to be the ninth and tenth games won in a row in a season which began mired in doubt.

There are many cliched buzz phrases flying round in footy these days, but one that carries a lot of substance is "selection integrity", and in 2023 Ken Hinkley and Port Adelaide are trailblazing that cause.

That Tom Jonas, Power skipper since 2019, has been forced to play in the SANFL since serving a second AFL suspension this season is proof of the ruthlessness required in a coach to land a flag.


And then add the round 13 omission of Ryan Burton, a regular defender who had excellently covered for injured forwards Charlie Dixon and Todd Marshall, for last Friday night's match against Western Bulldogs.

There is no decision too tough to make for Kenny right now. Halfway through his 11th season in charge of the Power, and with no guarantee of a future beyond this year, he has never been more at one with his job.

Tom Jonas and Ken Hinkley before a pre-season game in 2019. Picture: AFL Photos

But that doesn't mean making the tough calls has got any easier.

"It's really hard, because you have such respect for Tom, as you do all your players. And when you're a coach, people think you make some of these decisions easily," Hinkley said on Triple M on the weekend.

"But they are really difficult decisions to make and they tug at the heart, to be honest, because you want everyone to do well. But you have to pick 23, and what you do have to have is selection criteria that backs up performance.

Ken Hinkley celebrates Port Adelaide's win over Narrm in R10, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"Tom has been fantastic as a captain, he is still leading the club really well, and we hope he plays well and gets back in the team as well."

Hinkley's 2023 outlook on selection can be contrasted with some decisions made by Luke Beveridge at the Western Bulldogs. While he has been regularly prepared to axe key big men Alex Keath, Ryan Gardner and Josh Bruce, he may soon have a big decision to make on recruit Rory Lobb.

Rory Lobb looks on ahead of round six, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Beveridge also executed a coach's call in elevating James O'Donnell off the Category B rookie list, effectively out of nowhere after just three games in the VFL. After accumulating one, two, six and five kicks respectively in his first four matches, O'Donnell managed just another four kicks in his fifth game, Friday night's loss to Port before being subbed out.

This is not intended as a knock on O'Donnell. His story is a ripper, and he clearly has enough ability to play a lot of senior footy. But it is presented as a contrast to Hinkley's 2023 selection criteria against Beveridge's.

Chris Fagan may have to follow Hinkley if he is to help reset Brisbane on a premiership path, after a disappointing loss against Hawthorn last Saturday. Jack Gunston just hasn't worked as a Lion.

Jack Gunston kicks a goal during Brisbane's clash against Gold Coast in round 10, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Hinkley will simply not 'gift' games this year. Not even for someone he was prepared to install as his leader four years ago.

This is brutal, yet as always with Kenny, loving, ruthlessness.