The view from Adelaide Oval

It’s official. Port is in strife. Their tumble from an assured second spot a month ago, with two home finals and a clean road into a grand final is now over. From fifth tonight, they will have to fight to get back into the four for a second chance in the finals.

This will test this young precocious team against Melbourne (home, win); Collingwood (away, ?), Sydney (home, lose); Gold Coast (away, win), Carlton (home, win), Fremantle (away, lose) to end up with 15-7 or 14-8. That’s not a top-two outcome this year and it’s a borderline top four result although Port’s percentage gives them a chance.

What’s gone wrong?

Three things.

The wet weather has closed down Port’s fast slingshot attack from turnovers deep in the backline. Every slick handball has to be perfect and it never is in the wet.

Port’s Showdown loss put a serious crack in the team’s self-belief and has altered the perfect relationship between the players and the coach. Early in the season, Hinkley only had to steer them gently along a benign path; now he has to insert some authority and control his anger.

The double loss of Carlile and Trengove has fractured the structure. I didn’t believe this at first; I thought Carlile and Trengove were overrated players in terms of their influence on the game and their stats but, after watching the Richmond game on Sunday, Port were constantly outmarked in defence by Richmond’s talls. and outbodied by thicker stronger opponents. They desperately needed Carlile’s defensive bustling in the goalsquare or Trengove to outmark every now and again to stop a few of the constant streams of attack. And, of course, to create those turnover opportunities.

More importantly, no Trengove and no Carlile means that Westhoff has to spend too much time as second ruck and too much time trying to plug holes in the backlines. And, under pressure to become superman, Westhoff performs none of his allocated tasks particularly well. Westhoff is a proven match-turner; he’s at his best when his team has the luxury of allowing him to find his own place on the field – as a roaming utility who is capable of creating and receiving the random ball. Westhoff’s best showreel moments are those when he marks in defence, clears the ball, and runs through the  centre, unchecked, to mark again in the forward line and kick goals. When the team has the luxury of letting him loose, no coach can work out how to counter him.

There’s a further problem with Wingard. He’s been languishing in attack for a month. He’s a player who, so far, has devoured those moments in the game that have his name written on them.  On Sunday, I’m glad that Hinkley played him on the ball for most of the game against Richmond. Wingard is so young and so brilliant but he has to understand the cruel fact of the game that he has to create his special moments every second of the game, rather than depend upon them to fall in his lap when no-one is looking. He needs to be in the very middle of the action – and probably in the midfield – and not hanging on its edges in the forward pocket waiting for opportunities, especially when the rest of the team is incapable of creating them.

Today he had the opportunity to stop the rot and turn the game – but he didn’t. I’d persevere with having him on the ball. He has such a huge talent that, if he has to learn how to win hard, awkward unlucky balls for a couple of years before he can return to moments of sensational individual glory, too bad. Wingard’s early career reminds me of Malcolm Blight playing Gary Ablett Senior in the backlines for a season or two, as a necessary part of his education of the game, before he released him back into the forward lines, where he was then empowered and entitled to create history.

There are serious structural problems with Port, right now. Without Carlile and Trengove, Port are short in defence. Which means, too, that with Westhoff plugging gaps, Port is also one player short in attack. Port is full of short little guys who can gather the spills and move the ball on quickly but they are now lacking enough talls in the right spot to create those spills.

It’s time for Hinkley to make some bold decisions even if it’s at the cost of this season.

Westhoff has to be given a defined role; it’s no longer acceptable to use him everywhere. I would cement Westhoff in the forward spine – either at full forward or centre half forward with Schulz and teach him how to play the constant attack game.

I would train up Ollie Wines as the second ruck/follower, resting in the back half. Ollie is a spectacular talent, extremely young, ready to be developed into any role a proactive coach dares to establish. He’s tall enough to ruck, and flexible enough to get down and crumb his own taps. He has exactly the right body type to become a new ruckman in the contemporary game when everybody has to be everything. Those ruckmen who get their thirty taps but then step back from the contest to manage three or four accidental kicks and four or five compulsory handballs and next to no tackles are becoming liabilities for their teams.

I’d get Ebert out of the centre and use him as either a rugged back pocket or a punishing forward pocket and get some of the smaller players into the centre – Impey, for example, who is full of close contact dare but lacks defensive clarity.

Smalls into the centre; talls into the back and front halves. And create a new structure. Playing Wingard in the centre, on Sunday, was a good move. It didn’t win the game but Wingard provided a better sense of purpose, and, occasionally, a better shape for the future of this team.

So, suddenly Port is not a winning team; it’s been caught out. Mark Williams, inside Richmond’s coaching team, may have worked out much of Port’s current structure and may have engineered enough moves to create this victory. For example, Hinkley used Westhoff as Williams used Westhoff, plugging all roles and none of them well. What if Hinkley had kept Westhoff forward all day? How would Richmond had countered that?


Adelaide’s been behind the pace all year with its injuries but, in the last month, it’s beginning to assemble the team it thought it had at the beginning of the season. Henderson, Lynch, Walker, Crouch, Ottens are back – all necessary structural players without any one of them having to think they are matchwinners.

Although, you have to say that Brad Crouch’s 11 kicks and a stunning 29 handballs against Hawthorn on Friday night (or his 36 kicks and 56 handballs in his last three matches since returning from Round 2) reminds us how important he has been in the midfield and how much Adelaide has missed him this year. On Friday, he had his hands on the ball every three minutes of the game.

Adelaide has been saved by Eddie Betts and James Podsiadly this season; those two imports have kept the team in the hunt when everything else seemed to be falling down. Adelaide’s spine is the key thing. Ben Rutten was a key part of it but was found wanting and has announced his retirement. Henderson, Talia, Ottens are back together; Dangerfield, Sloane and a vastly improved Thompson are the engine room; Walker, Jenkins and Tom Lynch are back as forward guns.

Suddenly, after all this time, this squad looks like a structured team but it may be  about eight weeks too late. Adelaide will have a genuine struggle to make the eight facing Collingwood (away, ?); West Coast (home, win); Brisbane (away, win); Richmond (home, win), North Melbourne (away, lose); St Kilda (home, win) and finish at either 12.10 or 13.9 which may or may not be enough to scrape into the eight.

In a sense, it doesn’t matter. Adelaide’s task is to create meaning from its new young squad. They’re having a rebuild without having to fade away first. They must create a clearer shape from their dizzy 2012 false start under Sanderson for the rest of this year and be prepared to start all over again in 2015. This hitch in glory annoys the fan base but it shouldn’t annoy the players. They should know where they are and where they are not.

Here’s an intriguing  scenario: Port to finish fifth and play Adelaide at eighth at the Adelaide Oval in the first elimination final. In that battle of nerves, you’d have to think, right now, that Adelaide would have the edge and you’d also have to think that the stadium will have its first 54,500 maximum attendance with a few more hanging from the branches of the Moreton Bay figs at the northern end.


  1. Nice one JK. You are a frustrated coach like me.
    Why won’t Adam Simpson listen to me?

  2. Ben Footner says

    Great work John. Excellent summary of both teams.

    I think Adelaide has improved out of sight in the last month or so – but as you say, I fear it might be too late to salvage this season now.

    The future looks good though, and the top end talent is there IMO. Just lack the depth to cover injuries (Hawthorn exhibited how a top 4 side does this perfectly on Friday night).

  3. Dave Brown says

    Good summary John. Although at 187cm, Wines would be the shortest ruckman in the AFL. Port’s ruck issues must be a real concern. They have no AFL listed back-ups fit in their squad at the moment and the SANFL Magpies have been getting smashed in the ruck most weeks with a 193cm ruckman.

  4. Yes, Dave. Ollie (187cm) would make a short ruckman although not as short as Malcolm Blight’s use of Trent Ormond-Allen (180cm) in Round 18 as first ruck against St Kilda in 1999. Trent had three taps that day and people sneer about this. They forget that he had another three against Sydney in Round 20 and another brilliant three against North Melbourne in Round 22 for an impressive total tap-count of 12 in a five-year career (1995-99). If Trent had been given this option earlier in his career, who knows what his final tally could have become.

    Ollie is a follower. In the old days, the follower would take the ruck if the lead ruckman was caught short. Ollie can run all day; he has vertical leap; he has great ground skills; he has a wonderful understanding of the flow of the game and he can tackle. These are most of the necessary attributes in the evolution of the new ruckman that many of want to see. Westhoff (199cm) has these characteritistics as well, of course, but, at the moment, Port need something else from him.

    Ben, I can’t wait to see the two Crouch brothers working in tandem in Adelaide’s centre and I hope this starts next week after the bye. This may be the start of a new shape for Adelaide for the next two or three years. Dangerfield can get some focus into his game, rather than his bullocking style and his huge possession rate which, usually, fail to ignite the team further than his moment. I’d play Paddy at the centre-half back flank as Adelaide’s turnover king in the same way that Craig extracted the maximum value from Andrew McLeod’s exceptional skills by restraining him on the halfback line for most of his career.

    And yes, Peter B. We are all frustrated coaches. It sure beats having to play this demanding and damaging game.

  5. As third man up, Ollie Wines had four taps to advantage
    in Round Seventeen, against Jamar, Pederson and Lobbe.
    He was the fourth most effective ruckman in the posse.
    He’s a rare beauty and he plays beyond his tender age.

    In the first quarter, Port started poorly. They misspent
    early in defense; there was no wind nor rain, only doubt.
    They gained meaning in the second quarter with clout
    from Cam O’Shea, Jasper Pittard and Matthew Broadbent.

    Kane Cornes kept Bernie Vince under a clamp, Robbie Gray
    outbounced the ball and Westhoff slipped between the lines.
    But Melbourne woke up. Tyson came alive and Jack Grimes
    kept their side in the game. Port dried up. They could only pray

    that their drought would end when the Demons hit the front
    with five minutes to go. Schulz took a mark at an awkward angle.
    There were two minutes left; he thought about the shamble
    of missing it and whether he should risk an awful shunt.

    “My right leg was shaking,” he said later. We thought he had ice
    in his frozen veins and we wanted no-one else to take the shot.
    He was the current Coleman leader and absolutely in the slot
    to win it but that wasn’t in his thoughts. “That would be nice,”

    he may have thought at the beginning of the season but, right now,
    he had to kick the last goal of this game and end Port’s losing run
    from top to fifth. His punt slipped through the sticks. Schulz is a gun!
    A few seconds later, at the siren, every Melbourne player sank in sorrow.

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