PORT Adelaide has made no secrets of its intentions to build its midfield in a bid to make the leap from preliminary finalists to premiers.
The Power, off back-to-back preliminary final finishes in the past two seasons, have made it known spreading its midfield load has been central to taking the next step and coach Ken Hinkley is confident of seeing the results in 2022.
Brownlow medallist Ollie Wines and veteran Travis Boak have been midfield mainstays, but Hinkley has identified a new rolling group of onballers who will take on more responsibility this season.
"It's been really clear that we've tried to grow that midfield group for a period of time. Trav's 33, he's carried the load for a fair bit of time and we need to grow that and we've acknowledged that as one of the areas of our growth as a football club," Hinkley told AFL.com.au.
"Some of the things were outside our control in the last 12-18 months with injuries to a few of those players so hopefully given a nice even run with injuries with those boys they'll all get plenty of opportunity."
It starts with Zak Butters, whose serious foot injury last year saw him miss half the season but is seen by some as Port Adelaide's most influential player. The fourth-year talent dominated in last week's practice game against Gold Coast and Hinkley said the 21-year-old was ready to take his skills into a full-time midfield role.
"Without putting too much pressure on, Zak's going to be a highly talented player at the end of his career no matter what. He's already very talented, and I think he can achieve some great things in the game," he said.
"I think he's potentially as good as any young midfielder there is playing at the moment. He's a different size – that's the only thing Zak's got a real challenge with, he's not very big.
"So he's going to have to be pretty special to be able to maximise and be as good against the greats of today's game when you talk about (Marcus) Bontempelli, (Patrick) Dangerfield, Dusty (Martin), (Christian) Petracca. They're all really big-bodied midfielders so Zak's got a unique challenge."
Xavier Duursma has bulked up over summer to be ready for more inside midfield time, while Connor Rozee will also spend more time around the ball as well as across half-forward.
Willem Drew's midfield work went under the radar at times last season but he was a find for Port Adelaide playing every game, Karl Amon is likely to spend more time inside the centre square after becoming a top-line wingman, Dan Houston is set for wing and midfield time and Sam Powell-Pepper's pre-season has put him in the engine room mix.
Miles Bergman, Jackson Mead and first-round pick Josh Sinn could also be deployed in midfield roles while recruit Trent Dumont adds depth to the group as he recovers from knee surgery.
On Sinn, Hinkley said the line-breaking left-footer had put himself in contention for a round one debut against Brisbane despite his interruptions over the past two seasons.
"He's played six games in two years and his pre-season would suggest he's played a lot more footy than that. As a football club we don't mind putting our inexperienced players out there very early and giving them some experience," Hinkley said.
"Again, he has to earn that opportunity and so far in the pre-season he has certainly been playing well and we took him to the Gold Coast last week. If he doesn't play round one he'll be playing early. He'll be right in the mix."
But just as the Power are preparing for midfield life after Boak, Hinkley still feels that is some time off despite the 306-gamer coming out of contract this season. The former skipper averaged 28 disposals last season and finished second in Port's best and fairest last season, with Hinkley saying he had plenty left in the tank.
"What I love from Trav is he does everything he can to be in the game as long as he possibly can and perform at a high level. He won't be a player who is just hanging around, he will want to make sure he's performing at a really high level. I don't think there's a ceiling right now on how long he can and can't play," he said.
"He still has his power, he still has his hunger, he still has his dedication to the game. Whilst those things are still at a high level for him, nobody would want to put a timeline on when Trav may or may not finish."