Port Adelaide skipper Tom Jonas addresses the media at the South Australian AFL Captains Day at Adelaide Oval. Image: AFL Photos.

TOM JONAS has tipped AFL premier Melbourne - or his recent preliminary final nemesis, the Western Bulldogs - to be Port Adelaide's last roadblock to this year's national league title.

And 16 of his 17 counterparts as AFL team captains in the annual poll of the skippers expect Port Adelaide to remain a top-eight finalist in September.

Two of them have nominated Port Adelaide as a grand finalist.

It is a telling sign that the men inside the boundary still regard Port Adelaide as a serious contender - rather than a scarred competitor carrying baggage from the painful end to last season's promising campaign.

"It's nice, but it does not count for much," Jonas said at Adelaide Oval on Wednesday. "You have to do the work and win games of football to get there. The captains are probably making a retrospective call ...

"We (Port Adelaide) are looking forward."

But there is the constant dragging back to the past, in particular last year's disappointing collapse to the Western Bulldogs in the preliminary final a year after falling short to eventual premier Richmond in the same match at Adelaide Oval.

Jonas was firm in dismissing he and his team-mates are irreparably scarred by the 71-point loss to the Western Bulldogs in the 2021 preliminary final.

"We are not the sharpest tools in the shed, us footballers," Jonas said. "We just want to get out there and chase the footy and have a bit of fun. That is the great thing about pre-season - you are there with your mates getting fit and enjoying it. At game time, we have the memory of a goldfish. We are an untainted group. We want to keep improving as individuals and as a team.

"That will hold us in good stead.

"It was very disappointing (the preliminary final) ... but at the same time I have had moments in my career that have been just as challenging. I have acknowledged them, looked at what went wrong, what went right and searched for what I could do better given another opportunity - and moved on. I am still here today. I am not doing it all wrong. Something is going right.

"As a playing group we have the same mentality. We acknowledge it."

Jonas rates reigning premiers Melbourne as Port Adelaide's biggest rival for the national crown in 2022. Image: AFL Photos.

All 18 club captains were asked to nominate their team's rival in the AFL grand final (rather than the two grand finalists).

"I played very close attention to the survey ... us and Melbourne, maybe; Western Bulldogs," answered the pragmatic Jonas. "One of them ...

"It is going to be another pretty tight season with more teams right around the mark. Carlton; Sydney having another good year; Greater Western Sydney again; Brisbane have been really close and unfortunate ..."

Where is Port Adelaide better to take that challenging next step from consecutive preliminary finals at home to a return to the MCG in late September for the club's first AFL grand final since 2007?

"The demographic age of our squad; we have a lot of boys who will improve not just because they have had a lot of time in the AFL system, but through maturity, experience and their work rate," Jonas said. "They came back a lot fitter than they were last year and you will see a lot of those (players aged in their early 20s) move through the midfield rather than just play at half-forward.

"And (the experienced) Robbie Gray, Travis Boak will continue to get better.

"So if you have more blokes getting better it will be a positive for the group all round.

"Our game style has been tweaked a little bit. There are not wholesale changes. We will look to run and carry; and score a little bit more. You are going to come up against teams that you have not seen for a little while, so that might alter that (plan).

"In our heads and on paper we have this game plan we expect to execute perfectly every time. But you play 22 blokes who have their plan as well. You have to adjust.

"We will remain pretty similar (to 2021) but we will try to be a bit more exciting with the football."


The ashes of 2021 - all well raked over at Alberton and outside the club - leave clear lessons for Jonas.

"You don't want to over-complicate things - you work out where things start and finish and focus on that time and that space," Jonas said.

Now the AFL captains have ramped up expectation on Port Adelaide with their annual poll.

"The expectation we carry is our own," said Jonas who leads a club that openly declares it is playing for the flag not just finals appearances. "Our goal is to win the premiership.

"Everyone wants to play well. But expectation internally at Port Adelaide is to play a strong brand of Port Adelaide footy and give ourselves the best opportunity to go deep into the 2022 season.

"Our expectation is to win the premiership. So is that of the wider Port Adelaide community. But we are not going to be well served looking that far ahead. We have to focus on winning round one and taking it from there.

We went through our challenges last year ... There are a lot of stories along the way in a season. We need to focus on getting better and winning our first game.

- Tom Jonas

Port Adelaide's pre-season closed with a loss to the well-prepared Gold Coast in Queensland and a 37-point victory in another summer Showdown derby with Adelaide at Richmond Oval on Saturday.

Jonas' appraisal of the 1-1 win-loss record in the summer reaffirms Port Adelaide has work to do - and sound prospects for growth during the home-and-away season.

"It has been kind of nice to get a reality check on mindset and where we need to be," Jonas said. "We got one at the end of last year and it is really important that we realise you have to turn up and play at 100 per cent every week. If you are not right there, willing to do the work, play contested footy, you are going to get burnt.

"At the beginning of the year we can re-calibrate and go into round one (against Brisbane at the Gabba on Saturday week) with the (right) attitude for an incredibly tough game.

"Overall, pre-season has been positive. We are fitter, stronger, faster and we have had a lot of guys on the park. We had our little COVID interruptions, but so has everyone. It has been great to get back out there after a pretty disappointing finish to 2021.

"It has been five months of playing a lot of footy among ourselves," added Jonas of the pre-season at Alberton. "So it was good to go to the Gold Coast for a strong hit-out followed by a game against Adelaide where our second half was really positive."