WHETHER the game is played at Kardinia Park, Adelaide Oval or on Mars, Port Adelaide needs to be strong at the contest and sharp in cleaning up balls that spill to ground.
The truest barometer of how Port Adelaide measures up in an AFL game again tells the only story of the 35-point loss to Geelong at Kardinia Park on Saturday.
In a game dominated by stoppages - particularly boundary throw-ins - Port Adelaide lost the numbers that matter most:
Contested possessions - lost by 30.
Clearances - lost by 10.
Groundballs - lost by 29.
The blue-collar statistics rarely lie.
And it is no surprise Port Adelaide lost this game, denying Ken Hinkley's crew the chance to level the win-loss ledger that today reads 4-6 on a premiership table where Port Adelaide stayed 10th at the end of this match.
For half the game, the first half, Port Adelaide set the agenda. For the other half, Geelong changed the unfolding script of a rare Port Adelaide win (just the third since 1997) at Kardinia Park by putting a greater emphasis (and greater numbers) on stoppages.
At half-time, Port Adelaide led by a point, a small reward for a strong work ethic - and it was making a point about its status in the race to top-eight finals in September.
Wingman Kane Farrell, in just his 37th AFL game and fourth since recuperating from a serious knee injury, was a stand-out in the first half for his precision kicking and energetic approach. And it was his knack of knowing when to stop - rather than run as smoothly as he does - that reaffirms Farrell is chasing quickly the time lost to injury last season.
At full time, Port Adelaide was beaten on the scoreboard by Geelong's seven-goal second half, was tellingly exposed in some key performance indicators and was waiting for the verdict of the game's finest and loudest judges.
Brisbane premiership forward Jonathan Brown led off the pundits' calls. He would have the Port Adelaide team review just one statistic: Contested possessions - rather than be guided by the count of all disposals.
"They did look good in the second quarter, they did look good," Brown said. "But they have to look at the fundamentals - and they need to have their midfielders look at what happened at the contest. "
Port Adelaide certainly showed intent to play Geelong, the team rather than the location. The critical early note was how Port Adelaide denied its Geelong rivals space and the chance to link plays with a marking game. At half-time, Geelong had taken no mark inside its forward-50 arc - and only 32 in field play. This did change immediately after half-time when Geelong put extra numbers around the ball - and commanded the numbers on contested possessions and clearances.
Port Adelaide's biggest challenge unfolded during the third term. After key forward Todd Marshall opened the quarter with a goal that gave Port Adelaide a seven-point lead and was his side's only score for the term, the contrast between the two teams for forward-half play was at an extreme.
Port Adelaide struggled to find options in attack. Geelong created many while playing just four forwards after re-assigning players to work around the ball.
Marshall's goal was followed by Geelong blitzing with five unanswered goals including the exclamation mark after the third-quarter siren with key forward Jeremy Cameron's accurate torpedo from outside-50. That goal created a 26-point lead that rewarded the Geelong players for getting their fingers dirty in winning the ground balls.
The last quarter was not much different. Port Adelaide managed just one goal, from Robbie Gray, while Geelong had seven scores for 2.5.
When it came to playing the ground that has troubled Port Adelaide (and many others) with seven consecutive losses since the last win in 2007, the Port Adelaide midfielders - during the first half - knew how to work the full width of the skinny Kardinia Park. They wisely shifted the ball across the ground to pinpoint forwards Gray and Marshall in space.
It was a demanding game to play - and demanded just as much patience to watch. It was true to what is said of finals in September when the game seems to be played with less freedom and under more pressure.
Geelong won the start by 11 points, but Port Adelaide was far from beaten in one of the tougher openings to a game played in perfect conditions. Geelong was strong at the stoppages; Port Adelaide was suffocating around the contests with high-pressure shadowing of the would-be Geelong playmakers.
So tight (or congested) was the start that it took 17 minutes and 34 seconds to put the first goal on the scoreboard - from Port Adelaide key forward Jeremy Finlayson in a scramble on a tight angle just outside the goalsquare.
And then in time-on of the first term, there were four goals - the first from Port Adelaide with Farrell; the last three from Geelong as it worked the extra space inside-50 while playing five forwards rather than six.
The transformation of Sam Powell-Pepper from a midfielder to a half-forward and now support ruckman continued with Geelong at times preferring to not nominate a rival ruckman. While he was busy at boundary throw-ins, Powell-Pepper's influence on the game was down on recent weeks - just nine disposals and no score.
Geelong's attack was much more than Coleman Medal leaderboard forwards Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron with the return of Gary Rohan for his first AFL games this season and Brownlow Medallist Patrick Dangerfield.
The key match-ups of Hawkins and Cameron started with Tom Clurey and captain Tom Jonas respectively while All-Australian defender Aliir Aliir dealt with Rohan and his expert task of reading opposition running patterns to become a roadblock in defence.
Geelong was forced into two late changes, the most significant to its team system prompted by the loss of lead ruckman Rhys Stanley before the match. But Port Adelaide won the hit-outs just by one (38-37) while lead ruckman Sam Hayes dominated with 33 hit-outs - and the Geelong onballers notably commanded the stoppages while working to a scrambled ruck plan.
After two road games, Port Adelaide returns to Adelaide Oval for a Sunday twilight game (starting at 4.10pm) against Essendon with the selection options expected to increase with All-Australian forward Charlie Dixon and specialist forward Orazio Fantasia to build their match fitness in the SANFL this weekend at the Russell Ebert tribute match at Loxton.
Port Adelaide had just one injury, albeit not disabling, with Marshall copping cuts to above his right eye from an opponent's boot in the spill from the marking contest. For the second consecutive week, Port Adelaide did not activate its medical substitute who was young defender Martin Frederick in this game.
GEELONG v PORT ADELAIDE
PORT ADELAIDE 2.1 5.3 6.3 7.5 (47)
GEELONG 3.6 4.8 9.11 11.16 (82)
BEST - Port Adelaide: Houston, Amon, Wines, Farrell.
GOALS - Port Adelaide: Farrell, Gray, Farrell 2, Finlayson.
INJURY - Todd Marshall (cut above the right eye).
MEDICAL SUBSTITUTE: Martin Frederick (not activated).
NEXT: v Essendon at Adelaide Oval, 4.10pm Sunday.