PORT ADELAIDE will work the "one soldier down, one soldier up" theme in defence after losing key backman Tom Clurey and deputy vice-captain Darcy Byrne-Jones through COVID protocols for the home clash with Gold Coast on Sunday.

But Port Adelaide senior coach Ken Hinkley will not sacrifice flexibility with as he considers Lachie Jones as a threat in attack - and perhaps the midfield - rather than as the seemingly obvious replacement for Byrne-Jones to counter Gold Coast's threatening small forwards.

And the same theme applies in attack where Port Adelaide will again assign lead ruck duties to key forward Jeremy Finlayson ... but not stop working young forward Mitch Georgiades closer to the midfield and possibly on a wing.

Port Adelaide's final match 23 - the on-field 22 and medical substitute - is complicated this week beyond the injuries to novice ruckman Brynn Teakle (shoulder) and midfielder Zak Butters (left knee) by the AFL health and safety protocols ruling out Clurey and Byrne-Jones.

The versatile and flexible Sam Mayes returns to the extended squad that will be trimmed on Friday afternoon.

Hinkley at Alberton on Friday morning confirmed key defender Trent McKenzie will replace Clurey. It will be McKenzie's first AFL game since the round 3 Showdown with Adelaide on April 1 - after which the former Gold Coast player was sidelined by knee surgery and more recently by concussion protocols from his comeback match in the SANFL at Elizabeth Oval a fortnight ago.

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Ken Hinkley press conference - 24 June 2022 | PTV

Ken Hinkley speaks to the media at Alberton Oval

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"Trent has had a good build-up in terms of training," said Hinkley to express his confidence in McKenzie. "He was ready to go three weeks ago. It is not like he is not ready to play football. He will be fine.

"We have not had the greatest run with our talls at any stage this year," added Hinkley referring to the injuries - resulting in surgery - suffered by All-Australian defender Aliir Aliir (ankle), Clurey (knee), McKenzie (knee). The list includes recent recruit Sam Skinner (ankle).

"It has been a real juggling act for us right through the season with our tall backs - but we are lucky we can bring good players back into the team."

While McKenzie is the obvious replacement for Clurey, Hinkley is leaving his options open with the other defensive gap created by Byrne-Jones being sidelined on Thursday morning.

"We will mix and match," said Hinkley, who has midfielder Dan Houston and Martin Frederick as candidates for the role. "We do have the option to move Dan back ... we will probably use him more as a defender.

"We have great flexibility in what we can do. We also playing a side that has just a couple of tall forwards, so that frees up other options for us.

"(That flexibility) feels better than what we had at the start of the year when we did not feel that fortunate. At the moment we have people who are fit and ready to play ... but we don't have everything covered perfectly.

"That's why we worked a squad mentality ... to give yourself flexibility. And what I have loved about this group is they say, 'We'll play wherever needed - I just want to be in the team'. It is a great attitude to have."

Trent McKenzie will line up in his first AFL game since Round 3 against Adelaide. Image: AFL Photos.

This leaves the option to have Jones continue shedding the label of "half-back". The 20-year-old has played midfield recently in the SANFL and half-forward in the AFL in recent weeks.

"It is an option (to play Jones in defence again); definitely an option (but) what we are trying to do with Lachie is give him great education in three areas of the game - defence, midfield and attack - so that he has an opportunity to be in the team wherever we need him," said Hinkley.

"If we need him in defence this week because of any shortage, we would take that opportunity."

Hinkley opted for Finlayson ahead of first-year ruckman Sam Hayes to deal with the towering challenge posed by Gold Coast ruckman Jarrod Witts - turning back to the model used with success in winning the clearances against Richmond at the MCG a fortnight ago.

"It is simple - we are getting the results we need to get and want to get with the current structure (of Finlayson in lead ruck with support from fellow key forward Charlie Dixon and half-forward Sam Powell-Pepper)," Hinkley said. "Support at ground level (with Finlayson's follow-up work) has been important.

"And Jeremy has been getting his share of the hit-outs too. Charlie Dixon can ruck.

"Sam (Hayes) is clear (on his standing today). He is a very good young ruckman who has clarity exactly on what he is trying to work on. Until we get those things at the level we need, he will continue to develop as a young ruckman (in the SANFL). We are excited about his future.

"Sam is disappointed but understanding. He is getting clarity on what he has to get right and what he has to work really hard on - and Sam is embracing that with (ruck coach) Matthew Lobbe. He is working incredibly hard to make some ground. And let's not forget he had not played an AFL game before this year. He has played seven now - and that is a great effort and hopefully there is more to come this year."

Ken Hinkley says Jeremy Finlayson in the lead ruck position has allowed for an increase in support at ground level. Image: AFL Photos.

Working Finlayson and Dixon in the ruck does deny Port Adelaide - as Hinkley wanted last week against Sydney with the promotion of mid-season rookie draftee Teakle - the chance to "keep our forwards where they are most dangerous".

"We use the players we have - and this week we get (former captain) Travis Boak back in the side (off the COVID protocols list)," Hinkley said. "There are good reasons for us to be optimistic around what we can do in our front half."

This front-half structure now has the team's most-accurate forward Todd Marshall working closer to the goalsquare - and Georgiades closer to the centre square.

"We are trying to grow Mitch to play in a side that has more than two tall forwards," Hinkley said. "Mitch is not a tall. He is 192cm. He has some great wheels. We are learning and educating him on how to play more of a higher forward role when he needs to ... and we also explored last week and talked about the opportunity to play Mitch on the wing.

"Like all of our players we are not pigeon-holing them too much."

Ken Hinkley says Mitch Georgiades is learning to play a high forward role. Image: AFL Photos.

The extended Port Adelaide squad this week includes untried father-son picks Taj Schofield and Jase Burgoyne.

"And they are really close (to AFL selection)," Hinkley said. "They have bright futures. They have an opportunity coming at some stage ... Jase has played such good footy at SANFL level as a half-back flanker - and that pushes him closer to selection this week with opportunities (created by the loss of Clurey and Byrne-Jones).

"Every level Jase has jumped up to (from juniors to SANFL), he has looked comfortable. He has a fair bit of confidence and belief.

"Taj has had an interrupted run in his first couple of years, but now he has had a run at it and played with some consistent levels."

For the first time, a Port Adelaide-Gold Coast game - the 14th since the rivalry began in 2011 - will start with the south-east Queensland team ranked higher and with relevance to the top-eight aspirations of both clubs. Gold Coast is 11th (7-6); Port Adelaide is 12th (6-7).

After a 0-5 start to the home-and-away season, Port Adelaide has been on a tightrope with the team constantly on edge - and dealing well with the challenge as noted with a 6-2 response.

Ken Hinkley says Jase Burgoyne and Taj Schofield are getting closer to their respective AFL debuts. Image: Matt Sampson.

"We are always on edge, but because of the results everyone is riding every game as a critical result," Hinkley said. "But we have kept our focus on the week. We know how important this week is. We can't afford to go away from that. If that brings a slightly better or different edge ... I am not sure because these blokes compete and prepare for every game to play at AFL level. That means you have to be 'on edge'."

The two teams meet for the first time since the pre-season opener in which Gold Coast scored a meritorious win with significant strength in its midfield work - particularly in working from stoppages with handball.

"They are a big final-eight contender," said Hinkley of the Gold Coast club he once knew at close hand as an assistant coach before moving to Port Adelaide at the end of 2012.

"They are 5-1 in their past six games. Defensively they have been really good. Their contest stuff - as we found out in the pre-season - is at an improved level. To be fair to Gold Coast, they have been able to get some personnel back - and they have had consistency.

"They have had Witts back in ruck; Matt Rowell back in the team and they are getting consistency with the players they are putting around the ball. That lends itself to better results."

Port Adelaide lifted its harassment of opponents with manic pressure and tackling of Sydney at Adelaide Oval last week to score a significant 23-point win against a top-eight side. No less will be required to deal with Gold Coast's energetic and confident midfielders this weekend.

"There is not a game when that (style of pressure football) is not necessary," Hinkley said. "Sometimes you get it at a better level than you have had in the past. Last week we had it at a real high level. Gold Coast also know how to deliver on a high level.

"You have got - from the form seen in the past six weeks - the two best defensive teams in the competition having a crack at it. So it will be a pretty important part of this game."

Gold Coast have shown strong recent form, winning five of the last six and emerging as one of the best defensive teams in the competition. Image: AFL Photos.

Port Adelaide's challenge in dealing with the vibrant Gold Coast midfield is as much for the moment on match day as it is in the meeting rooms working game plans.

"It is just a fierce battle at ground level," Hinkley said. "You have to be ready and you have to be ready to move into every contest the right way. You can't go there pre-planning anything. You don't go there thinking, 'Who is going to win the hit-out? Who isn't?' You just know the game becomes live once it hits the floor. We have to be first to move ..."

On the injury front, Port Adelaide remains cautious in declaring a return date for Butters who suffered a slight sprain to the medial ligament of his left knee in the second term against Sydney.

"We have some optimism around how long (Butters will be sidelined), but we are not putting a timeframe on that by saying he will definitely play next week (against Fremantle)," Hinkley said. "Or the week after ...

"We need to explore how he gets going again and where he is at (after he resumes training). We are reasonably optimistic it should not be too long."

Specialist forward Robbie Gray continues to build his training program while he works his way back from a right-knee injury suffered in the season-opener against Brisbane at the Gabba where an opponent knocked the leg. His training was severely limited while trying to recover from the discomfort in the knee joint.

"We are building Rob through a program that allows him to compete at the level he needs to - and wants to," Hinkley said. "I am pleased to have seen Robbie train for a couple of weeks in a row. He had not trained (with regularity) for 10 weeks. We have to be a little bit patient .. and Rob has to be patient too. I know how much he wants to play. We will manage him the best way ...

"Rob is a competitive beast. He wants to play. That's why he has played as he did for as long as he did while trying to get through with injury. In the end, he needs to play like Robbie Gray - and to have the best chance, he needs conditioning. He is still a big part of what we want to do."

The match will start at Adelaide Oval at 3.40pm. Kids have free entry with tickets registered at Ticketek.