MUST win. Do or die. Last roll of the dice ... Eventually, the question - Will Port Adelaide live up to pre-season expectation by being a post-season competitor? - gets its answer.
It might be on Saturday evening in the home clash with AFL leader Geelong.
Or the puzzle may continue to next weekend's away clash with Collingwood, a team already planning for September's top-eight finals.
Port Adelaide is now carrying an 8-9 win-loss record (and, as it would be in this wild season, lifted its ranking from 12th to 11th with the 14-point loss to AFL premier Melbourne at Alice Springs on Sunday).
The task of advancing beyond a 50-50 win-loss ratio (after starting with a 0-5 count) has proven tough to achieve for a Port Adelaide team that is not frightened nor jaded by the challenge.
"We know we have our work cut out for us, but we are ready for the fight," says Port Adelaide defender Dan Houston.
Beating Geelong at Adelaide Oval - just as Port Adelaide has done in the past two must-win qualifying finals of 2020 and last season - would reaffirm Port Adelaide intends to enter the last month of home-and-away football determined to chase its third consecutive top-eight finals berth. It also would make quite a statement about Port Adelaide's ability to create havoc in September rather than just complete the numbers when 18 become eight at the start of the post-season.
In the past six weeks, Port Adelaide has fallen by two goals to eighth-ranked Richmond at the MCG; beaten top-four contender Sydney at Adelaide Oval by 23 points; fallen short by eight points against another top-four challenger, Fremantle; and lost by 14 points to AFL premier Melbourne.
It is a solid body of work from a team that must repeatedly prove it is up for the fight. But the record also is loaded with a common frustration. Too often, Port Adelaide has suffered across 20 or so minutes - a theme that cannot repeat against Geelong when so much is on the line from 4.05pm on Saturday at Adelaide Oval.
"We have to hang in there," says Port Adelaide senior coach Ken Hinkley. "We will get stretched. We will get challenged. And we have to do the same to Geelong.
"And by the end of the game, we need to be in front."
This would put Port Adelaide at 9-9 and keep the question rolling for another week. It is football life on the edge ...
"We have been there for some time," says Hinkley. And his team now has to show it can avoid the fall to confirmed also-ran by beating the league leader.
BY THE NUMBERS
SO many figures cloud the AFL landscape today.
Port Adelaide averages 377 disposals this season; Geelong 375. But it what is done with these disposals that counts. Which team has the better disposal efficiency this season? Port Adelaide at 73.9 per cent compared with Geelong at 73.4.
So many of the Champion Data numbers on Port Adelaide and Geelong are only marginally different. Geelong is generating more inside-50s than Port Adelaide (57.6 compared to 52.2), but there also is an eagerness to go inside-50 to the two-man power forward combination of Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron.
Meanwhile, Port Adelaide's equalivent - Charlie Dixon and Jeremy Finlayson - is working the ruck while specialist ruckmen Scott Lycett, Sam Hayes and Brynn Teakle seek their AFL returns after being sidelined by injury or COVID protocols.
"And you know what that is doing to us - it is stopping our ability in the front half to put some scoreboard pressure on. Between Charlie and Jeremy, we will work that system as best we can to give them the best chance to perform where we need them whether that is in ruck or forward. We will work with that and see what happens on Saturday."
Port Adelaide senior coach Ken Hinkley
ONLY nine weeks have passed since Port Adelaide last played Geelong (with the rematch arriving before Port Adelaide has played all its 17 AFL rivals once). Last time, Kardinia Park at Corio Bay in Geelong was the setting - and Port Adelaide led by one point at half-time.
Geelong's third term - 5.3 to 1.0 - was the gamebreaker.
"And Jeremy Cameron kicks a goal from 60 metres out with a torpedo on the siren," recalls Port Adelaide senior coach Ken Hinkley.
"And we had two easier opportunities that we did not complete. That is the challenge - finishing our plays. Our completion rate at times has let us down."
Port Adelaide has scored 186.186 this season (for a game-day average score of 77 points). Geelong has put 226.230 on the scoreboard with an average match score of 93 points.
"Two years ago we were chasing efficiency because we got it in there and did not score. We are still chasing that. We have made some adjustments. Some are to help longer term. And it is taking a little longer than we hoped ..."
Port Adelaide forwards coach Nathan Bassett
ONCE BITTEN, TWICE SHY
LIGHTNING does not strike twice, does it?
Six days after conceding 6.1 to Melbourne opportunist forward Kysaiah Pickett, the Port Adelaide defence - with Jase Burgoyne replacing Riley Bonner - has to ensure history does not repeat with Geelong's All-Australian contending small forward Tyson Stengle.
"Kysaiah was the main reason Melbourne won the game (at Alice Springs on Sunday) by the goals that he kicked," Port Adelaide senior coach Ken Hinkley said. "We gave him opportunities he should not have had.
"In some ways, team defence got in the way of the role that needed to be done - so we, collectively not an individual (defender), gave Kysaiah too many opportunities. He was good enough to take them.
"Tyson Stengle has been a really good player for Geelong. You don't get mentioned as an All-Australian if you were not a damaging forward. He has kicked 30-odd goals, so we put him in the bracket of 'must be watched' ... along with Tom Hawkins, Jeremy Cameron, Gary Rohan ..."
Geelong does have a strong presence on the Coleman goalkicking chart - Cameron at No. 2 with 49.26 this season; Hawkins at No. 3 with 45.29 and Stengle at No. 18 with 33.21.
Port Adelaide's leading goalkicker is Todd Marshall with 36.10 this season - equal ninth in the AFL. Next best for Port Adelaide? Jeremy Finlayson with 16.12.
Port Adelaide's need for more goal, particularly from midfielders, started to emerge last week against Melbourne with six of the team's 10 goals from players working the midfield zone. Connor Rozee is amid a run of seven consecutive games with goals, headlined by his 4.2 against Greater Western Sydney a fortnight ago.
So, who will Geelong's Irish recruit Mark O'Connor be shadowing on Saturday night?
TJ AND HIS THOUSANDS
TOM JONAS will lead 22 men onto Adelaide Oval, but actually have thousands making the difference in the battle for superiority.
Geelong premiership player and current assistant coach James Kelly notes it is more than the distinctly different shapes of Adelaide Oval and Kardinia Parks that have influenced Port Adelaide-Geelong games.
"Both venues bring a genuine home-ground advantage," Kelly said. "That is by atmosphere and support for the teams .People can say there is no home-ground advantage in AFL football, but there actually is.
"The energy the crowds bring at either ground is there - it is real.
"The dimensions of the ground are really different. We play Kardinia Park at Geelong well. Adelaide Oval is a bigger, wider oval which is different for us. In these days when footy is so close, those little margins of difference can make a real difference, especially if they add on top of each other.
"And both teams love playing at their home ground. The match-day experience Port Adelaide gives for its supporters is unique."
In 15 trips to Adelaide Oval, Geelong has managed a sound 7-8 win-loss record. Against Port Adelaide, it is 4-4 - with losses in the past two qualifying finals of 2020 and last season.
HERE is the classic "Sliding Doors" theme in Australian football.
Chris Scott seeks to be Port Adelaide's coach at the end of 2010 - and the Brisbane premiership hero gets a dream assignment at Geelong.
Ken Hinkley played 122 VFL-AFL games for Geelong from 1989-1995, served the club as an assistant coach in its drought-breaking premiership of 2007 and is passed up as Mark Thompon's successor at Kardinia Park. He answers the call at Port Adelaide in 2012 when so many preferred to avoid Alberton.
On Saturday, Hinkley and Scott will sit in seats they once thought would belong to the other man. It will be their 15th meeting as AFL senior coaches. The head-to-head record is 10 wins for Scott and four for Hinkley, although Hinkley carries a 2-1 advantage in finals.
Scott this week declared he found it challenging to work against Hinkley's teams.
And Hinkley responded that the ultra-consistent Geelong poses one of the biggest challenges in the AFL.
"Geelong is a bloody good team - and it is a bigger challenge coaching against Chris and Geelong," Hinkley said. "They have good players all over the ground. They are going to be really hard work for us. There is no part of the game that gives us less or more worry. We just know the Geelong challenge is significant."
(the little stuff that counts most)
Where: Adelaide Oval
When: Saturday, July 23, 2022
Time: 4.05pm (SA time)
Last time: Port Adelaide 7.5 (47) l Geelong 11.16 (82) at Kardinia Park, round 10, May 21, this season
Overall: Port Adelaide 12, Geelong 25, one draw
Past five games (most recent first): L W L W L
Scoring average: Port Adelaide 79, Geelong 97
Drawn game: Port Adelaide 10.18 (78) drew with Geelong 12.6 (78) at Football Park in round 10, May 13, 2000
Tightest winning margin - Port Adelaide by four points (116-112) at Football Park in round 10, May 30, 2004; Geelong by one point (70-69) at Kardinia Park in round 14, July 6, 2003.
Biggest winning margin - Port Adelaide by 75 points (129-54) at Football Park, round 8, May 18, 2002; Geelong by 119 points (163-44) at MCG, grand final, September 29, 2007.
By venues - Adelaide Oval (4-4), Football Park (6-1-5), Kardinia Park (2-12), MCG (0-2), Metricon Stadium (0-1).
By States - South Australia (10-1-9), Victoria (2-15), Queensland (0-1).