"We have a responsibility to go with 'winning'. That is what we are going to do. We are going to keep going after winning to give ourselves the best chance to win as many games as we possibly can between now and the end of our season. We will never stop trying to win every opportunity we get. If others have a different view, I don't share it ..."
Port Adelaide senior coach Ken Hinkley could not have been clearer on how Port Adelaide will approach the close to a frustrating Season 2022 that has fallen short of internal and external expectations.
At 8-11, Port Adelaide cannot reach the threshold of at least 12 wins to qualify for its third consecutive AFL finals series. But there is no change to the agenda of playing to win for the remaining home-and-away matches against Richmond, Essendon and Adelaide - starting with Richmond, the 2017, 2019 and 2020 premier, at Adelaide Oval on Saturday night.
"Winning is great for development (of players, teams and their culture)," Hinkley said at Adelaide Oval on Friday. "It is really important.
"Our motivation is to gain some belief and confidence in our game. We still have a lot to gain (from the rest of the home-and-away season)."
Captain Tom Jonas and his lieutenant Ollie Wines have picked up the agenda to have Port Adelaide square the win-loss count at 11-11.
"The group is well led by Tom and Ollie who have the approach that (the team) has to maximise the opportunities for 2022," Hinkley said. "The end result is not where we want to be. But there are some opportunities for us to grow and keep getting better. Improving as a footy club - and show we have a bit of ticker to keep at it and keep going.
"There is a real challenge for our players - and they are led by team leaders who want to make sure they give everything they have got for the rest of the season."
At selection, Port Adelaide restored the role of a designated, specialist ruckman preferring mid-season rookie draftee Brynn Teakle for his second AFL game. His first - against Sydney at Adelaide Oval in round 14 on June 18 - ended early in the second term with a broken collarbone.
Port Adelaide will re-assign Charlie Dixon and Jeremy Finlayson to key attacking roles - positions vacated by young forwards Todd Marshall (COVID) and Mitch Georgiades (form).
"We have been keen to give Brynn a chance before the end of the season," said Hinkley of the West Australian recruit who has extended his stay at Alberton with a new contract. "And (the loss of Marshall) half forced the opportunity for us - and made it easier to make the decision. We have been very pleased with what we have been able to get away with in the ruck with Jeremy and Charlie; that has worked pretty well for us.
"Brynn was pretty exciting in that game against Sydney. He has recovered fully. And we are not rushing him."
Georgiades falls after managing four, 10 and five disposals in his past three games with just five marks - and a noted lack of confidence in his kicking at goal.
"It is purely form," said Hinkley of Georgiades' fall to the SANFL. "Everyone goes Todd (Marshall) is out of the side you keep Mitch. It doesn't quite work that way. You also have to make sure you are keeping players who are in form - and capable of giving you a result.
"Mitch is a young, developing forward. And I have been through this journey (of developing young, key forwards) with Todd Marshall. Sometimes there is that time when they need to go back (to the SANFL) to work on some other stuff - and they will come back and be better next time. He is such a young, exciting young forward we really enjoy having in our team when he is in good form.
"Right now, Mitch is out of form. If you are not capable of performing at your best, it does not matter if you are a little bit taller (than other forward options), you have to be performing.
"(Mitch's goalkicking yips) affects his confidence which affects his form," said Hinkley of Georgiades' conversion record this season (19.23 compared with 32.17 last season).
"There is no doubt about that. Mitch has worked really hard (at his goalkicking). He has been a good converter over the journey, but this year it has not worked. He spends an incredible amount of time on his goalkicking.
"I had a really good conversation with Mitch for 30 minutes yesterday ... we chatted around a lot of things. Confidence is really important, particularly for key forwards. His conversion is something that is not at the level he would like. And that has affected his confidence to play other parts of the game as well.
"Mitch spends time working on his confidence - and his goalkicking. It is about his mindset. He has a sound technique and routine. The problem is that he comes from the top of his run-up thinking, 'I hope this goes through ...' He is not believing it will go through. That happens to all footballers at some stage. There is that self-doubt that creeps in. You don't ignore it. You work with it."
Port Adelaide's selection for the remaining three games to the season is not to be compromised by "gifting" matches to young prospects.
"Opportunity will come (for new talent) through form (in the SANFL)," Hinkley said. "And injury ... and the health and safety protocols (with COVID) as with Todd Marshall this week.
"They will get their chance at the right time, but mainly through form. We have been good at playing younger players and developing young players with opportunity - if their form deserves it. Ollie Lord is a great example. He has been in really good form in the SANFL (most recently as a defender rather than as a forward). He may get an opportunity in the next two weeks."
There also is the need to see specialist forward Orazio Fantasia clear away his injury curse. This will continue in the SANFL at the weekend.
"Orazio, if he gets through (Saturday's SANFL) game, will have his best chance (for an AFL recall)," Hinkley said. "His progression has been very well managed - and it looks like it is coming together. It is coming late. If he gets one AFL game or two, that is great for Orazio to take into the pre-season."
Wingman Kane Farrell found his development extended to work as a defender against Collingwood - a theme that could put other players in new roles across the next three weeks.
"Farrell at half-back was a good opportunity for us because we had Dan Houston and Riley Bonner out of the side," Hinkley said. "We won't force those opportunities, but if they present themselves, we will certainly take them.
"If we get growth by looking at different stuff, that will be important. But we would never compromise the opportunity to win."
In question is how Port Adelaide performs when there is no "premiership table" pressure.
"It is a great challenge and a great opportunity to learn," said Hinkley of the task before his players to chase their peak form. "You can play the game the way you need to play it - and for us, there is still pressure on performance; still pressure on delivering a win at the end of the game. We have a massive game against a team that is fighting for its life and has been one of the great teams (of recent seasons). It is a great challenge.
"We have great history against Richmond with tough games. Unfortunately, we have lost some of the close ones (including the most recent meeting at the MCG by 12 points).
"We want to beat Richmond."
To do this, Port Adelaide needs to clear away its damaging lapses - some that drag out for a full quarter - and the high and costly turnover count that has played a significant part in deciding close games.
"You will find that with every team in the competition," said Hinkley of the wild ride unfolding in the 2022 premiership race. "You have moments when you are challenged to wrestle back momentum. You develop a style of play for that. It has taken us longer than we would have liked. We have not defended every minute of every game the way we would like to. A small lapse can hurt you badly on the scoreboard.
"We have had small lapses ... and they have been real lapses. We review them really closely. We did again last week (with the second term against Collingwood at the MCG under the spotlight). We go through that with incredible detail to make sure we look to improve and tighten up the runs that opposition teams get against us.
"Unfortunately, our season would suggest we have given up too many of those runs - and we have not put enough on the board ourselves (when momentum favours Port Adelaide).
"There is not an AFL program that does not spend a lot of time on skill execution - and skill under pressure. We do a lot of it. But we have not maximised (the results on the field during games). All I can say is we spend an incredible amount of time every week on it and this week there was an even stronger focus on what we are trying to improve.
"We know the turnover number is too high. That is why those opposition runs come. They have come from our failing to maximise our opportunities to score. We need to make sure we get better at that."
In a week of increased debate on the merit of Port Adelaide's presence in the SANFL, Hinkley said: "We have been good at developing our young players (in the SANFL). The challenge for us with the model we have today comes when we are stretched with injury. That makes the program harder to work.
"And that is because of the (recruiting) rules we work under. We work with the rules we have now.
"Simplistically, yes (it would be better for all 18 AFL clubs to have the same reserves model).
"But we also have this incredible history in the SANFL. We are very respectful of that."