Veteran Trent McKenzie and emerging talent Dylan Williams have been integral to Port Adelaide's backline in 2023. Image: AFL Photos.

"OUR back line has been our strongest-performing area ..."

Ken Hinkley's appraisal of his Port Adelaide defence on Thursday - in the lead-up to the away test against the Western Bulldogs - defied every pre-season assessment of his line-up from critics working to reasoned thoughts.

In not closing the trade deal for Geelong swingman Esava Ratugolea during October, Port Adelaide was again going into a premiership campaign with the tag of "undersized" defence ... Specifically, short of one tall defender to add to the ensemble of Aliir Aliir, Trent McKenzie, Tom Clurey, captain Tom Jonas and untried Jake Pasini, who is on the comeback from a serious knee injury suffered last season just when his name was on the AFL selection whiteboard in the match committee room.

And then came the massive leakage (135 and 117 points) in Showdown LIII and the away clash to Collingwood at the MCG. Port Adelaide had not had consecutive tons put against its defence since the disappointing close to the 2018 season that ended with four consecutive losses and six defeats in seven matches after the 11-4 start.

In a tough start to the 2023 season, Port Adelaide gave up substantial scores to rivals Adelaide and Collingwood. Image: AFL Photos.

On review after 13 rounds, with Port Adelaide now at 11-2 with a club record of 10 AFL wins in a row, the assessment of Nathan Bassett's defensive unit also has to note:

JONAS has played just eight of a possible 13 matches with injury and suspension cutting his time in the line-up.

DEPUTY vice-captain Darcy Bryne-Jones has moved from defence to attack.

CLUREY has played just once in AFL ranks this season (the derby).

RYAN BURTON, who like Jonas can work in both "tall" and "small" defensive assignments, was dropped from Friday's line-up.

The Jonas-DBJ-Clurey-Burton script would have been a doomsday scenario for the critics in March. And the ink has hardly faded - nor the echo of the critics at the microphones - from the 252-point leakage in the losses to the league-leading Collingwood and in the derby.

Since round 3, the Port Adelaide defence has:

NOT leaked a ton.

GIVEN up scores of 64 (Sydney), 56 and 85 (Western Bulldogs), 69 (West Coast), 76 (St Kilda), 87 (Essendon), 65 (North Melbourne), 76 (Melbourne), 67 (Richmond) and 96 (Hawthorn).

CUT a 108-point average on scores against to 74.

The Power's stingy defence has returned to full form, allowing an average of just 74 points a game since Round 4. Image: AFL Photos.

And done so ...

"With," says Hinkley, "some emerging young players who have been doing incredibly good jobs - Lachie Jones, Kane Farrell, (All-Australian contending) Dan Houston, Miles Bergman. They are keeping experienced players out."

And the partnership between Aliir and McKenzie is understated as seems to be always the way in assessments of Trent McKenzie who is quickly creating reminders of how Matthew Bishop became a vital part of Port Adelaide's premiership triumph in 2004.

There is defence and there is team defence. 

Not in question is the support of the Port Adelaide midfielders in that defensive process - a challenge met with such conviction (as noted by the work of Brownlow Medallist Ollie Wines and Zak Butters in the defensive 50 on Friday night) that no-one will tag the Port Adelaide midfielders as "downhill skiers".

Nor is there any doubt on how the Port Adelaide forwards have captured the responsibility of keeping the Sherrin in the attacking 50-metre arc to ease the stress on the defenders.


The manic, relentless approach to achieve a high count of tackles inside-50 reinforces the image Sydney premiership coach John Longmire has carried of Port Adelaide for some time: "Their pressure was elite ... they put enormous pressure on us."

Ryan Burton notes of the "Port Adelaide way" that comes with this game style: "That is our identity now. Everything else takes care of itself if we put relentless pressure on the opposition and get up (the ground) to set up our front-centre game."

Port Adelaide premiership midfielder Kane Cornes summed up this game style writing: "Port Adelaide is ranked No. 1 of 18 for time in forward half which allows Bassett’s defensive unit to set up solidly behind the ball and protect the defenders from being exposed in too many one-on-one duels with bigger opponents."

An interesting test is on the doorstep with Thursday Night Football at Adelaide Oval presenting the imposing Geelong forward duo of Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron.

There is pressure to perform - or fall away. The once famous "gold passes" at selection have been melted.

Port Adelaide's selection committee will have plenty to ponder in regard to combatting the Cats' prolific forward line. Image: AFL Photos.

"Nobody's spot is locked in," says Burton, the latest to feel the proof of this point. "If you are not performing, you are probably going to see yourself miss. And if you are performing, while there are players in good form in the SANFL, there is still pressure to hold your spot.

"It is a good headache for Ken to have ... as a player you need to play well every week just to keep your spot."

In winning 10 consecutive AFL matches and establishing its top-four credentials, Port Adelaide has silenced those questioning if Hinkley had a "second division" team - a group capable of beating bottom-10 sides but not the contenders in the top eight.

The record this season is:

WINS against top-eight sides - seven: Brisbane (preliminary finalist last season), Sydney (grand finalist last year and ranked fifth at the time), Western Bulldogs twice, St Kilda (top at the time), Essendon and Melbourne.

LOSSES - two: Collingwood and Adelaide.

Port Adelaide celebrates its tenth consecutive victory - a gritty win against the Western Bulldogs. Image: AFL Photos.

ON REVIEW: Big question No.2 was - Who would give first look at the Sherrin to Port Adelaide's midfield?

Port Adelaide's most-experienced ruckman Scott Lycett had missed the bulk of Season 2022, requiring shoulder surgery - that was followed up by complications - after duelling with Melbourne premiership hero in Max Gawn at Adelaide Oval. There always is concern with big men coming back from shoulder surgery when their craft can at times resemble giraffe wrestling.

Mid-season rookie draftee Brynn Teakle was in the same frame after shoulder surgery to correct the injury suffered in his AFL debut game against Sydney in round 14 last season.

Sam Hayes has not played since round 11 last season ... 

Dante Visentini is progressing, but the 2021 draftee (No.56) is just in his second year in an AFL system. And everyone can hear the echo that "big blokes take time". For the record, Visentini is aged 20; Teakle came to Alberton from the WAFL competition as a "mature" recruit at 22.

Dante Visentini contests in the ruck in Round 9 SANFL action against Central District. Image: Brandon Hancock.

Big question No.2 became more pressing after round 5 - the Gather Round clash with the Western Bulldogs - at Adelaide Oval where Tim English was dominant with 27 hit-outs. Lycett went to the SANFL for a month.

But what a return - and what a return bout against English at the Docklands on Friday night.

After dealing with the Gawn-Brodie Grundy duo at Melbourne, the brute force of Richmond premiership ruckman Toby Nankervis, Lycett made quite a statement with his 43 hit-out response in the return bout with English ... on a ground that has not always favoured the premiership-winning ruckman.

Question answered. Emphatically.

And again credit to the Port Adelaide high-performance and conditioning team that reinforces the football program at Alberton is more than sound.