ON THE list of Zak Butters believers, Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley has long been the No.1 ticket holder.
And after a career year that saw the Power midfielder win his first best and fairest, an All-Australian guernsey and be crowned the AFL Coaches Association's champion player of the season all at 23, Butters entered the AFL's elite.
The brilliant, brave midfielder has been a constant in Port's side since his debut year in 2019, and is now the club's vice-captain to skipper Connor Rozee in a leadership shake-up the Power hope will add more energy to their flag push.
Hinkley told AFL.com.au that his star onballer had built to last year's super season over time.
"Your belief comes from what you see. For me, it was easy to believe in a lot of our youthful players because you see them train every day. It's really easy to be positive around their potential outcomes," he said.
"For Zak and the way he trains, the great players are beasts, they just go at it all the time and they don't know how to be non-competitive. That's what Zak is. I don't think he can do anything without it being a competition and that's why you know he's going to be great."
Butters' dominant campaign helped power Port to a top-four finish in the home and away season before its semi-final exit, with his quick hands, ball-getting ability and scoreboard impact seeing him also finish in the top five of the Brownlow Medal with 27 votes.
He signed a two-year contract extension last season to be locked in until the end of 2026, when he becomes a free agent, and his coach said there were still areas for him to grow.
"He's got lots to learn. Sometimes he can try to do too much because Zak's such a creator but your strength can be a bit of a weakness at times. He's got to learn to play the game in all phases for long periods of time," Hinkley said.
"He's not a big man, and he's going to go up against big beasts. He stands in the middle of the ground and you can imagine him standing against Ollie Wines and that's what he comes up against most weeks. He's outsized and he has to outthink, not outsize his opponents because it's not always going to be easy."
The Power locked in their new leadership group last December, allowing Rozee and Butters to settle into their respective roles. The tight-knit pair visited Hinkley's house after last year's best and fairest count and were informed then that the club was looking to appoint them to the positions, with Hinkley saying it has given time for them to prepare ahead of the season.
"It was an opportunity to have a discussion around, 'What if this happens? And are you ready to take it on?' Zak's 23, Connor's just turned 24, and they're really young. You're always mindful about putting pressure on people who can handle that expectation. There's no doubt in my mind that both boys are more than capable of that," he said.
"The sooner you give them the opportunity to grow with that [is better] and they'll make some mistakes and slip up a little bit, but the reality is they'll get better with it and it was the right time for our club to look to youth again.
"We appointed Trav (ex-captain Travis Boak) a long time ago at the age of 24 as captain and Ollie (Wines) came off his season which was a battle for him through injuries. At 29, it wasn't the right time to put extra burden on Ollie. We need him to be fit and firing as a player first and foremost. It was an opportunity to change."