ALTHOUGH it is shaped by unavoidable circumstance, Port Adelaide's upcoming block of four matches is perfectly balanced. Even FIFA, the controlling body of international football, could not have set up its balls better for a such a neat group.
There could not be a better guide on Port Adelaide - in these uncertain times - from a solid month of football that will be testing, on and off the field.
Remembering (as if anyone forgets) that Port Adelaide finished the 2019 home-and-away season mid-table (10th of 18), this non-Victorian group has:
ONE top-four team: Brisbane (ranked second at the end of the home-and-away season last year).
ONE other top-eight side: West Coast (fifth).
ONE rival from the same bracket as Port Adelaide: Adelaide (11th).
ONE bottom-six club: Fremantle (13th).
On last starts, Port Adelaide has a 3-1 win-loss record against these four non-Victorian rivals. Since the end of Season 2019, the general prognosis on these four non-Victorian rivals is Adelaide and Fremantle (both with new coaches, Matthew Nicks and Justin Longmuir respectively) will not contend; West Coast is a top-four prospect and a genuine premiership player; and opinion swings wildly on Brisbane as the relatively inexperienced Lions deal with greater expectation.
Well, that was the script in February-March - and the results from round 1 in late March did little to change that vision after West Coast won and the other three teams lost.
But how does the game read after an 11-week recess with so many complications on training and team preparation created by the COVID-19 pandemic?
From June 13 - when the AFL home-and-away season resumes for the currently top-ranked Port Adelaide hosting Showdown XLVIII at Adelaide Oval - the AFL will seem more like a tournament with group stages rather than a league championship.
More like a month by month rather than the traditional "one week at a time". It is true to the tournament format soccer players and cricketers know too well from World Cup events.
Those series always have much made of how the teams are grouped together in the qualifying/preliminary rounds.
So what would this South Australian-West Australian-Queensland group of Port Adelaide, Adelaide, West Coast, Fremantle and Brisbane be called?
It is not the "grupo de la muerte" (group of death) first coined when England, Brazil, Czechoslovakia and Romania were drawn together in Group 3 at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico - and repetitively used with tournament draws for many sports ever since.
It certainly is not the group of death noted in the second phase of the 1982 World Cup in Spain where eventual champion Italy, defending champion Argentina and tournament favourite Brazil collided.
However, it is a group that will leave all five teams with a tag, a label.
In Port Adelaide's context, this is the "group of opportunity" - a grand opportunity to make a statement as to just where Ken Hinkley's team stands along the critical divide of top-8 and bottom-10 AFL rankings.
Expectation is Port Adelaide will prove stronger contenders than Adelaide and Fremantle and will be judged by its performances against West Coast and Brisbane. It is a "nice" four weeks of tournament play in Adelaide, Brisbane and on the Gold Coast to give the pundits a greater understanding on where Port Adelaide sits in an unconventional 17-round race to the AFL top-eight finals in October.
Port Adelaide has three advantages in this first test:
First, the lessons from travelling to play for premiership points in Shanghai, China in the past three years should be invaluable while setting up a "home away from home" when the football department moves into a hub on the Gold Coast.
Second, key forward Charlie Dixon gets to continue his comeback on well-known territory - his starting point in AFL football on the Gold Coast where he was based as an inaugural Suns player from 2011 until his move to Port Adelaide in 2016.
Third, Ken Hinkley is well-versed on the Gold Coast from his tenure as a Suns assistant coach before moving to Port Adelaide at the end of 2012.
It begins with the seemingly "easier" part of the group - Adelaide and Fremantle - but with these two opponents promising to play defensive football, the games could test some nerves ... and just the depth in the fans' eagerness to see football again, albeit on television.
ROUND 2: v Adelaide, at Adelaide Oval. Saturday, June 13, 7.10pm
Past five (most recent result first): WLLWL
Last time: Port Adelaide 15.11 (101) d Adelaide 5.14 (44) at Adelaide Oval, round 16 last year (July 6)
At Adelaide Oval: 4-8
Port Adelaide will start as favourite; the script will again emphasise anything can happen in a Showdown - and this probably has more relevance considering both teams are entering the derby with no match form since March.
There will have been 343 days between Showdowns - the longest gap between derbies in the 23-year history of the grand rivalry.
Port Adelaide is seeking to rebalance the Showdown ledger at 24-24, making it level for the first time since Showdown 44 in 2018 when Steven Motlop scored the match-winning goal in his first derby.
There is a new theme to emerge from Adelaide with new coach - and former Port Adelaide assistant - Matthew Nicks. Defence is paramount.
There is a new feel to the Showdown with an empty Adelaide Oval. The absence of the fans will be noted, particularly when the interaction of the Port Adelaide faithful is so important to setting the mood with the pre-game Never Tear Us Apart anthem.
There is a new concept to the derby - just one Showdown for the first time in a home-and-away season. Less is not always best.
Port Adelaide last time held Adelaide to its lowest score in Showdown (44 points). There will be a new-look Adelaide attack that no longer calls on one-time derby specialist Eddie Betts (now back at Carlton) and key forward Josh Jenkins (now at Geelong). Adelaide's forward six might include former Port Adelaide ruckman Billy Frampton, the fourth player to cross the divide from Alberton to West Lakes (after Ian Downsborough, Matthew Bode and Magarey Medallist Brad Symes).
The biggest question to be answered at Alberton in the lead-up to this game is the fitness of five-time Showdown Medallist Robbie Gray, who needs to deal with a broken toe from a training mishap.
Also to command attention is how the delay to the home-and-away season has played to the advantage of vice-captain Ollie Wines who had his pre-season derailed by a shoulder injury for the second consecutive year.
ROUND 3: v Fremantle, at Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast. Sunday, June 21, 6.05pm
Past five: WLLWW
Last time: Port Adelaide 15.20 (110) d Fremantle 10.7 (67) at Adelaide Oval, round 23 last year (August 25)
At Metricon Stadium: First meeting
On neutral ground: First meeting
What does neutral territory do to change the script for a rivalry that has run on home-field lines since 2015?
Port Adelaide has won the past five games against Fremantle at Adelaide Oval.
Fremantle has won the past four matches against Port Adelaide in Perth, either at Subiaco Oval or Perth Stadium.
The biggest change in this script is the exit of Ross Lyon as Fremantle coach with his preference to test Port Adelaide with excess numbers at the contest - and the seemingly inevitable change in tactics from new Dockers coach Justin Longmuir. But there is not much to assess just yet on this new Fremantle playbook.
Longmuir, who worked his coaching apprenticeship at West Coast and Collingwood after playing at Fremantle, so far has declared a preference for conservative exit plays from defence.
"... probably being a little safer with the ball in our back half," Longmuir said in the pre-season. "The turnovers in our defensive-50 in the second half of last year led to opposition scoring easily against us."
Fremantle opened with a six-point loss to Essendon - in a low-scoring game, 63-57 - at the Docklands on March 21.
ROUND 4: v West Coast, at Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast. Saturday, June 27, 1.15pm
Past five: WLLLW
Last time: Port Adelaide 13.17 (97) d West Coast 8.5 (53) at Perth Stadium, round 5 last year (Good Friday, April 19)
At Metricon Stadium: First meeting
On neutral ground: First meeting
Most fascinating from this match-up is the end to the bizarre contradiction of home-field advantage in recent Port Adelaide-West Coast games.
West Coast has won all five games against Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval since the city ground was redeveloped for AFL matches from 2014.
Port Adelaide has won three of the past four games against West Coast at either the now-closed Subiaco Oval or the new Perth Stadium, including the most-recent clash between the two clubs by 42 points in last year's historic Good Friday match.
So what happens in the first game on neutral territory (which everyone would have once thought would only have played out at the MCG with a grand final).
Port Adelaide has a 6-0 record at Metricon Stadium, all six games against Gold Coast. West Coast has a 5-2-2 win-draw-loss record in games against the old Brisbane Bears (from when the venue was Carrara), North Melbourne and Gold Coast. The Eagles lost in their last game at Metricon, by three points to Gold Coast in 2017 - and drew to the Suns in the second-last match in south-east Queensland in 2015.
ROUND 5: v Brisbane, at the Gabba. Saturday, July 4, 7.40pm
Past five: LLWWW
Last time: Port Adelaide 13.12 (90) l to Brisbane 16.11 (107) at the Gabba, round 3 last year (April 6)
At Gabba: 6-2-10
Last win at Gabba: Port Adelaide 22.18 (150) d Brisbane 10.7 (67) in round 6, 2017
By the original fixture, Port Adelaide was to have hosted Brisbane at Adelaide Oval in mid-May. The Lions gain from this rewrite - more so considering Brisbane had a 10-1 win-loss record at the Gabba in home-and-away football last season, including a 17-point win against Port Adelaide last year when first-year forward Connor Rozee earned his Rising Star nomination with a 5.2 return in just his third AFL game.
The result of this game will echo strongly as the judges seek clarity on where both clubs stand in the premiership race - and the result might hang heavily on the physical condition of the teams after they have been worked over by collision football for a month.
At the end of this four-week tournament window, Port Adelaide will have played all its rivals from Western Australia, Queensland and the in-town rival Adelaide.
Whether the next block of matches - against Victorian and Sydney-based opponent s - keeps Port Adelaide working from a Gold Coast hub or in a fly in-fly out mode from Adelaide to Melbourne or Sydney remains to be decided by forces well behind AFL House.
It is very much like being at a World Cup (albeit with no enforced knock-out until September).
There will be other interesting groupings to follow as AFL executive Travis Auld prepares a "rolling" fixture with a heavy focus on government COVID regulations that are varying state by state.
For now, Port Adelaide is in a group of opportunity - opportunity to make a strong statement on how this 150th anniversary season can become more memorable than first imagined.