"WHO have you beaten above you?"
How often have the Port Adelaide players - and fans - heard this in the past three years?
In 2018 and last season, the barb underlined just why Port Adelaide was caught in that ominous no man's land just outside the AFL top eight.
Now, as the competition leader with a perfect three-game start after beating two 2019 finalists (Brisbane and the Western Bulldogs) in the pre-season, Port Adelaide has no-one ranked above it on the AFL ladder.
And still there is that question, just who has Port Adelaide played to be at 3-0?
This week, it is 15th-placed West Coast (1-2) that ranked fifth at the end of the 2019 home-and-away season.
This time, more is being asked of West Coast, the so-called unhappy campers in the Gold Coast hub.
But none of this should diminish any assessment of Port Adelaide ... or put off judging Ken Hinkley's team until the round-five clash with Brisbane at the Gabba next Saturday, July 4.
Port Adelaide still has a fair bit to square away with West Coast, particularly when the sting of all those repetitive close losses to the Eagles at Adelaide Oval (including the extra-time elimination final in 2017) lingers.
More might be under the analysts' microscopes with West Coast, but this does not free Port Adelaide of having to advance its claims of being a contender this season. What has been repeatedly said of Port Adelaide dealing with expectation?
So far it is three wins as expected against Gold Coast in the season opener, Adelaide in the restart derby and Fremantle on Sunday. If West Coast is a diminished measuring stick, Port Adelaide still gets the chance to step up to the gap left by the Eagles in the "power rankings" or on the betting charts by doing as expected of a team seeking credibility as a top-eight contender.
As the great wordsmith Mike Coward would write long ago, climbing the mountain in Australian football is a long and arduous task; the slide down is very quick.
This match proves the point for both Port Adelaide and West Coast. So much is to be learned of both teams - both of them.
Port Adelaide v West Coast
Before the world was dramatically put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic, the AFL had intended to have Port Adelaide and West Coast create history at Adelaide Oval with the first AFL Good Friday game in Adelaide.
It was the sequel to history being written a year earlier with the first Good Friday AFL game outside of Melbourne.
That original AFL fixture - released in late October 2019 - made this round four game the first time Port Adelaide had to test itself against a top-eight side from last year's rankings.
This does not change ... although the venue does (Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast rather than home at Adelaide Oval where West Coast has felt too much at home recently). And so has the image of the two combatants changed dramatically so far through this stop-start season.
Port Adelaide is the pacesetter. West Coast is struggling with two consecutive losses in its Bermuda Triangle zone in south-east Queensland where the Eagles have not shown enthusiasm for hub life since being forced to leave Perth.
So much has changed since Port Adelaide crafted its "dirty ball" theme to blitz West Coast at Perth Stadium on Good Friday in mid-April last year. This was the game in which then co-captain Ollie Wines responded to his critics with his 35 touches (13 contested) and was acknowledged as best-afield with three Brownlow Medal votes.
Now it is Port Adelaide's midfield - with the strength of Wines, fellow former captain Travis Boak, Tom Rockliff and Sam Powell-Pepper and the classy touch of second-year rising star Connor Rozee and Robbie Gray (who, after a slow restart, must be primed to repeat Wines' moment in Perth - that will draw more pre-game attention than the much-lauded West Coast engine room ... even with the new piston of Geelong recruit Tim Kelly.
This super-weight midfield battle begins with the tantalising ruck duel between former West Coast team-mates Scott Lycett and Nic Naitanui.
Lycett, a member of West Coast's 2018 premiership line-up while Naitanui was on the injury list, last week against Fremantle rival Rory Lobb raised the eyebrows of Brownlow Medallist Gerard Healy for his rather cunning positioning and movement at centre bounces. He also was most unpredictable - and difficult to counter - at boundary throw-ins.
Naitanui allowed West Coast to win the hit-out count - one of the very few performance markers won against Brisbane at the Gabba - with his 34 hit-outs (from a team total of 41). At a time when Western Bulldogs premiership coach Luke Beveridge has made a fine point about the difference between hit-outs and hit-outs to advantage, it is well worth noting that Naitanui won a game-high nine clearances while crafting those 34 ruck taps. He is much more than a ruckman.
Naitanui this week does not expect to have to set the example for a West Coast midfield challenged to respond after consecutive losses.
"They're even hungrier than ever to prove that they are really good - and that they are better than most midfields," Naitanui said. "(Coach) Adam Simpson had put a bit of a challenge to our midfield this week ... they're coming up against one of the best in the competition in Port Adelaide. So I am excited ... excited to see Kelly, (Elliot) Yeo, (Luke) Shuey react and show us what they've got."
Roles have certainly reversed since Good Friday last year.
FROM THE BOOKS
Last time Port Adelaide put together a four-game winning streak in a season? It was during the five consecutive wins from rounds 12-16 in 2018 when Port Adelaide ranked fourth with an 11-4 win-loss count.
Last time Port Adelaide opened a premiership season with four consecutive wins? It was 2013 with a 5-0 start.
Pacy left footer Kane Farrell returns to AFL action for the first time in almost a full calendar year. The 21-year-old will work his 13th AFL match on a wing for the first time since round 15 last year (June 29) when the goalscoring forward-turned-wingman played in the home loss to the Western Bulldogs at Adelaide Oval.
For the second consecutive week, coach Ken Hinkley is forced to make one change by injury - the hamstring strain to wingman Xavier Duursma.
This time it is a like-for-like change with Farrell covering the loss of Duursma on a wing.
This keeps first-year forward Mitch Georgiades on the waiting list - and the West Coast defence to deal with the three-prong attack of Charlie Dixon, Justin Westhoff and Todd Marshall.
OUT: Duursma (hamstring)
Premiership coach Adam Simpson has shown his unease with his team's form by making four unforced changes, including the call-up of Broken Hill recruit Jamaine Jones.
The 21-year-old small forward made his case for selection in the recent scratch matches with Gold Coast and Brisbane, in particular with his goal kicking.
Jones is part of an all-ground refit by Simpson who has recalled ruckman Tom Hickey (to add to the options of countering Justin Westhoff) and premiership defenders Tom Cole and Jeremy McGovern.
They replace Oscar Allen, quick-fire Jack Petruccelle, Josh Rotham and Will Schofield. All but Schofield are on the emergency list that is stretched to four with forward Jake Waterman.
IN: Cole, Hickey, Jones, McGovern
OUT: Allen, Petruccelle, Rotham, Schofield
(the small stuff that counts most)
Port Adelaide v West Coast
Where: Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast
When: Saturday, June 27
Time: 1.15pm (SA time)
Last time: Port Adelaide 13.17 (95) d West Coast 8.5 (53) at Perth Stadium, round 5, April 19 last year
Overall: Port Adelaide 19, West Coast 15
Past five games (most recent first): W L L L W
Scoring average: Port Adelaide 92, West Coast 85
Tightest margin - Port Adelaide by one point (61-60) at Football Park in round 20, 2010; West Coast by two points (57-55) at Football Park in round 11, 1998.
Biggest margin - Port Adelaide by 112 points (163-51) at Football Park in round 22, 2001; West Coast by 117 points (179-62) at Subiaco Oval in round 10, 2005.
By venues - Football Park: Port Adelaide 10-3; Adelaide Oval: 0-5; Subiaco Oval, Perth: 8-6; Perth Stadium: 1-1.
By States - SA: Port Adelaide 10-8; WA: 9-7.
At Metricon Stadium: First meeting.
Overall at Metricon - Port Adelaide: 7-0; West Coast: 5-2-3.
Port Adelaide - WWW
It has been a perfect start with encouraging notes on Port Adelaide's work to strengthen the connection between its midfield and attack - and thereby protect its defence.
Wins against Gold Coast (47 points), Adelaide (75) and Fremantle (29) have Port Adelaide leading the league while conceding just 105 points in the three matches.
By the statistics and rankings, Port Adelaide is No. 2 for disposals (331 average) - behind Collingwood (344). Port Adelaide's disposal efficiency (amid the dew and rain of the Gold Coast) is at 71.8 per cent - a sound figure that clears away an echo from recent seasons.
West Coast - WLL
After opening the season with a 27-point win against Melbourne at Perth Stadium (immediately after AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan announced the league would enter a COVID-enforced shutdown after this match), West Coast has sunk in the white sand of south-east Queensland.
There have been concerning second-half collapses in the 44 and 30-point losses to Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium and Brisbane at the Gabba. West Coast put up just 1.5 and 3.4 in each of these second halves.
West Coast is averaging 56 points this season, well down on last year's mark of 87.
Former Port Adelaide vice-captain Brad Ebert reaches his 250th game milestone that includes 76 matches with West Coast from 2008-2011. He joined the Eagles - after following family lines through the Port Adelaide SANFL academy - as the No. 13 pick in the 2007 AFL national draft.
West Coast premiership ruckman Scott Lycett - originally drafted from Port Adelaide at No. 29 in 2010 - faces his old team-mates for the second time since taking up free agency to return to Alberton after the 2018 AFL grand final. He played 75 senior games for West Coast.
West Coast forward Brendon Ah Chee left Port Adelaide at the end of 2017 to make his return to Perth. He played 27 senior games at Port Adelaide after being called at pick 45 in the 2011 AFL national draft.
Port Adelaide assistant coach Jarrad Schofield started his AFL playing career at West Coast, playing 63 games from 1993-1998 before moving to Alberton to become a key part of Mark Williams' midfield for the 2004 AFL premiership.
QUOTE OF THE PRE-GAME
"It is a little bit ironic, isn't it?"
Brad Ebert, on his 250th AFL game being against his first national league club, West Coast.
Ebert was destined to celebrate this milestone against his former side in both the original drawing of the 2020 season fixture and the now restructured floating fixture after the COVID-shutdown.
On the milestone road, this has been Ebert's record:
50th: LOST, with West Coast in the second Western Derby with Fremantle of 2010
100th: WON, with Port Adelaide against Greater Western Sydney in 2013
150th: WON, with Port Adelaide against North Melbourne in 2015
200th: WON, with Port Adelaide against Hawthorn in 2017
Brad Ebert continues two family dynasties at the Port Adelaide Football Club.
On his paternal Ebert family lines, Brad is the son of Craig Ebert (112 SANFL games with Port Adelaide, 1981-1988); nephew of Russell (391, 1968-1978 and 1980-1985) and Jeff (one game, 1972); and cousin to Brett (230 senior games at Port Adelaide, 2002-2013).
On his maternal Obst side, Brad is grandson of Trevor Obst (200 SANFL games with Port Adelaide, 1959-1972); great grandson of Ken (165, 1933-1943); grand nephew to Peter (171, 1955-1964 and 1968-1969) and second cousin to Andrew (90, 1987-1989 and 1998-1999).
A grand (and still running) total of 1338 senior games at Port Adelaide.
And 17 league premierships.
In the Ebert family, there are three flags in 1977, 1980 and 1981.
With the Obsts there are 14 premierships: 1936, 1937, 1939, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1988, 1989, 1998 and 1999.
And there are six Magarey Medals in the families' collections - four with Russell Ebert (1971, 1974, 1976 and 1980), one with Trevor Obst (1967) and one with Brett Ebert (2003).
For the record, Brad Ebert's senior games count at Port Adelaide is currently 178 - five in the SANFL and 173 in the AFL.
Port Adelaide by 18 points.