FROM the heavyweight boxing ring to the high-octane racing track ... or will it be a dodgem-car duel again?
After taking an "uppercut", just as coach Ken Hinkley said in the boxing parlance that suited last weekend's heavyweight battle with Brisbane, Port Adelaide deals with the AFL's so-called "Ferrari".
And, even in the season of shortened quarters, is might not mean a fast, high-scoring race to the final siren at Metricon Stadium in the car-racing paradise of Queensland's Gold Coast on Sunday.
Greater Western Sydney coach Leon Cameron last year at Adelaide Oval highlighted how he is prepared to put his "Ferrari" in pole position with the early lead and hog the track. He revealed his prancing stallion from western Sydney could not only play fast, but also control the ball and its movement - a theme it continues to practice.
Port Adelaide might be seen as more V8 Supercar than Formula One, not just in comparisons of the midfield batteries but also by the tall timber in attack. But even the glamorous Ferrari has in the 62 years of F1 constructors championships fallen behind blue-collar industrial manufacturers.
Port Adelaide's midfield pistons have become the topic of the week in the fall-out of the 37-point loss to Brisbane. How Hinkley and assistant coaches Jarrad Schofield and Michael Voss recalibrate the Port Adelaide engine is a debate that extends well beyond the match committee room at Alberton (where football operations resumed this week after vacating the Gold Coast hub on Sunday).
"They're hard around the football ... (and it is) the contest side of things (where) we've got to make sure we match them (to) limit their supply (to the Jeremy Cameron-led attack)," Schofield said of the challenged posed by Greater Western Sydney.
At selection, senior coach Ken Hinkley discarded midfielder Tom Rockliff "on form" rather than as an answer to this week's debate on whether he could carry both Rockliff and Ollie Wines in his midfield battery.
"If your form is not up to it, you lose your spot," Hinkley declared.
Cam Sutcliffe, a midfielder capable of working a shutdown role if momentum favours the GWS midfield, returns for his first AFL game this season.
For all the focus on the midfield zone, Greater Western Sydney is far more than a one-dimensional line-up built around on-ball depth.
"They are well balanced throughout the ground," noted Port Adelaide vice-captain Ollie Wines. "There are terrific names in the midfield; they have a dominant ruckman ... and they are so balanced."
Port Adelaide last beat Greater Western Sydney (by 21 points) in round 20, 2015 at Adelaide Oval. Since then, there have been five consecutive losses - the past four by 19, 31, 22 and one point ... and with Greater Western Sydney holding Port Adelaide to low scores while avoiding shoot-out football.
Port Adelaide is listed as the "home" team at Metricon Stadium where it is unbeaten in eight games; Greater Western Sydney is 3-3 on the Gold Coast.
(As an aside, the AFL registered the "Western Sydney" name in 2008 when Ferrari last won the constructors' world championship. Since then, both the Giants making a big, big sound in the west and prancing Italian black stallion have carried great expectation but not lifted a crown).
Port Adelaide v GWS
For the first time this season, Port Adelaide is the underdog. After four weeks of establishing its credibility as a pacesetter, last weekend's 37-point loss to Brisbane at the Gabba turns Port Adelaide from the hunted to a hunter wanting to stay in the top-eight pack.
Port Adelaide is challenged to respond.
"We have to bounce back against the best," says midfield bull Wines.
And the major test is in Wines' midfield division that was exposed during Brisbane's match-defining second-quarter blitz. There will be no question mark about the quality of the scalp Port Adelaide is seeking on Sunday.
Under any ranking system, the Greater Western Sydney midfield rates as top notch - and with genuinely "elite" talent. And it runs deep.
Stephen Coniglio. Josh Kelly. Lachie Whitfield. The minder Matt de Boer. Jacob Hopper. Jackson Hately. Tom Green. Callan Ward. Boisterous ruckman Shane Mumford.
Port Adelaide last time - in round 19, last season at Adelaide Oval - took up the challenge by loading up in this division. It worked two ruckmen (Scott Lycett and Patrick Ryder) and rolled former captain Travis Boak, Tom Rockliff, Sam Powell-Pepper, and the newly reassigned Dan Houston in the rotations that won the clearances 39-33 under dominating rucks earning a 42-27 advantage in hit-outs. (Wines was absent by injury, a broken thumb).
And with a defensive theme to deny Port Adelaide the chance to work speed and space from these advantages, GWS - missing Coniglio and Kelly - won by one point ... from fewer disposals, inside-50s but with greater accuracy (8.8 to 7.13).
Greater Western Sydney last week - again with inferior numbers in hit-outs, clearances and inside-50s - overwhelmed Hawthorn by 34 points at the Sydney Showgrounds.
Port Adelaide's midfield options increase on last year's game with Wines and second-year rising star Connor Rozee.
Port Adelaide this time gets to work to the forward tandem of Charlie Dixon and Todd Marshall (after last year needing defender Dougal Howard in attack). And there is the challenge to avoid the intercept work of GWS defender Nick Haynes.
"Going forward (we need to) use the ball well ... they've got some really good intercept markers," Schofield noted.
GWS can repeat the Brisbane test of the Port Adelaide defence with 2019 Coleman Medallist Jeremy Cameron, Jeremy Finlayson and Harry Himmelburg - 196cm, 196cm and 194cm respectively. The tale of the tape favours this trio ahead of Port Adelaide captain Tom Jonas (188cm), Tom Clurey (193cm) and Trent McKenzie (191cm).
"(Against Brisbane), we put the back line under an enormous amount of pressure," Wines said. "That came down to us in the mids not getting it done at centre bounces and stoppages. We were badly beaten around the ball ... and we will learn from that."
As a revision test, Greater Western Sydney makes for a meaningful measure of where Port Adelaide stands in a season that after six of 17 rounds could be ready to put clear-cut tags on the 18 competitors.
FROM THE SCOREBOOK
Comparisons to seasons past is not as sound when the AFL "home-and-away" season is cut from 22 rounds to 17 and home could mean a venue thousands of kilometres from Adelaide Oval - and without the support of the NTUA supporters.
What has Port Adelaide made of 4-1 starts in the past in the AFL? There is finals action each time:
2014: Port Adelaide lost in round 3 (by seven points to North Melbourne at the Docklands) and extended winning count in the 2-1 to 10-1 with an eight-game streak. The season finished with a dramatic preliminary final against eventual premier Hawthorn at the MCG.
2007: Again, Port Adelaide lost in round 3 (by 24 points in a Showdown at Football Park), rebounded to 4-1 and finished the home-and-away season with a 15-7 win-loss count - good enough to rank second, three wins behind an ominous Geelong unit that won the premiership with a record-breaking win against Port Adelaide in the grand final.
2004: The 4-1 start was marked with a 53-point loss to Melbourne at the MCG in round 4. Port Adelaide finished this home-and-away series as minor premier for the third consecutive year with a 17-5 count. Then history was made in the final series with the club's first AFL premiership.
2001: After losing to Essendon by 38 points at the Docklands in round 2, Port Adelaide made it to 4-1 and was unbeaten in the last six home-and-away rounds to have a 16-6 count before travelling to Brisbane for a qualifying final loss that started the straight-sets exit from the major round.
Defender Ryan Burton's return was well expected considering his recovery from the minor knee injury - that required corrective surgery - suffered in the third term of Showdown XLVIII against Adelaide at Adelaide Oval in round two, a month ago.
His resumption in the back six is at the expense of fellow defender Riley Bonner. This was well anticipated.
The refit of the Port Adelaide midfield has cost former Brisbane captain Tom Rockliff his place in the AFL line-up for the first time this season - and first time since mid-2019 when he was was put on the injury list for three games with a hamstring strain.
Midfielder Cam Sutcliffe returns for his sixth AFL match with Port Adelaide - and first since round 21 last season against Sydney at Adelaide Oval.
In: Burton, Sutcliffe
Out: Bonner, Rockliff
Former captain Callan Ward adds to the Greater Western Sydney midfield mix. He replaces Tom Sheridan in the 22 that beat Hawthorn in the only unforced change put on the team sheets by coach Leon Cameron.
The switch gives Cameron the line-up he had intended last Sunday before making Ward a late withdrawal (for "soreness") in favour of Sheridan.
Cameron held back Tim Taranto who is on the comeback trail from a shoulder injury suffered in the pre-season.
(the little stuff that counts most)
Port Adelaide v Greater Western Sydney
Where: Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast
When: Sunday, July 12
Time: 12.35pm (SA time)
Last time: Port Adelaide 7.13 (55) lost to GWS 8.8 (56) at Adelaide Oval, round 19, July 27, last year
Overall: Port Adelaide 4, GWS 6
Past five games (most recent first): L L L L L
Scoring average: Port Adelaide 89 points, GWS 90
Tightest margin - Port Adelaide by 21 points (111-90) at Adelaide Oval, round 20, August 15, 2015; GWS by one point (56-55) at Adelaide Oval, round 19, July 27, last year
Biggest margin - Port Adelaide by 75 points (125-50) at the Sydney Showgrounds, round 12, June 16, 2013; GWS by 86 points (151-65) at Manuka Oval, Canberra, round 4, April 17, 2016
By venues - Adelaide Oval, Port Adelaide 1-3; Football Park, 1-0; Sydney Showgrounds, 1-1; Manuka Oval, 1-2.
First meeting at Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast.
L W W W W
A solid run of four consecutive victories - with Port Adelaide drawing praise for having more depth in its game - hit the wall in the Brisbane jungle at the weekend.
After four weeks of strong connections between the defence, midfield and attack, the Port Adelaide line-up was broken apart by Brisbane's second-quarter blitz engineered by its quick midfield.
So the form line since the restart has Port Adelaide clearly ahead of bottom-10 teams Adelaide, Fremantle and West Coast - and falling short against a top-four rival. A one-off slip-up? Or is there a need to re-evaluate the first four wins? Even in a 17-round season, it is more about the marathon than the sprint.
W W L L W
It was an ominous start from Greater Western Sydney - and a strong response to those who wondered how Leon Cameron's team would carry the scars from the AFL grand final mauling. But the 73-point thrashing of Geelong in the season-opener at home did not carry through the 12-week lay-off.
Greater Western Sydney resumed with a 20-point home loss to North Melbourne and a four-goal hit from the Western Bulldogs at the Docklands where the theme of intimidating the opposition completely backfired.
GWS has responded with two significant wins against Collingwood and Hawthorn at home in the past fortnight. Scoring, accuracy and efficiency are all on the rise.
THROUGH GIANT VALLEY
Two Port Adelaide assistant coaches and 2004 AFL premiership players - Chad Cornes and Dean Brogan - know exactly what stands across enemy lines this weekend. They were both part of setting strong foundations at the AFL's 18th club.
Cornes finished his playing career - that was cut short by a knee injury - with 16 games at Greater Western Sydney in 2012-13 (after his 239 AFL matches with Port Adelaide). He also was the defence coach in the 2013 season, and again in 2014 and 2015 before returning to Alberton.
At the same time, Brogan closed his AFL career with 19 games at Greater Western Sydney in 2012-13 and stayed on as the ruck and stoppage coach before following Cornes' footsteps back to Alberton.
QUOTE OF THE PRE-GAME
"For a light-framed guy, he always throws himself in and always comes off the better. He is the perfect example of the harder you go, the less you get hurt."
Port Adelaide vice-captain Ollie Wines on the blue-collar work of second-year player Zak Butters (181cm, 71kg).
Greater Western Sydney by 10 points.