HOW deep does the Port Adelaide squad run? The question posed on a broken record during the pre-season is to get an answer this week against the potentially heavy cost of Friday night's epic and brutal two-point win against AFL premier Richmond at Adelaide Oval.
Not only is the answer - given as "around 30-31" - to be tested, so is the true value of Port Adelaide's pre-season concept in demanding every player learn a second role well on top of their primary function in the team.
The loss of young guns Xavier Duursma (lateral knee ligament) and Zak Butters (ankle) with surgery today or tomorrow and the battering taken by four other players, including fellow young tyro Connor Rozee, has Port Adelaide dealing with the first big test of its "squad mentality" in the lead-up to Saturday's away clash with Carlton at the MCG.
"Our forecast had come true very quickly," said Port Adelaide defence coach Brett Montgomery at Alberton on Monday.
"And we have some guys who have been crying out for an opportunity. Let's wait and see what they have got."
Port Adelaide's squad concept puts midfielder Kane Farrell, recent debutant Miles Bergman, opportunist forward Boyd Woodcock and father-son draftee Jackson Mead in the frame for AFL selection, more so after their meaningful parts in the SANFL win against Central District at Alberton on Saturday.
Experienced midfielder Tom Rockliff is clear of the 12-day concussion protocol. And rookie-listed defender Marty Frederick is being noticed after a solid block of performances across more than a month.
"Those players who are lucky enough (at selection) will probably get a fair look at it too rather than a week in, week out," said Montgomery of the long-term injuries to Butters and Duursma creating significant opportunities for others. "It is an opportunity to find their feet.
"And these times are really exciting. It is disappointing for the players going out of the side, but as a coaching group we get quite excited by what might play out.
"The approach at the start of the year was a really positive one around that squad mentality and how to keep a greater deeper squad engaged for longer.
"And with (22 home-and-away rounds this season rather than 17) the grind is back on - so we think we are going to need those (extra) numbers."
The other interesting prospect for Port Adelaide is untried ruckman Sam Hayes who was impressive in the SANFL at the weekend - more after the decision to drop back-up ruckman Peter Ladhams before he was a late recall to cover the loss of forward Todd Marshall (ankle).
"Again, we need to look at the balance - whether we need two ruckmen (Scott Lycett and a specialist back-up)," Montgomery said of the prospect of calling up Hayes, the No.47 pick in the 2017 AFL national draft. "We have explored a taller forward line that complements two rucks. The only thing Sam can do (to claim AFL selection) is play the way he plays. He has had some dominant ruck displays; he has been getting around the ground a lot better and taking marks.
"That people see him as capable of playing AFL shows he is developing - and that is great."
Selection later this week draws the question of how many inexperienced players can be taken to the MCG where Carlton coach David Teague is urging his club's fans to be vocal to serve "payback" to Port Adelaide.
"How many is too many? We are exciting and youthful already," Montgomery said. "There also are Jarrod Lienert and Joel Garner who have spent a bit of time here… we know we can rely on them."
Montgomery took delight in watching 19th birthday boy, half-back Lachie Jones, add to the depth chart at Port Adelaide with his AFL debut against the league champions.
"We were thrilled; I was thrilled - and what a birthday for him," Montgomery said. "The way he goes about his footy, the way he attacks the game is suited to that (big-match) occasion. He has the grunt we needed."
Port Adelaide's third win of the home-and-away season delivered the perfect response to the poor performance against West Coast in Perth six days earlier.
"We wanted to get back to what we do well - and it was the perfect opportunity to come up against Richmond. And what a game," Montgomery said. "It was a positive response."
Montgomery declared midfielder-forward Sam Powell-Pepper, who stepped away from the club late in the pre-season to focus on his life needs, will likely return to SANFL action this weekend.