PORT ADELAIDE is chasing greatness. Put more emphasis on the "chasing".
"Good," says coach Ken Hinkley of his 6-3 team. "Not great". Or, not yet great.
The three losses - to West Coast and Brisbane on the road and by 19 points to the highly ranked Western Bulldogs at Adelaide Oval on Saturday night - played true to the greatest barometer of Port Adelaide football: Contested ball.
The numbers (for a change) do not lie.
When Port Adelaide loses in this key indicator - as it did 28-43 during the first quarter on Saturday - the scoreboard looks troubled (as it was by conceding a six-goal start to the Western Bulldogs).
When Port Adelaide wins this telling statistic - as it did 10-9 during the first 12 minutes of the second term - it can turn the game to its favour with five unanswered goals to take the lead. There was some "great" football in these 12 minutes.
When the contested-ball count was finally level during the last term, after Port Adelaide had cleaned up the 98-107 deficit at the last change, there was again another chain of three unanswered goals to make it an eight-point game at the 16th minute of the final quarter.
When Port Adelaide again lost this critical pointer - by 12 in the last 15 minutes - the game flowed back to the Western Bulldogs' advantage.
"Good, consistent information," said Hinkley.
Hard to argue against too.
Port Adelaide was overwhelmed by contested football against West Coast (135-153) and Brisbane (135-154) and lost with considerable pain on the scoreboard at Perth a Stadium and at the Gabba. This time, there was no embarrassing battering at the contest (a marginal 135-147 loss), but still the four premiership points were left on the table.
Contested ball is Port Adelaide's barometer.
To be great, Port Adelaide needs to be harder. More blue collar.
"And we are capable of being a great team," adds Hinkley.
The blueprint is clear - and what is missing to complete the mission of achieving greatness is even clearer.
Now to the micro-detail of a match that will be broken down by every critic passing judgement on Port Adelaide's status in the race for a top-four finish - and a game that also should carry recognition of how two teams play the game with appealing attacking enterprise, loading up with risk.
Peter Ladhams' return to ruck duties - after a month in the SANFL - finished with Port Adelaide winning the hit-outs (in a Ladhams-Charlie Dixon tandem) 51-24 and started with Ladhams eagerly seeking to win the ground ball from the first centre bounce.
But the Western Bulldogs' deeper-running and tougher midfield unit ignored the ruck disadvantage to claim a 44-38 win at clearances, 14-13 at centre. Again, these numbers become part of that "good, consistent information" on Hinkley's notebook rather than mind-numbing statistics.
Both the Western Bulldogs and Port Adelaide were superb in applying pressure to break down opposition plays. There was a marginal difference -72-67 - in the Western Bulldogs' favour for turning the play to their advantage.
But the Western Bulldogs made more of these turnovers - six goals more (10.2 to 4.2). Often the finish was better for the Western Bulldogs because, as coach Luke Beveridge noted, his midfielders kicked it better to give his forwards an advantage - or "our small forwards found themselves in better marking positions."
If the Port Adelaide plays did not finish against brick walls built by Western Bulldogs defenders at the top of the 50-metre mark, they just seemed to be directed at the wrong spots or to a forward who dropped marks at the most damaging moments.
Again, as Hinkley says, "good but not perfect".
And again a match ends with another injury - this time to in-form key defender Tom Clurey with a broken jaw from a clash of heads in the second term. Trent McKenzie and Jarrod Lienert have opportunity knocking.
At 6-3, Port Adelaide approaches the halfway mark of the home-and-away season with some clarity on what is required to achieve greatness.
While crunching the numbers - and for those who were asking about the Showdown effect - in the past decade Port Adelaide has a 9-9 record after the derby. The sequence, from the most recent Showdown, of nine wins and nine losses is: LWLWLWWLWWWLLLWWLL. These figures are not as convincing as the contested ball barometer.