PORT ADELAIDE has its three faces of the future - Zak Butters, Connor Rozee and Xavier Duursma - back for the Friday Night Football 300-game celebration of Travis Boak, the man who ensured Alberton remained an AFL destination.
Senior coach Ken Hinkley has gained timely reinforcements for his attack against the defensive-minded Collingwood at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne.
“We are better with (the young trio) in our team - and we need to get some games into them,” Hinkley said in Melbourne on Thursday.
Midfielder-forwards Butters and Rozee and wingman Duursma return after knee injuries to replace defenders Jarrod Lienert and 2021 debutant Martin Frederick and the versatile Sam Mayes from the 23-man line-up that beat St Kilda on Saturday. Specialist forward Boyd Woodcock, who was subbed out with a corked thigh, remains in the starting 22.
Butters and Rozee resume after a week on the sideline while Duursma, after a two-game run in the SANFL, will play his first AFL match since early April when he was injured against AFL premier Richmond at Adelaide Oval.
"We know how long the cream of the crop can take to get going after an extended break - but the season is getting shorter and we need to get them in our side," Hinkley said. "The risk we have to take is one worth taking.
"Zak, you can call him Lazarus - but he was more Lazarus when he got back from his foot, to be fair. That comeback came quicker than his medial ligament."
The match is very much about Boak, the second player to achieve 300 AFL games at Port Adelaide and the sixth in club history to reach this milestone.
Boak and Hinkley were the captain-coach combination from 2013 when Port Adelaide started the "never tear us apart" revival after Boak lived through the club's darkest chapter.
"It is difficult to sum up in a few words (what Boak has meant to me)," Hinkley said. "Because Travis has been as big a part of my journey as a coach as any person I have been involved with in football. And I have been in the game for a long time.
"When I got to the club in 2013, Travis was the biggest appointment we made - as captain, he led and carried this club on his back, probably even before I got here. He has continued to do that while I have been here. He is unbelievably reliable, unbelievable in his high level of performance week in week out and just the most outstanding person you could wish to meet.
"It is a significant milestone. Three hundred games we all understand puts you at the top of the tree for longevity, performance, durability, all those things you need to be able to get to that number.
"Trav also is equalling a club record for AFL games played. It is a big moment for us as a football club - and it is a big moment for Travis. But Travis, like everyone else, will be wanting to get the four points.
"Trav would like nothing more than to share this with his Port Adelaide family of fans and his own family. There is a significant disappointment in not having people at the game, but we put our individual disappointment aside for the need of the competition and the team."
The Rozee-Duursma-Butters combination will play an AFL game for just the third time this season, their third together at Port Adelaide.
"The three boys have had an impact on our club from the day they have walked in; they came into the side together (in 2019) and they come back into the side together at a moment when we need them to come back," Hinkley said. "We certainly think it gives us a boost in our ability - and our enthusiasm and our willingness to play the game with an exciting brand. All three do that pretty well."
Hinkley is taking the lessons from last year's hub existence in Queensland as the guide to overcoming a challenging week in which Port Adelaide was sent to Melbourne on short notice on Tuesday night.
"I feel like we have been here before," said Hinkley before the captain's run training session at Punt Road, Richmond on Thursday afternoon.
"I feel like we have done this before - and we are ready to do this again. Like everyone in the competition we know what it takes to get this football season away. We are ready to do it.
"Obviously, there is change to our preparation. To say we are compromised would be a bit harsh. We have made adjustments to our preparation, but not in a way I would say is it compromised."
Port Adelaide faces 15th-ranked Collingwood for the second time in two months in Melbourne with the home game at Adelaide Oval moved to the Docklands to overcome restrictions from South Australia's latest COVID lockdown.
The previous result - a one-point game in Port Adelaide's favour - was at the open MCG. The move to the closed-roof Marvel Stadium in west Melbourne keeps Port Adelaide "at home" after scoring a significant 13-point win against St Kilda at the Docklands on Saturday, and wins there earlier in the season against North Melbourne and Hawthorn.
"Our options were obviously the MCG or Marvel; we played at Marvel last week and we had a good result and we have had good results there this year," Hinkley said. "We think with the side we have got that Marvel is probably the right spot for us to play based around what the options were."
Port Adelaide strategically frustrated St Kilda through the fast corridor at the dry Docklands last week - and this time needs its own fast movement through that channel to dismantle Collingwood's defensive tactics.
"We like to play an aggressive brand of football always," Hinkley said. "With the roof closed it will be a fast, dry track that will create challenges in defence - and opportunities in offence."
Nathan Buckley coached Collingwood on May 23; this time it will be another Brownlow Medallist, Robert Harvey.
"We have looked at how Collingwood has adjusted," Hinkley said. "It appears they are moving the ball slightly quicker than they did when we played them the first time. They have some high quality players around for ball; they have an outstanding back line that allows them to hold up very well defensively.
"There is not too much change. The major change is they have more zip in their ball movement."
The match will begin at 6.40pm SA time.