PORT ADELAIDE coach Ken Hinkley has warned his side still has “significant improvement” to come following its third win in a row and 14th for the season – this time against Greater Western Sydney on Sunday night.
Following the return from injury last week of young trio Connor Rozee, Zak Butters and Xavier Duursma, explosive forward Orazio Fantasia made his return after seven weeks on the sidelines following knee surgery.
While his numbers were not massive (11 disposals, three marks, three tackles, one goal), the 25-year-old will be better for the run in the lead in to the finals.
Hinkley’s men started strongly, taking a 15-point advantage into the first break, and outlasted the Giants who took the lead in the third quarter, eventually recording a 15.10 (100) to 11.7 (73) win at Marvel Stadium.
“I thought it was a really strong performance by the boys,” Hinkley said after the match. “I like the way we were challenged, and GWS is a really good side who have got plenty to play for and we’ve been asked a few times in the last few weeks to respond, and we’ve been able to do that.
“It’s a sign of a good team. You’re always going to get challenged in AFL football. There are not many games where you’re going to get it on your terms the whole way through a match.
“We had a pretty dominant game when it comes to the numbers and I know there’s significant improvement still in us with the players we’re starting to get back in the team.”
Having had the game shifted from the Gold Coast to Melbourne about 24 hours before due to Queensland’s snap lockdown, Port did not look to be unsettled.
Hinkley’s side was well served by Karl Amon (31 disposals, five tackles, six marks, 10 score involvements and a goal) along with the reliable Ollie Wines (28 disposals, six marks, three tackles, four clearances, six score involvements), while its quartet of tall forwards booted ten goals between them.
Charlie Dixon (four goals) and Peter Ladhams (three) did most of the damage but Todd Marshall and Mitch Georgiades had their moments.
“I think our front half is damaging, and more damaging with the guys coming back,” Hinkley said, also praising the spark provided by the other players who had returned in recent weeks.
“We’ve got Robbie Gray not too far away and Steven Motlop not far behind that so we’ve got some talent to fit in there still that can make us even more damaging.
“Game time is really critical at this time of year. You’ve got to get your run right, you’ve got to get your timing right and sometimes it’s out of your control.
“We think Butters, Rozee, Duursma, Fantasia all got better as the game went on. We’re a much better side when they’re playing.”
Earlier this season, Hinkley said his side was good but not great, but the Port mentor can see his side building some form at the right time of the year – having navigated some significant injuries to key personnel – and an incredible 15 surgical procedures so far in 2021.
“I think we’re playing some good footy and to win big you’ve got to play great footy,” Hinkley explained.
“We’re getting better. I’m really pleased about our last couple of weeks. I think they’ve been really significant for us. When the personnel keep coming back it gives you confidence.
“I’ve said all along let’s see where we’re at at the end of round 23 and see where we finish… and I know we’ll be playing better footy by the end of the year if we keep getting people back.”
Having played his 300th AFL game last week, becoming just the second Port Adelaide player to reach that milestone, Travis Boak eclipsed Kane Cornes’ club AFL games record with his 301st match on Sunday night.
On his 33rd birthday, Boak showed no sign of slowing down, finishing with 24 disposals, a goal, six tackles and a game-high seven clearances.
His coach said he had run out of things to say about a man he described as humble.
“The best thing I can say about Trav is that that (games record) is not just going to be broken, it’s going to be smashed,” Hinkley smiled.
“He’s not just going to play 302 or 303. The way he’s going, he’s probably on track to play 350 I’d imagine, but who knows. Footy is a hard game.”
After a couple of weeks in Melbourne for games against Collingwood and GWS, originally scheduled to be played in Adelaide and Canberra or the Gold Coast, Port returns to Adelaide on Monday morning with a Showdown against bitter rival Adelaide to prepare for.
It does so from fourth position on the AFL ladder, just a win and percentage off top with three games to play.