PORT ADELAIDE is nearing full strength by the names on the selection board. Now, with the top-eight finals on the horizon, the challenge is to find top form to claim a top-four ranking and more.
Port Adelaide forwards coach Nathan Bassett delivered this optimistic outlook at Alberton on Monday: "The great thing is we have some depth. We have enough good people in our club that if we can keep building our form and form individually we can give ourselves a great chance to compete in September.
"Certainly, most of the players are back on the field ... now it is about getting the form that gives them the best chance to play well when it comes to finals," Bassett said.
"We have gained a great crack at the top four," adds Bassett of the pay-off from the "squad mentality" that has carried Port Adelaide to a 15-win season for the first time since 2007.
"We are in great shape. You saw at the weekend (by losses to top-four rivals) with Geelong losing to an under-strength GWS or the Western Bulldogs losing and copping an injury or two and Sydney, after being in great form, feeling like they have been on the road since 1975 ... they have been away from home for a long time.
"All teams are going through their battles and if you get the wins up while you are doing it (as Port Adelaide has) it keeps pushing you closer to the top of the ladder.
"We have a great opportunity to cement a place in the top four."
No injury was reported from the gruelling derby. And the injury list is to release midfielder-forward Steven Motlop, who has been on the sidelines after ankle surgery in mid-July.
"Mots was moving well last week, so he will train to give himself the best chance to play this week," Bassett said. "Whether we move him back through the SANFL or AFL, we will wait until later in the week to work that out."
Motlop's impending return after Port Adelaide has regained Xavier Duursma, Connor Rozee and Zak Butters from injury in recent weeks allows Bassett and midfield coach Jarrad Schofield to work a line-up with greater flexibility from centre to the goal front.
"We have enough midfield spread," Bassett said. "Zak has been getting better. His numbers were down a little bit running-wise on the weekend but he has shown good improvement and Connor is growing again. He is looking like the footballer he was in 2019. I am really liking what I am seeing."
The four-point Showdown triumph at Adelaide Oval on Saturday night marked Port Adelaide's 15th win from 20 home-and-away matches and puts the team in line for a top-four finish, in all top-four spots, with two rounds to play with games against Carlton and the Western Bulldogs.
The derby was not the percentage-boosting win many expected by considering the vast gap on the premiership ladder between the top-four Port Adelaide and bottom-four Adelaide.
"It was a difficult week," Bassett said of Port Adelaide's limited preparation for a match that demands the most. "To get back (from Melbourne) on Monday, to be in quarantine until Wednesday night, to have the first training session on Thursday ... we did not have a terrific week. And it certainly came out in both our games (SANFL and AFL).
"The great thing is the guys showed some really good resilience to work through the second half and fight their way back into the game. And get the result.
"It is great that they responded and we would expect a better training week on the track to be able to train properly with a couple of sessions. We will have a better chance to prepare."
Port Adelaide will play Carlton - somewhere, sometime this weekend - in another of the five "double-up" games in the 22-round fixture. The previous clash, at the MCG on April 17, ended in a 28-point win for an accurate Port Adelaide that scored 15.6.
"How can I put what happened at the weekend ... politely," said Bassett of the seven-goal return on 48 inside-50 entries. "It was not our finest work.
"There were a few guys who were working their way back through injury, Robbie Gray and Orazio Fantasia. Charlie Dixon had about four weeks where I was expecting that performance at some stage but he kept playing well, working through being quite sore and he looked sore in the game on the weekend.
"Maybe a few too many parts were not working close enough to full capacity on Saturday night."
The fixture is still to be confirmed by the AFL.
"It certainly has been the lay of the land this year," Bassett said of the fixture issues posed by COVID-19 lockdowns and border closures. "We know we have Carlton this week. We think we will play them at some stage on Saturday. We will find out when the draw gets released."
The Showdown was marred again by a fall-out featuring racial taunting. Showdown Medallist Aliir Aliir was subjected to a slur on social media, which was quickly condemned by the Port Adelaide Football Club.
"We will get around and support Aliir," Bassett said. "At different stages, lots of people make foolish decisions to make comments - and they idiots of themselves. Some do it because they are idiots. Others do it because we give them the air time and they get recognised as making a headline.
"It is extremely disappointing.
"Aliir is a fantastic footballer. He has been a terrific person for our footy club. We love him. We will keep supporting him. And we will love the high-quality performances he has been producing for us all season."