Whilst the overall HPN Team Ratings may paint this game as a bit of a mismatch, the component scores are somewhat more favourable to the Eagles than first meets the eye and we must remember our prior analysis of the strange flat-tracky distribution of Port Adelaide’s apparent strength. As we said back then:
“Port Adelaide are the best side in the competition against weak opponents and they’re about as good as North Melbourne against the good teams.”
That’s based on quality of output as measured by our strength ratings, not just a tally of wins and losses. The question is then partly whether Port Adelaide can overcome their two-faced regular season output and manifest a performance worthy of their ladder position.
The Eagles had the 6th most effective attack this year according to the HPN Team Ratings, which will be matched up against the 3rd rated defence of the Power. This, however, doesn’t consider the significant outs to the Port Adelaide defensive unit.
Part of Port’s inconsistency comes down to the service their forwards receive from the midfield at times – plentiful but sometimes not to the right target or targets. Port will have to perform to the best of their abilities at this end of the ground to put up enough points to win. They certainly struggled as a collective against West Coast in the corresponding match at Adelaide Oval earlier in the year. Ryan Buckland recounted the tactics that led to the Eagles blunting Port’s attack despite 29 less inside-50s, the Eagles building a winning score with effective counterpunches. This is what an ineffective Port Adelaide attack and effective West Coast defence can look like.
Despite recruiting Sam Mitchell during the offseason, the Eagles went backwards this year relative to the league average, according to the HPN Team Ratings. They finished the year with the 14th best midfield score. By contrast, Port dominated the midfield territory battle all year, ending the year in 1st. If both sides performed to their expectations across the season, and there was the AFL game average 105 inside-50s across the match, Port would be expected to win 59 of those inside-50s to the Eagles’ 46.
If we ignore defence, and both sides score per inside-50 at their season long rates, then Port would rack up 97 points to the Eagles’ 81. When defence is factored in, we’d expect both sides to score around 7 points less – which doesn’t significantly help the Eagles’ cause. However, in round 7 on the same ground, the tally was 69 to 38, and Port still lost.
For West Coast to spring the repeat upset, they would either have to improve their forward or (more likely) defensive effectiveness to the levels they hit in round 7, or try to limit the expected Port Adelaide preponderance of inside-50s. If the Eagles limit the damage in the middle, they’re every chance of winning, especially with their forward potency and the vulnerability of Port Adelaide’s current defensive stocks.
Port Adelaide team selection
As alluded to above, those big bars of red to the right of the chart are the big concern for the Power this week – with three of their top six contributors for DefPAV per game (min. five games) missing this week. Jackson Trengove, mooted by many to be picked to cover that gap, hasn’t really played in a full time defensive role since 2015, as Port have attempted to turn him into an around the ground tall utility. A lot will be riding on Dougal Howard, Dan Houston and Tom Clurey – a group of relatively inexperienced players with massive roles to play this week.
Perhaps the best defence for Port this week is one based up the ground – denying West Coast the ability to even go forward. Port seemingly have a significant advantage in the battle for midfield territory, and a wide variety of hard running mids to throw through the mix.
West Coast team selection
At the other end of the ground, the Eagles finished the year with the 4th best defence, with All Australians Jeremy McGovern and Eliot Yeo anchoring their defensive effort. Port have a lot of good attacking options, from Wingard and Dixon to Gray and other Gray and Boak, but in the heat of the game they have struggled to produce consistently. Unlike Port, West Coast are basically full strength across the park including down back.
A lot will rest on the retiring duo of Mitchell and Priddis to produce performances that call back to their primes in order to provide Kennedy and co. enough opportunities to score. Perhaps equally important for West Coast is the “and co.” part of that sentence – the Eagles desperately need one of Darling, LeCras or Darling to take the pressure off Kennedy and stretch the paper thin Port Adelaide backline.
If they can do so, West Coast have a fair chance of an upset, perhaps the only one of the first week of the finals.