His side enters its preliminary final as favourites, but Port Adelaide Power coach Ken Hinkley is taking nothing for granted.
Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley says he expects the Western Bulldogs to be a “very, very tough” preliminary final opponent regardless of injuries to key players.
Only the Bulldogs stand between the Power and preliminary final redemption – a six-point prelim loss to eventual premiers Richmond knocked Port out of last year’s finals series.
As they look to improve on last year’s result, the Power faces a Bulldogs side that is without the injured pair of small forward Cody Weightman and key defender Alex Keath. In addition, ruckman Stefan Martin comes into the squad for his first game since April, while skipper Marcus Bontempelli has been named despite suffering a minor knee injury in last week’s semi-final.
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The Bulldogs are understrength but Hinkley is certain they will still live up to their status as “one of the absolute best teams in the comp”.
“They have done it with and without quality players this year,” he said.
“They’ll be a very, very tough contest for us to take on tomorrow night, regardless of who’s out there.”
Despite speculation he may be forced out of the 22 through injury, Bontempelli had figured in Hinkley’s plans since before the teams were named on Thursday.
“To be fair, the Bulldogs were confident through most of the week that he was going to be okay. Bont’s a star and I can understand why they wanted to have him out there and needed him out there,” Hinkley said.
But the Power coach said his side couldn’t afford to become preoccupied with individual players.
“If we can put pressure on their whole side, we’ll limit the impact of any of those players,” he said.
Hinkley named an unchanged line-up from the one that comprehensively defeated Geelong in last month’s qualifying final.
“They won really well last time they played together,” Hinkley said.
Injured young gun Mitch Georgiades isn’t “quite right” to go, so has been kept out of the side to face the Bulldogs. Hinkley confirmed Georgiades would be available for the grand final should the Power win on Saturday.
“He’s 90 per cent (ready to play) and 90 per cent in prelim finals or any type of final just doesn’t get you there,” Hinkley said.
“If we can win this game, the upside is that there’d be no doubt that Mitch would be 100 per cent come the next time we have to play.”
Hinkley said he felt the 2021 Power was “an improved football team” to the one that missed out on a grand final berth in 2020.
Last year’s prelim loss left Hinkley with “no doubt” grand final qualifiers were the most challenging of all fixtures.
“Prelim finals are the toughest games of the year to win. No doubt about that,” he said.
“You’ve got to get it all right and have a little bit of luck along the way.
“You get to prelim finals each year and they’re usually the top four sides after 23 rounds, 22 home and away games, plus another final or two and then you end up with the top four teams.
“There’s a reason that they’re the scariest or the hardest to win because they’re the highest of quality.
“The quality of both teams is at a really unbelievable level.”
Hinkley believes this year’s Port Adelaide has improved from last year.
“They’re a little bit more experienced, that’s obvious; they’ve played a bit more football together,” he said.
“They’re quite a young team still, our group, so anytime you can get them together for 20 more games of football together, it certainly puts you in a good position.
“I think we’re an improved football team, we’re a more challenging football team than we were this time last year. That’s our belief.”