Footy tips: Hawks or Cats?
Twists and turns in the battle for the final eight just keep coming; Rohan Connolly previews and tips the penultimate round of the AFL premiership season.PT0M0S 620 349
Port Adelaide will launch a frenzied defensive plan to stop the Carlton quarterbacks who have been so instrumental in the club's late-season renaissance.
The Power has identified key areas it must improve to not only beat the Blues on Friday night, but also make up ground on the top four teams: stoppages and "crazy" forward pressure.
The latter point means the Blues best play-makers behind the ball, the lightning quick Chris Yarran and classy ball-magnet Kade Simpson, are two players likely to be marked by the Power opponents around them.
Especially as it was confirmed on Thursday that another of the Blues' best rebound 50 players, Dale Thomas, will miss the match at Adelaide Oval because of the ankle and knee injuries he sustained against Geelong last week.
Port Adelaide director of coaching Shaun Hart has also boldly predicted that Chad Wingard is close to reaching the level of play that earned him All-Australian selection last season, declaring on Thursday: "I don't want to jump the gun, but I'd like to suggest that by the end of [Friday] night, he will be the sort of guy that's heading right back to where we know he's capable of playing".
Hart said Port had made a pact to shutdown Carlton's run off half-back, a key on-field spark that has helped Mick Malthouse's team beat North Melbourne and Gold Coast in the past month, and also push serious premiership contenders Geelong and Fremantle to the limit.
That being the case, Champion Data identifies Yarran and Simpson as the two players most crucial to that plan, given both rank highly at the club for rebound 50s. More importantly, the pair rank No. 2 and No. 3 at the Blues for when an uncontested possession leads to their rebound 50s - the figure of which being 47% - meaning they might be considered players Port can influence with specific attention.
Thomas is the player ranked No.1 for that statistic - a boost for the Power given he did not board the plan on Thursday - although hard-running defender Zach Tuohy was on the flight and he could be as important to watch, ranking just below Simpson for total rebounds.
"We need to really wind it up – we need to be crazy in defence to make sure we don't give Carlton any time and space," Hart said.
"[They've got] some half-backers that will want to run and want to get the game on their terms."
As well as Thomas, the Blues have lost David Ellard to an ankle injury, and left out Dennis Armfield, naming debutant Nick Holman on Thursday night as flagged earlier in the week.
The Power, meanwhile, added Angus Monfries (hip flexor) and Jackson Trengove (ankle) back from injury.
With finals looming and the club still a chance of securing a double chance, fifth-placed Port know that it needs to get its game in shape - particularly in the key areas of contested possessions and clearances.
The Power currently rank 4th for contested possession differential and 7th for clearances, which puts them ahead of Sydney, Geelong and Hawthorn, but behind Fremantle, which sits No.1 for both.
Hart said that would again be a major focus against the Blues, as Ken Hinkley's charges attempt to hit peak form and time their run into September.
"We need to make sure our contest and our ability to win clearances ... is going to be really important because the [Carlton midfielders] Chris Judd and Marc Murphy combination – just those two alone – are really dangerous players," he said.
"They're the two key areas that we've talked about for a month now, and if we get those right, then the game will hopefully be traveling our way on the scoreboard."
Wingard, the club's best and fairest last season in just his second year, has battled to have the same impact this season as he did in 2013, in part due to the increased focus he has received from opposition club who recognise how dangerous he can be.
Although Hart said he had seen signs of the 21-year-old's explosive best in the past two weeks.
"The outside expects to see the miraculous and the superb all the time," he said.
"I don't think he's far away."