While Port Adelaide’s players and coaches continue to plot their path through a deep September run, Power list manager Jason Cripps has been busy wheeling and dealing to strengthen the club’s premiership chances for 2024 and beyond.
The Power will host a semi-final on Saturday night against GWS, relying on their second chance opportunity after amassing their third top-four finish in four years this season thanks to a dominant home and away season under Ken Hinkley.
After missing the top eight in 2022, the Power have turned to their emerging ranks to find themselves back in contention this season and are now taking the longer route to keep their premiership dream alive.
The Power placed as an outside chance to be on the dais on the last Saturday of this month following their eight-goal loss to Brisbane last week, with a semi-final win leaving them to come up against minor premiers Collingwood in the penultimate weekend of action.
But while a shot at the title could fall short for the Alberton club, their premiership prospects for 2024 look set to be buoyed next month through the off-season exchange window.
While Port Adelaide’s finals campaign is still alive, a trio of Victorian-based players have all lodged requests to head west and land at Queen Street.
Among the three wantaway names are South Australian pair Jordon Sweet and Brandon Zerk-Thatcher, who are seeking moves back home and away from the Western Bulldogs and Essendon, respectively.
Not only are the pair of croweaters in line to return to their roots but they’re set to fill a pair of list needs Cripps has identified as critical areas for improvement in this pursuit of a flag.
The remaining name with his sights set on the Power is Geelong’s Esava Ratugolea – a player well-known to Cripps in off-season discussions. The forward-turned-defender had sought a move to Port Adelaide a year ago, with the Cats holding the Fijian to his contract that has since expired with the cessation of the club’s 2023 campaign.
12 months on from his wish to become a Power player, Ratugolea is now pursuing the same venture with more power than he had in his first bid, but that won’t prevent Geelong from keeping a firm stance at the trade table.
The Cats turned down Pick 33 for the then-24-year-old, who had played just four games in the recently passed season. In 2023, Ratugolea has transformed himself into a high-flying defensive stopper who, while unable to consistently hold his place under Chris Scott, only saw his value grow.
With Geelong anticipated to set a high price for Ratugolea when Cripps comes to the table, the Power may need to get creative beforehand to be able to secure all three of their desired targets.
Port Adelaide’s current selections fall at 37, 43 and 72 overall, with their second selection the only pick that is currently settled before the order is shaken up through matched bids and priority acquisitions.
Pick 43 was originally home to Fremantle, whose season has been brought to a close, while 37 (via Collingwood) and 72 (their own) can shift anywhere between five places at the back end of the queue, given the currently unsettled ladder.
The Power will carry each of their future selections into the off-season, which they’ll likely be relying on to get all three deals over the line. Without a selection until the end of the second round this year, their second-round pick for 2024 is sure to be on the table for the Cats, Dogs and Bombers to consider.
Their first-round selection for next season is unlikely to be on the move however, with Port Adelaide having traded away their opening picks for 2022 and 2023 and are required to make at least two first-round selections over a rolling four-year period.
Without a top pick for this year and looking to acquire all of Ratugolea, Zerk-Thatcher and Sweet, any potential pick split looks to be off the cards.
So what might each of Geelong, Essendon and the Western Bulldogs desire in return?
The Cats could force Port Adelaide to do some deals elsewhere before brokering their own, with a top 25 pick likely in the sights of Stephen Wells and newly-appointed football boss Andrew Mackie.
Essendon, under the reign of long-serving list manager Adrian Dodoro, could be prepared to demand a similar return for Zerk-Thatcher, who, in comparison to Ratugolea, has more runs on the board as a key defensive asset.
The situation for Sweet might be simpler, with a late draft selection likely to please the Bulldogs, who are home to All-Australian ruckman Tim English and second-string tall Rory Lobb.
That’s not to say the Dogs will be happy to bid farewell to their fringe ruckman, who has been the leading player in his position in the VFL this year and is viewed as one that is likely to look comfortable at the higher level.
But do the Dogs, or even the Cats and Bombers, look toward Port Adelaide’s list instead of draft hand when opening negotiations?
Cripps has managed to significantly reduce the club’s crop of off-contract talent prior to the off-season’s arrival, however all of Nathan Barkla, Travis Boak, Riley Bonner, Trent Dumont, Orazio Fantasia, Sam Hayes, Hugh Jackson, Scott Lycett, Quinton Narkle and Brynn Teakle are yet to cement their spot for 2024.
Boak’s future has been questioned over recent days, with the Torquay product seen as no certainty to extend his all-time games record at the club. While a club like Essendon might gain some benefit from Boak’s experience and leadership, his value on the trade table may still be lacking when considering the departure of a required 25-year-old key-position player in Zerk-Thatcher.
Sam Hayes is another who faces an uncertain future and could consider a move back to Victoria, with Sweet’s arrival placing further doubt over his position with the Power. A move to the Western Bulldogs might allow Hayes to take on the role Sweet will leave at the Bulldogs as a depth option in Luke Beveridge’s ruck stocks.
Hayes’ younger brother, Lewis, will be in his second season with Essendon next year, with the pair potentially linking up as the Bombers look to add further ruck support behind Sam Draper and the recently re-signed Nick Bryan.
Sweet is anticipated to fall ahead of veteran Scott Lycett in Hinkley’s ruck pecking order, potentially placing the premiership Eagle on the ruck merry-go-round that could involve all of Geelong, the Western Bulldogs and Essendon.
Orazio Fantasia was linked with a stunning return to Tullamarine earlier this year, and while any suggestion of the sort was shut down, Essendon could be willing to include the small forward in discussions after losing Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti to retirement.
Riley Bonner was flagged as a potential target for North Melbourne last year and could again be thrown into trade considerations among Victorian clubs, with some extra run out of defence and depth support potentially attractive to the Bulldogs.
The 26-year-old has played 93 games for the Power since 2016, but has struggled to piece together a consistent run of games over the past two seasons.
Among the contracted Port Adelaide players that could be of some interest to rivals would be wingman Xavier Duursma and young forward Ollie Lord.
Duursma’s name has reportedly been ruled out of any trade discussions, with the Gippsland junior set to see out the final year of his contract next season – a year that also has Power stars Zak Butters, Connor Rozee and Todd Marshall coming off-contract.
Lord could be an intriguing target for Geelong to consider, with the 21-year-old’s father Darren previously listed with the Cats, while Ollie’s grandfather, Alistair Lord, is a premiership player and Brownlow Medal winner with Geelong.
The Cats will be looking to settle their tall forward options for the future, with Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron back in the twilight of their respective careers, with Ollie Henry needing a partner in attack for the coming years.
Lord did re-sign with the Power in May this year and joins the aforementioned Port Adelaide quartet in being off-contract in 2024.
Second-year utility Josh Sinn is contracted until the end of 2025 after earning a two-year extension prior to Round 1 of his debut campaign. The 2021 first-round selection has struggled to feature consistently at senior level due to ongoing injury concerns.
Sinn has a high ceiling as a prospect who can break lines out of defence and also work further up the field to impact the scoreboard, with the former Sandringham Dragons talent likely a required player for the coming years at Port Adelaide.
The 2023 trade period is set to commence on Monday, October 9 and will run until Wednesday, October 18.