Ken oath they're contenders: Power back on under Hinkley revival

Perhaps it stood out more because it was one of just three games over the weekend in which the favourite actually prevailed, but Port Adelaide's win over Richmond at the MCG on Sunday afternoon had that "statement" feel about it.

It's exactly what that statement was which is open to interpretation.

For Power supporters not averse to eating their own, it might have been another humiliating underlining of club legend turned media pundit Warren Tredrea's increasingly infamous early-season call that coach Ken Hinkley's position was "untenable".

For a generation of football media for whom "talking points" from AFL games often seem to exceed in importance the actual results, the statement might have been that Port Adelaide need to re-contract Hinkley now rather than wait any longer with Richmond on the coach hunt.

My take? Look, small beans, I know (yes, that was sarcastic) but I think that statement was that Port Adelaide is good enough to win the 2023 AFL premiership.

And that would have seemed a far bigger call than Tredrea's after Round 3, when the Power were 1-2, having just been overrun in a "Showdown" a week after being pummelled by Collingwood.

Sunday's game was the very definition of a "banana peel" affair (as in potential to slip) for Port.

The Power had already won seven games on end, more than most winning streaks last these days. They were on the road and in greasy, difficult conditions against an opponent which generally relishes just that sort of going. They'd lost their previous four games on the MCG.

And they were up against a team coming off its own pivotal moment via the resignation of Richmond coach Damien Hardwick, the Tigers obviously determined not just to "turn up" for to thank their now former coach, but to show that life could continue successfully without his tutelage.

The Tigers gave it a decent crack, too. But again, as is becoming a habit, Port dug in, and again even more firmly when seriously threatened late in the game. Indeed, the Power are this season turning what you'd expect to be potential Achilles heels into strengths.

On Sunday, they were without three of last year's top six goalkickers -- Todd Marshall, Mitch Georgiades, who's out for the season, and Charlie Dixon -- yet managed to share the load beautifully with 10 individual goalkickers. The final scoreline of 10.17 (77) was indeed wasteful, but there was at least no shortage of opportunity.

Those chances, too, were generated off the back of no fewer than 67 inside 50 entries, Richmond's defence penetrated at least a dozen more times than has been the norm for the Tigers even so far this ordinary season. Clean up some occasionally wonky conversion, and Port would be in even more impressive place.

Port's perennially underrated defence continues to get the job done, and what's perhaps most significant of all is just who is driving the engine room in midfield.

It's not just the pretty extraordinary recent form of Zak Butters responsible, though the impish-looking still 22-year-old has been phenomenal, but as a collective, he, Connor Rozee, Jason Horne-Francis, Willem Drew and Sam Powell-Pepper have been tremendous.

So good has this group been that the unusually subdued seasons of veterans Travis Boak and Ollie Wines have barely even mattered.

Boak and Wines were second and fourth in last year's best and fairest. The idea pre-season that Port could still thrive despite little influence at all from them, the loss of Georgiades for the season, plus Marshall and Dixon at the same time, would have seemed fanciful.

But this group has some real ticker about it, not something which could often be said about Port at times in its recent history when it seemed the very definition of a "flat-track bully". And that's proving as key to where Port is at right now as the genuine star quality of the likes of Butters and Rozee.

What an inspired haul that 2018 national draft delivered for Port (and don't forget Xavier Duursma, either, if he can shrug off his propensity for injury), not to mention the trading in of Aliir Aliir and now Jeremy Finlayson in subsequent years.

I'm particularly intrigued, too, by the fact that Port, at the time of writing this late on Sunday evening, was still a considerably longer premiership bet than Brisbane. Despite sitting higher on the ladder with one more win, and having beaten the Lions already this season.

There's one more factor to consider regarding those odds. And I suspect it's going to remain a lot more significant than people (and clearly the bookies) would like, I suspect because it's so self-evident.

Non-Victorian teams face considerable handicaps trying to win premierships at the MCG. Sunday's win over Richmond might have been Port's first in five visits to the ground, but three of those previous four losses were by 12 points or less. Brisbane? Yes, the Lions won a final at the 'G last September. And it remains their only victory at the Grand Final venue in 13 attempts.

Sure, things might still change over the next three months. But I'm pretty convinced now Port Adelaide has the mettle -- as well as the cattle -- to go all the way this season.

That's not something I'd be confident saying about any of the Power's non-Victorian rivals. And yep, that's me making a statement.

You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at FOOTYOLOGY.