Power season review: One victory, but plenty of other big wins along way

PORT Adelaide's addition to the AFLW was punctuated by one of the biggest player moves the competition has ever seen, with Erin Phillips captaining the club her father led in the early 90s. 

Another significant milestone was hit as the program was built, appointing Lauren Arnell as head coach, making her the first former AFLW player to take the helm at a club. The Power, although winning just one game, showed the competition just what it is made of this season, and the strong base from which it will continue to grow. 

Over the next few weeks, womens.afl will look at each of the 18 AFLW teams' season's in reverse ladder order.

Erin Phillips after signing with Port Adelaide in April, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

Head coach: Lauren Arnell

Leadership group: Erin Phillips (captain), Angela Foley (vice-captain), Hannah Dunn, Gemma Houghton, Justine Mules

Ladder position: 17th, one win, one draw and eight losses, 70.6%

Debutants: Alex Ballard, Ella Boag, Amelie Borg, Laquoiya Cockatoo-Motlap, Litonya Cockatoo-Motlap, Tessa Doumanis, Abbey Dowrick, Yasmin Duursma, Hannah Ewings, Sarah Goodwin, Jade Halfpenny, Lily Johnson, Olivia Levicki, Liz McGrath, Sachi Syme, Julia Teakle (AFLW debut), Jade de Melo, Hannah Dunn, Angela Foley, Cheyenne Hammond, Gemma Houghton, Maggie MacLachlan, Maria Moloney, Justine Mules, Ebony O'Dea, Britt Perry, Erin Phillips, Kate Surman, Indy Tahau, Jacqui Yorston (club debut)

Milestones: Gemma Houghton, Erin Phillips, Justine Mules (50 games), Cheyenne Hammond, Ebony O'Dea, Indy Tahau, Jacqui Yorston (25 games)

Rising Star nominations: Abbey Dowrick (round one), Hannah Ewings (round three - overall winner), Indy Tahau (round 10)

Retirements: TBC

'Dream come true': Ewings earns Rising Star award

04:06 Nov 22. 2022. 8:00 PM

Young gun Hannah Ewings is awarded the NAB AFLW Rising Star award in Port Adelaide's maiden season

Best team performance

In round four against fellow expansion side Sydney, Port Adelaide registered its first win after coming agonisingly close with a draw in the previous week. In wet conditions at their home ground of Alberton Oval, the Power played an aggressive, attacking style of footy to put the Swans to the sword.

Port Adelaide enjoyed seven individual goalkickers on the day as it surged toward a 66-point victory, the biggest maiden win in AFLW history. Much of this was thanks to a second-half onslaught in which the Power kept Sydney scoreless and piled on seven goals of their own.

Hannah Ewings was best on ground, while captain Erin Phillips had 16 disposals and eight score involvements in her milestone 50th game.

AFLW S7 Highlights: Port Adelaide v Sydney

05:52 Sep 17. 2022. 3:01 PM

The Power and Swans clash in round four of the 2022 NAB AFL Women's Competition

Best individual performance

Hannah Ewings put on a show in that first win for the club in round four, running rings around the Swans' midfield group, demonstrating the pure class that saw her drafted with pick No.3.

Coming off an impressive game in Port Adelaide's draw with Carlton the week prior, she went one better against the Swans. Ewings gained 417m with her 19 disposals, laid eight tackles, won nine clearances, and kicked three goals in a truly complete performance just four games into her career.

The teenager earned the maximum 10 coaches' votes and three competition best and fairest votes for the game, on her way to taking out both the AFLW Rising Star award and Port Adelaide's first best and fairest count.

Electric Ewings slots her third with super running finish

00:45 Sep 17. 2022. 2:37 PM

Hannah Ewings kicks a fantastic goal on the run

Most improved

Reuniting with former Brisbane teammates Lauren Arnell and Indy Tahau at Port Adelaide, midfielder Maria Moloney was able to finally establish herself at the top level this season.

Moloney has always lived on the fringes of Brisbane's midfield, playing 11 games across her first three seasons of AFLW, but once arriving at the Power, she cemented herself around the ball, playing every game in the thick of it.

With the consistent opportunity afforded to her, Moloney averaged 10.4 disposals, 6.9 tackles, 2.1 marks and two clearances this season, while also kicking two goals in the process.

Maria Moloney in action for Port Adelaide against Gold Coast in S7 round five at Bond University. Picture: AFL Photos

Star recruit

Plucked out of Western Australia, Abbey Dowrick was signed as a free agent during the expansion phase and proved just why she was such a highly rated junior before stepping away from the game for a short period of time.

Creating a formidable partnership with Ewings in the middle, it is Dowrick's ability to not only apply plenty of defensive pressure but also get to the outside and surge the ball forward that makes her so damaging.

Dowrick earned a rising star nomination in round one for her 21 disposals, seven marks and six clearances against West Coast, and finished the season 14th in the competition for average metres gained with 300.4 per game.

Unsung hero

Previously overlooked in the draft, Alex Ballard spent the season playing one of the hardest positions in the game - deep in defence for a newly established expansion side. Despite this, she never looked panicked or rushed, instead executing kicks out of the back half with ease to set her side up higher up the ground.

Averaging 11.8 disposals, 3.2 marks and 5.3 intercepts, Ballard read the ball beautifully behind play. This was never more evident than in round five against Gold Coast where she had 16 disposals, took 10 marks - three of which were contested - and won 12 intercepts.

Alex Ballard marks the ball in Port Adelaide's round two calsh with the Western Bulldogs at Alberton Oval on September 3, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

What went well

From the jump, Port Adelaide's pressure game was evident and was emblematic of the team's willingness to work had to defend. Averaging 66.2 tackles, they laid a massive 92 in their first match against West Coast - the most of any side in its first AFLW appearance. This pressure was led by Jacqui Yorston (80 tackles), Maria Moloney (69), Abbey Dowrick (61) and Hannah Ewings (49).

The other particularly exciting thing for Port Adelaide was that its young players were really the stars of the show, stepping up and taking charge. While experienced players are often necessary in steadying the ship and leading a team, the willingness of their young players to not just win the footy but put themselves on the line is indicative of the culture and character building at the club.

Alex Ballard (20 years old), Amelie Borg (18), Abbey Dowrick (20), Hannah Ewings (18), Indy Tahau (20), Jacqui Yorston (22) all played vital roles for the duration of the season and are a strong core around which the club can build a long-term future.

Jade De Melo tackles Isabella Lewis in the S7 round one clash between West Coast and Port Adelaide at Mineral Resources Park. Picture: AFL Photos

What needs improvement

While Port Adelaide's ball use around the ground was quite good, and its ability to move efficiently out of the back half with a kick-mark game allowed control of games, things really did break down when attempting to move forward.

Gemma Houghton added vital structure in attack, and that became even more evident when she was unavailable for an extended stretch of games. Without Houghton's athleticism and intelligence up forward, the Power looked disorganised and without a key target ahead of the ball.

Although Erin Phillips spent time inside 50 to help create that focal point, defences were able to limit her output in that role and few others were able to reliably step up and hit the scoreboard.

It wasn't simply a lack of consistent forward targets that caused problems for Port Adelaide, but it was the way in which they often chose to enter the 50, rarely putting it to their teammates' advantage and, as a result, the ball was often intercepted and rebounded straight back out. This saw the Power goal from just 13.5 per cent of their forward 50 entries, the third lowest in the competition.

Houghton lights up Alberton with Port's first home goal

00:43 Sep 3. 2022. 2:19 PM

Gemma Houghton gets Port Adelaide's home crowd excited with this great snap

Off-season focus

Solidifying the connection between midfield and forward is likely the highest priority on coach Lauren Arnell's off-season list. Focusing on making more of the strength her side has through the middle of the ground, and channelling that into calmer, more considered delivery forward.

Part of that improvement may be to recruit another experienced forward target to support Houghton while the likes of Julia Teakle, Tessa Doumanis and Lily Johnson develop.