Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley admits his side’s ruck struggles are taking a toll ahead of a showdown with dominant Melbourne big man Max Gawn.
Hinkley has recalled rookie Dougal Howard for Saturday’s AFL clash in Alice Springs to support makeshift ruckman Jackson Trengove, who was monstered by Nic Naitanui and Scott Lycett in Port’s loss to West Coast.
With former Bomber Paddy Ryder serving a year-long suspension and Matthew Lobbe sidelined with a knee injury, the 197cm Trengove has fought valiantly since being shifted from the backline.
But Hinkley concedes the absence of a mature ruckman has often left Port fighting with one arm tied behind its back.
“There is a price you pay … you don’t want to be starting from behind all the time but at the moment that’s what we’ve got,” he said on Friday.
“We need to be mindful of what we’re asking ‘Jacko’ to do. If you do that to someone who’s undersized for a long period of time, it must take a toll.
“I think our midfield boys at ground level have been doing a great job. (But) we’ve been beaten badly in hitouts most of the year, not just the last couple of weeks.”
With Gawn leading the league in hitouts, Hinkley will again look to his contested ball-winners to find a way to break even.
Port’s tough midfield brigade, led by star Robbie Gray, came close to equalling West Coast at the stoppages despite the Eagles’ ruck dominance.
But Hinkley said he was expecting the Demons, who top the league for centre clearances, to provide a physical contest.
“They’ve improved enormously this year,” he said.
“We understand that their midfield depth’s really strong, they’re big bodies in there and they’ve got a dominant ruckman.
“There’ll be a few bruises, I reckon, coming out of the game.”
First-year ruck Howard was the sole inclusion for 10th-placed Port after backman Tom Jonas’ six-game suspension.
Youngster Darcy-Byrne Jones and tough midfielder Hamish Hartlett were among a group of Port players carrying niggles but would both play, Hinkley said.
The ninth-placed Demons have called on Dom Tyson and Neville Jetta to replace Clayton Oliver (thigh) and Viv Michie (omitted).
Port have won their past two meetings with Melbourne in Alice Springs.