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No China crisis for Gray, Hinkley insists

Football

Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley insists Power star Robbie Gray will play in the club's historic China match on Sunday, despite the game-breaker leaving training early amid persistent intrigue about his fitness.

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Gray will have a chance to prove his fitness with another run ahead of Sunday’s match against Gold Coast, but his training is being managed, amid speculation he has a groin niggle.

He also iced his right calf as teammates completed yesterday’s training run at Jiangwan Stadium.

Gray is coming off a quiet game in last weekend’s home loss to West Coast.

“He’s fine; he’s here; he’s in Shanghai; he’s ready to play,” Hinkley said at a promotional function for the match.

“Rob is no different to any other player. He has niggles that he deals with and he’ll be fine to play.”

Hinkley was asked about the ongoing speculation over Gray’s fitness.

“Robbie was beaten by his opponent on the weekend,” the Power coach said.

“I’ve had that conversation with Rob – he gets embarrassed by some of the hysteria that goes around about his groins or not his groins.

“Rob is just a normal player and he can have bad games… hopefully, not again on Sunday.”

Hinkley has already gone early with confirming selection decisions for the Shanghai showcase, revealing Brendon Ah Chee and Karl Amon will replace Aaron Young and Dan Houston, both of whom have been omitted.

Apart from the history surrounding Sunday – the first AFL match outside of Australia or New Zealand for premiership points – there will be several personal milestones.

It will be the 100th game for Hinkley as Port coach and the same for Travis Boak as their captain.

This will also be the first time key forward Charlie Dixon will play against his old club.

“He’s in great form – that’s one good thing,” Hinkley said.

“Charlie’s played the best football I’ve seen him play in his career in the last couple of weeks, particularly, but over the course of this year.

“Obviously, it’s a first-time opportunity to play against his old club. He doesn’t need to do anything extra; he just needs to be part of the Port Adelaide team.”

Hinkley smiled when it was pointed out the venue meant a less-hostile reception for Dixon from the home crowd than if it was at Metricon Stadium.

“We’ll have a good number of our people in the crowd, so he’ll feel at home,” Hinkley said.

After concerns about air pollution, possible sandstorms and the tyranny of distance, Port’s first training session at Jiangwan Stadium drew rave reviews about the turf quality, with players putting it on a par with the MCG.

And while it is hot, conditions have not been oppressive.

The Shanghai air quality on Thursday was no worse than a muggy summer day in Melbourne or Sydney.

Port coach Ken Hinkley said regardless of the unusual circumstances, instinct would take over for the players once the ball was bounced.

“It will be okay – it will be fine,” Hinkley said when asked about the ground dimensions.

“It’s not dissimilar, once the boys get out there and play.

“That’s the thing we forget sometimes – once the boys get out and the ball’s bounced, they’re just playing footy and it doesn’t matter where they play.

“It’s a great opportunity to be in Shanghai to play this time.”

The AFL has converted a large field that usually holds several soccer pitches into the playing venue.

The two squat grandstands on either wing are very 1960s-era Communist architecture – the party bosses would not look out of place on the balcony, acknowledging a mass military parade.

Gold Coast arrived early yesterday morning, with a two-hour delay on the Singapore Airport tarmac meaning their trip from door to door nearly took a full day.

But co-captain Steven May said they were determined to make the game a success – something the team had started talking about immediately after the weekend’s win over Geelong.

“That’s what we preached with the group – we’re going over to a different country and we have to embrace it, rather than have that negative mindset,” May said.

“The boys were fantastic last night when the (flight) delay came – it was our first little test and they were super.

“We have a really good, young, emerging group who, after a couple of wins, are starting to get some belief.”

Like their Port opponents, the Suns’ players also had lessons last week on the basic dos and don’ts of Chinese society.

May said they were told: “A few things that are touchy subjects over here, that probably in Australia, they wouldn’t be.

“I can’t really remember… as long as I don’t talk about them, it’s alright.”

They were also reminded that the Chinese regard red as a lucky colour.

“We’re happy with that,” May said.

Back in Adelaide, the Crows have recalled Wayne Milera and Troy Menzel for tomorrow night’s clash with Melbourne, when Demons mentor Simon Goodwin will coach against the club he captained for the first time.

The pair replace Jake Lever and Riley Knight, who are both suffering injury niggles. Head of Football Brett Burton said Lever “experienced some tightness in his hamstring towards the end of our game against North Melbourne”.

“He was able to train during the week, but the club has decided to take a risk-free approach,” he told the club website.

“Riley copped a cork to his glute and wasn’t able to get up in time for Saturday’s match.

“We expect both players to be available next week.”

-with AAP

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