Port Adelaide’s next month will determine if they’re AFL premiership contenders, midfielder Hamish Hartlett says.
The second-placed Power host table-toppers Geelong on Sunday ahead of looming fixtures against Fremantle and Hawthorn.
“Not many people would have expected us to be second on the ladder at this stage of the season,” Hartlett told reporters in Adelaide on Tuesday.
Now, the question is: can Port remain in the upper echelon?
“Over the next month, the next four games, those questions will be answered,” Hartlett said.
“Coming up against Geelong, Hawthorn and Fremantle in the next four games is going to be a huge test for us.
“But to be a football club that gets to to the top, we need to compete against these teams and we need to beat these teams.”
Hartlett said Port’s tough schedule, which also includes a round-seven away match against Greater Western Sydney after the Geelong game and a round-nine bye, was enticing for Power players.
“It’s exciting more than anything,” he said.
“We have gained a lot of confidence with what we have been doing over the last 12 months or so.
“And we still have got areas of our game that we need to work on, we’re well aware of that. But what better way to test those areas and those deficiencies than against the great teams of the competition.
“We’re very keen to prove that we want to be a side that everyone respects immensely. We want teams to think that when they’re playing against us, they’re going to have a very, very tough day.
“We have been building towards that over the last year.
“And the next three or four games in particular is going to show where we are amongst the great teams of the competition, whether we are in that bracket or whether we’re a bit of a way off.”
Port have cleared Jay Schulz (split lip), Chad Wingard (general soreness) to play against the Cats in a match Geelong captain Joel Selwood said presented another challenge for his club.
“We seem to be (playing top sides) weekly at the moment,” Selwood told reporters in Geelong on Tuesday.
“West Coast were up the top, then the Hawks. It’s a challenge … (Port) are a really good side and coached really well.”
When the two sides run onto Adelaide Oval on Sunday punters will find it hard to separate them on recent form.
Port has the edge on disposals (382 to 363), clearances are tight (36-35) as are inside 50s (56-57).
There is barely a gap in contested possessions (145-147), tackles (73-74), hot outs (37-39) and free kicks (16-17).
So what is the likely difference between these two sides?
You have to give Port some home ground advantage, but then they lose a bit on the basis that they have just returned from a trip to WA.
Between them, these two sides have won nine of their 10 games in 2014.
Geelong has beaten Adelaide, Brisbane, Collingwood, West Coast and Hawthorn while Port has the scalps of Carlton, Adelaide, Brisbane and West Coast and let one slip against North Melbourne.
Again, it’s impressive form.
After Sunday, one of these teams will be top of the AFL ladder.
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