How Power hoodwinked rival to seize draft target
Jason Cripps only had 12 names on the piece of paper in front of him.
Port Adelaide had found themselves in a unique position coming into the 2018 national draft after months of planning had resulted in their goal of having three first-round picks.
You needed a PHD and a whiteboard to understand how Port's list manager had pulled it off but now the final part of the plan had to be executed.
It was ambitious in a number of ways but his recruiting team, led by Geoff Parker, had come up with 12 players they felt were worthy of going in the opening round.
Port had picks 5, 10 and 15 and the decision was made that if the selected 12 were gone by the time of their third selection then they would take advantage of a new AFL rule of live trading on draft night.
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It had already been a busy day for the Port contingent when they settled into their seats in the super boxes at Marvel Stadium.
They'd been forced to launch a misinformation campaign in order to save the "expected" draft order which would ensure a livewire from Bacchus Marsh named Zak Butters was available at their second selection.
The Western Bulldogs had pick No.7 and were all over Bailey Smith, a gun midfielder from the Sandringham Dragons, who had made it known he didn't want to move interstate.
But Port had got wind of a plan for the Dogs to do a deal with the GWS Giants and slide down the draft because they were confident Smith's stance had scared off the interstate clubs.
The Giants already had the pick before Port which they were going to use on Bendigo midfielder Jye Caldwell at No.9 but if they gained another pick inside that then word was it had Butters name on it.
So Port went to work with coach Ken Hinkley getting on the phone to Smith's manager Paul Connors.
It was a simple message: if the Dogs dropped down, then he'd take Smith and back in his club's system to settle the kid in Adelaide.
It was a bold move - Smith wasn't really in their plans - but one they hoped forced the Dogs' hand.
Port had already instigated two separate trades with Fremantle and Brisbane to improve their draft position from No.11 to No.5.
They knew they had to get to the pointy end of the draft with three South Australians in the top five rankings along with the highly rated King twins - Max and Ben - from Melbourne.
Any one of them would do for Cripps but as he looked down at his piece of paper the name of a kid who'd starred with North Adelaide in the SANFL finals kept staring back at him.
PLAN IN MOTION
The first seed was sewn in Chad Wingard's exit interview.
The two-time All-Australian and best-and-fairest winner was told by Hinkley that he needed to improve his attitude around training.
It was a shock to the system for Wingard. He left suddenly feeling unsure about his standing at Alberton Oval.
Port had decided to get on the front foot given Wingard was coming out of contract the following year where he would become a free agent.
If they moved on him now they could get into the early part of what they called a "jackpot" draft in 2018 rather than wait for a compensation pick in 12 months time.
"To get something good you've got to give something good up," was Cripps' philosophy.
Hawthorn coach Alistair Clarkson had previously publicly expressed his love for Wingard so Port happily steered the two together.
They'd already orchestrated a separate plan to get another first-round pick which they pulled the trigger on early in trade week.
Jared Polec and Jasper Pittard were both regulars in the Power team, more than handy foot soldiers but they weren't seen as being a part of Port's next premiership side.
The shake-up was on and the pair were packaged up and sent to North Melbourne in exchange for pick No.11.
Twenty-four hours later pick No.11 was headed to Fremantle in an inspired move by Cripps.
The Dockers needed picks as they were trying to get in Jesse Hogan from Melbourne and Rory Lobb from the Giants.
Port had plenty of second-round picks which were superfluous to requirements so they sent No.11, 23, 30 and 49 to Fremantle in exchange for pick No.6.
Now it was a waiting game.
Hawthorn were taking their time to come up with something acceptable. The asking price was a first-round pick and a quality player for Wingard but who that would be was taking Clarkson a little while to figure out.
Ryan Burton was as shocked as anyone to answer the phone on his overseas holiday and find his coach on the line telling him he was no longer part of Hawthorn's best 22.
Port was more than happy with the scenario. Burton was an Adelaide boy whose partner was SA legend Bruce Abernethy's daughter so returning home was an attractive option.
Twelve months earlier he'd finished runner-up in the Rising Star Award behind Essendon's Andrew McGrath with Port's Sam Powell-Pepper third.
On the final day of trade week the deal was done, Wingard and a future third round to Hawthorn in exchange for Burton, picks 15, 35 and a future fourth round.
But Cripps wasn't done yet.
He was still hell bent on getting into the top five so he orchestrated a trade with Brisbane swapping pick 6, which he'd got from Fremantle six days earlier, for the Lions No.5.
Midfielder Sam Mayes, who wanted to return home to Adelaide, was a part of the deal with Brisbane also getting pick No.35 and a future third round selection.
Port had already lured ruckman Scott Lycett, fresh from a premiership with West Coast, back to Alberton - he'd played juniors there - as a restricted free agent on a lucrative five-year deal.
They'd had some concerns about incumbent ruckman Paddy Ryder's body and youngster Peter Ladhams was still raw.
And Lycett wanted a shot at being the No.1 man given he was sitting behind one of the best in the business, Nic Naitanui.
Another senior list spot had also been allocated to rookie Dan Houston who'd played all 22 games in 2018 and become a fixture in defence, a fact that amused Cripps.
"He is a classic case of drafting a player to play what you think is his best position at AFL level and he hasn't played one game there," Cripps said of the former Camberwell Grammar key forward who'd the Port secured at pick No.45 in rookie draft a couple of years earlier.
LATE DRAFT DRAMA
Dynamic was the buzz word in the Port Adelaide camp.
Their mission statement for the type of player they wanted to take in the next hour was dynamic matchwinners with good character.
Connor Rozee had starred at under-16 level, he was named best player in the national championships to put himself high on every recruiter's draft board.
But throughout the national under-18 championships he'd been thrown around a bit in the SA team, playing forward and midfield.
There were some brilliant moments but the domination of a couple of years earlier wasn't there which threw up the theory that he may now be sliding out closer to 10 in the draft.
That theory was short-lived as the SANFL finals series kicked into gear.
The 18-year-old played across half-back for North Adelaide, which upset Norwood in the Grand Final.
It was Rozee's 12th senior game and his spring-heeled athleticism had recruiters again salivating.
"He got elevated again just off the back of playing SANFL seniors and the finals series he had," Cripps said.
"He was very good off half-back but you could see he could play through the midfield down the track."
The Hinkley phone call had worked.
There was no late shuffle at the top with Sam Walsh going to Carlton at No.1 and SA pair Jack Lukosius and Izak Rankine both going to Gold Coast as expected next.
St Kilda were always going to take Max King at No.4 which left Port free to take Rozee as planned with their first selection.
The next priority was the Western Jets forward Zak Butters who'd won the Port recruiting team over with a memorable house visit.
He'd injured his shoulder in the pre-season but had put off having surgery until after the national championships which gave an insight into what made him tick.
"To be able to play like he did with the shoulder, knowing he had that injury, you have to be mentally tough to do that," Cripps said.
"His vision and awareness to see things was something not many kids have and that ability to make the right decision and then execute. He had real class."
As the Port contingent drove down the driveway of the Butters' property in Bacchus Marsh they were struck by the mini-oval with goal posts which had been built next to the house.
Butters explained how he would spend all day and night kicking the football on the oval with his passion and love of the game overwhelming.
The kid was a footy addict and when Cripps left he looked back through the front window of the house and smiled at what he saw.
"I remember driving out and we looked back through the window and here he was, he still had his arm in a sling from the operation at this stage and he was throwing the footy up with his other hand while he was sitting on the couch," Cripps said.
"It was very clear his passion for the game and the strong drive and work ethic he had to get better."
There had been a couple of academy bids which meant the Butters pick shifted out to No.12. but now things got very interesting.
Cripps' list was quickly getting very thin.
The infamous 12 were quickly getting crossed off and as the draft arrived at Fremantle who had the pick before Port which was now 17, there were fingers and toes being crossed in the Port box.
The only remaining name on the list was a country Victorian kid named Xavier Duursma.
He was an elite runner, courageous, a good size at 186cm who could play wing or half-back.
But the problem was the intel was telling them that Fremantle were also interested in him and had certainly spent time interviewing and researching the Gippsland Power gun.
Cripps' phone was running hot. The word was out that Port were thinking of trading out pick 18 and at least three clubs had shown interest in doing a deal.
There were notes being scribbled everywhere with potential outcomes before everything went quiet as notification of the Dockers selection arrived on the screen.
"Sam Sturt, Dandenong Stingrays"
The Port Adelaide box erupted. They couldn't contain themselves with cheers and high fives all around, the ruckus reverberating throughout Marvel Stadium.
Cripps' phone beeped again. It was a text from his Richmond mates next door with some lighthearted advice: "Shut the f--- up will you."
Port were in no mood to be quiet because they'd just made the biggest statement of the 2018 draft.
Two years later and they're still making noise.
Rozee, Butters and Duursma have exceeded all expectations, playing crucial roles in Port Adelaide's top four resurrection with the rest of the competition fully aware things are going to get even louder at Alberton in years to come.
Originally published as How Power hoodwinked rival to seize draft target