Power plot next surge
Dom Cassisi, right, displays his medal after Port Adelaide's 2004 premiership win. Pic: WA News

In Ken Hinkley's first year as Port Adelaide coach, the club did what few thought possible, not only returning to September action but eliminating perennial finalists Collingwood in the first week.

It was a momentous occasion after finishing 14th the previous season, but it's not the game which the Power choose to reflect on when thinking about their 2013 campaign.

Instead, they want to remember the losses to the competition's benchmark sides, particularly a 74-point hiding at the hands of grand finalists Fremantle in round 22, and use the pain to drive them to a new level this season.

"We even talk about it a bit now," veteran Dom Cassisi said.

"That's what we aspire to be.

"The way Freo play as a group and they've all bought into (coach Ross Lyon's) game plan and the way they defend, I know they didn't get the chocolates on grand final day, but they play a really impressive brand of footy.

"It was a great learning curve. Every time we lost last year we learnt so much as a group.

"Every time we played Geelong and we lost we'd play much better footy for the next few weeks, then when we played Freo and lost, our game went to another new level just because we were exposed to a great team and we are a young group.

"They were invaluable experiences, but we hope this year we've bridged the gap even further."

It's this mindset which has regained the Power respect after five consecutive bottom-eight finishes in the five years following the 2007 grand final mauling from Geelong.

Under Hinkley, one of the masterminds behind the Cats' premiership dynasty, they have gone back to basics, favouring hard work and hard-ball gets, with the knowledge that the simple approach is the right one.

Crucial to the new ideology is the responsibility of each player to be accountable for his own actions and be prepared to learn some hard truths when needed.

Cassisi, with Kane Cornes the only two players remaining from the Power's 2004 premiership team, said it was unlike any system he had experienced and the 31-year-old held high hopes it would translate to better results in the coming seasons.

"Everything is marked quite harshly and Ken demands effort and excellence all the time," Cassisi said.

"It's a pretty full-on environ- ment, but all the boys have just relished it.

"We were happy with the inroads we made last year, but we know that we want to be up there for years to come. We don't just want to be in one year of finals and out the next.

"We want sustained success and that's what we're building towards."

The Power have identified two areas in which they need to improve if they are to achieve their goal of consecutive finals appearances this season.

The first is contested ball, an area they were serviceable in last year but badly exposed in against the top sides.

The second, and perhaps more importantly, is their disposal efficiency, which ended the year at 70.5 per cent, the third-worst in the competition.

There have also been improvements made in the way of personnel, with 2010 No.5 draft pick Jared Polec arriving from Brisbane in the off-season alongside Richmond free agent Matt White.

Both have been added to a midfield which already has plenty of upside, and Cassisi said early signs pointed to Polec having a massive first year at the club.

"The games we've played so far, he's probably been our best player," Cassisi said.

"He's an elite finisher with the footy in his hands, he's got a beautiful left foot and his inside work has been really impressive as well.

"We don't want to put too much expectation on him, but at the moment he's helping our side in a big way."

Plenty of critics are still willing to write off Port Adelaide despite the improvements, predicting they will slide out of the top eight in 2014. But after a career of ups and downs, Cassisi is not bothered by questions about the club coming from outside the four walls.

The only question that matters is will the changes give him a shot at one more premiership before he retires?

"It would be nice," he said.

"Obviously that's the ultimate dream, but we'll just take it as it comes for now."

"We were happy with the inroads we made last year, but we know that we want to be up there for years to come."

" *Dom Cassisi *

The West Australian

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