How Power and Lions built major AFL rivalry
State of Origin is dead, in an AFL context. And a weekend of SA v Queensland contests only reaffirms club football does not in any way resemble patriotic battle along state lines.
Adelaide v Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium on Saturday evening has just as much of SA in the south-east Queensland club team that does not sing to a chorus line of "pride of South Australia".
The Suns have two proud South Australians (Stuart Dew and Josh Francou) as their senior coaching duo. They have 11 South Australians in their playing squad, one short of the 12 at the Crows.
Port Adelaide v Brisbane at Adelaide Oval on Sunday evening is symbolic of all that the AFL stood for in the 1990s as State football was eroded and overwhelmed by an expanding (and commercial) national competition.
An empire was built in Brisbane as the AFL in 1996 cleared away two problems (the financial collapse of VFL foundation club Fitzroy and the uncertainty of the 1987 expansion "Bad News" Bears). The takeover of the SA market was completed by taking Port Adelaide's focus out of the SANFL to fulfil its long-standing national ambitions from 1997.
State-of-Origin was buried two years later, on its 20th anniversary, at the MCG. The fans were building State pride into club games. The now-professional players were putting their pay cheque from their clubs before honour for their state.
Gone was the SA-Big V rivalry manifesting once a year, traditionally on a Tuesday night at Football Park. The "bragging rights" landscape became about Showdowns … and a rivalry between the Power and Lions that in 2004 gave the AFL its first grand final with no Victorian-based team at the MCG.
Crows v Suns has been a whitewash with Adelaide remaining the only AFL team to never lose to Gold Coast. But Power v Lions stands up as a meaningful rivalry that can match the Showdown - and might be on the threshold of regenerating to rekindle the top-of-the-table duels of 2001-2004 when the two clubs cleaned up four AFL premierships.
From 36 Power-Lions matches, the ledger is 18-16 in Port Adelaide's favour with two draws from the second and third encounters (the Showdown has not delivered a tie).
In contrast to the first chapter of the Power-Lions rivalry (1997-2004), the current duel is "pure football" rather than personality driven. From 1999 it was Mark Williams v Leigh
Matthews as coaches - living off the unease of Matthew, as Collingwood coach, sacking Williams as the Magpies captain and sending him to Brisbane at the end of 1986 for the start-up Bears.
And it just kept building with each off-field flare up as Williams was accused of alerting the AFL to the Lions' saline-drip hits during matches; and Brisbane was always blamed for Port Adelaide never having full access to the Gabba for pre-game training runs.
Such unease did quickly build up to the Round 22 battle for the 2002 AFL minor premiership with a match at Football Park described in the commentary by the late Clinton Grybas as "the greatest game that was not a grand final".
Settled by six points after Power midfielder Roger James kicked the winning goal (and the Power's only goal of the last term in which the Lions cleared a 28-point deficit), this match announced Chad Cornes as a key defender as he held Brisbane power forward Jonathon Brown to one goal.
The past decade - much like the last five years of Origin - has not delivered such bite in Power-Lions games. At best today in the agitation field, there is speedy Lions forward Charlie Cameron having his pulse rise when he hears the Port Adelaide "Never Tear Us Apart" anthem before home matches.
For off-field drama, there was the midnight meeting Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley called at the team hotel in May 2015 after a Sunday twilight game at the Gabba went sour by 37 points for the Power.
Not even Port Adelaide's taking of a former Lions coach (Michael Voss) and captain (Tom Rockliff) or an early draftee (Jared Polec, now at North Melbourne) has sparked tension between the clubs.
But football has a way of building sub-plots from on-field rivalries, even if it now all about club v club rather than mate v mate in Origin.
POWER v LIONS
Brisbane's merger with Fitzroy to form the new Lions at the end of 1996 created space for Port Adelaide to enter the AFL (after a one-year delay) in 1997. Their rivalry created one of the great duels for AFL flags at the start of the 21st century - and is poised to step up again.
PLAYED: 36 times
Port Adelaide 18 wins, Brisbane 16, two draws
LONGEST WINNING RUNS - Port Adelaide five (2015-18); Brisbane four (2009-12).
GREATEST PERIOD - 2001 to 2004 AFL grand final, 10 games (Power 4, Lions 6); four flags (Power 1, Lions 3); one pre-season grand final, wom by Port Adelaide in 2001.
GREATEST GAME - Round 22, 2002 at Football Park: Port Adelaide 13.12 (90) d Brisbane 13.6 (84). "Greatest game that was not a grand final" - Clynton Grybas.