Rockliff’s warning to his knockers: ‘Watch me’
Tom Rockliff is on a mission. He has not troubled the AFL statisticians 40 or more times in a premiership match since June 4, 2016.
The revived Port Adelaide midfielder's 41 against North Melbourne in the pre-season closer at Alberton Oval on Saturday marked Rockliff's busiest day on any AFL field since his 48 for Brisbane against Carlton.
And there is no great secret to how Rockliff has restored his powers to justify Port Adelaide's decision at the end of 2017 to claim the Lions free agent - a full pre-season.
Rockliff arrived at Alberton in October 2017 after shoulder surgery and limped out an interrupted pre-season with leg injuries.
"It's huge," Rockliff told The Advertiser of the benefit of a full work-out in the summer at the Power.
"Especially when you are older," added the 29-year-old, "and trying to keep up with the young fellas.
"If you can get the work in it becomes really important."
Rockliff and former Port Adelaide captain Travis Boak are the major winners from the pre-season at Alberton where coach Ken Hinkley wants to run deeper midfield rotations. Rockliff is physically sounder; Boak is mentally refreshed without the burden of captaincy.
"I've felt I've always had that (ability to put a mark on the game) in me (since coming to Port Adelaide)," Rockliff said. "Obviously, I've not been able to showcase it in Port Adelaide colours.
"So to get the freedom back - and play as if I was running on top of the ground - I covered the ground really well. Also, being in this system for 12 months, my team-mates know how I play ... it all gives me great confidence for the season."
Rockliff starts his second season at Alberton - after playing 18 AFL games for the Power - still feeling a need to repay Port Adelaide for its faith. This increases his motivation for this year - not he was short of inspiration to prove people wrong.
"There are a lot of knockers out there," Rockliff said. "There are a lot of people who will tell you that you can't do things. I've just said, 'Watch me this year'.
"I'll stick with that motto.
"It's been there all pre-season. I've done everything right to set myself up to have a good season - and I can't wait for Round 1 now (against Melbourne at the MCG on Saturday week)."
Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley noted 2018 was "tough" for Rockliff, but the signs for this season are a vast contrast.
"Rockliff is a serious player,' Hinkley said. "He is the first to say last season was tough for him; it was interrupted (by injury) all the way through.
"We hope 'Rock' can deliver that from (from the Kangaroos trial) consistently throughout the season. History would suggest he can. And Travis Boak as well - he has been in good form."
Port Adelaide's midfield depth is significantly stronger this year with the recruiting of another free agent - West Coast premiership ruckman Scott Lycett. The first hit on that depth was in the SANFL trials at Noarlunga on Friday night when untried midfielder Jake Patmore suffered damage to the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee.
Patmore, 20, will be sidelined for all of this season.