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He may have only played four AFL games but Dan Houston has already shown he has the potential to be a mainstay in the Port Adelaide defensive unit for 2017 and beyond. It has been a remarkable rise for the 19 year old who has only recently made the switch from the forward line to defence.
While much of the praise from the wider football community this year has been directed towards another youngster at Alberton in Sam Powell-Pepper the cool and calm performances from Dan Houston should be acknowledged.
The arrival to Alberton
Originally drafted as a forward with pick 45 in the 2016 Rookie Draft there was not a high level of fanfare when the Victorian arrived. There generally isn’t a lot of excitement for rookie picks who were overlooked in the main draft. But there were plenty of things on Dan Houston’s CV that would have convinced the Power he was worth a punt.
Houston certainly showed promise at the Oakleigh Chargers at under 18 level. He kicked three goals in the 2014 TAC Cup Grand Final and was co-captain in 2015. He was also a Victorian Metro under 18 representative and one of his best performances came in a four goal game against South Australia.
While Houston spent all of last season at SANFL level very few would have predicted his rapid rise to AFL regular in 2017.
The impressive JLT series
The new defender got his opportunity in the pre-season and really has not looked back since. As most of his teammates struggled to kick the ball remotely near a teammate during the JLT series it was a nice change to see the polished and assured decision making from one of the least experienced on the field in Dan Houston.
Ken Hinkley was full of praise for the youngster who was rightly rewarded with an upgrade to the main list on the eve of round one. “Dan shows what can be achieved from a good pre-season. His poise and composure down there has stood out, as has his leadership. He's a kid who leads in what he does.”
Leading the way
Houston has certainly looked more like a seasoned AFL player than nervous rookie in the opening rounds since his round one debut. Not only with his ability to defend strongly but he has played an important rebounding role across half-back and is currently averaging 16.5 disposals and 7.5 marks per game.
There was a period in the second quarter against Adelaide in round three that stands out. The Port Adelaide defence was severely under the pump in the second quarter and struggling to clear the ball with the Crows clearly dominating.
While many Power players under pressure simply blasted the ball onto the boot and hoped for the best the 19 year old in only his third AFL game was one of the few who tried to rationally work his way through the onslaught. His ability to remain calm, assess options and try to take the best option is a trait many players do not possess.
It might not have always worked but Ken Hinkley would have been delighted with the maturity the 19 year old showed in a high intensity contest.
Time to start the contract negotiations
Learning from previous mistakes is an important lesson and Port Adelaide have been taught some hard list management lessons in recent times by offering long-term deals to Hamish Hartlett and the diabolical Matthew Lobbe contract.
Keith Thomas has put on record the Power will not rush into any decisions on offering new deals but Dan Houston out of contract at the end of 2017 is one that Port should be looking to tie down with a new deal sooner rather than later.