Five years after they were teammates at the Gold Coast, Trent McKenzie and Charlie Dixon are now the bookends of ladder leader Port Adelaide’s side and both set to sign new multi-year deals as they head towards finals.
Dixon is expected to decline interest from rival clubs to remain at Alberton while McKenzie is set to be rewarded for his breakout season with longer-term security, having signed three consecutive one-year deals since joining the Power in 2018.
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The 28-year-old is arguably the best story of Port Adelaide’s season after managing just one game in each of the past two years and admitting he considered having a crack as an NFL punter last summer.
But this year when the departure of Dougal Howard opened up a spot in Port Adelaide’s backline, McKenzie grabbed it and has been nothing short of a revelation playing 12 of a possible 14 games.
His kicking efficiency is 81.6 per cent – above average of all key defenders in the competition – he leads the club in intercept marks and is considered above average by Champion Data for disposals, metres gained and marks across the league.
It’s a far cry from the defender who walked slow laps around Noosa Oval with his head down and arm in a sling as he recovered from shoulder surgery at the end of 2018.
“I think everyone at our footy club is thrilled for Trent because he’s had to do it hard for a couple of years to get into the team,” coach Ken Hinkley said.
“It was all around reward for what he’d done and his performance and now he looks a really solid part of our back seven. I just hope he can continue to do that for another six or eight weeks.
“Trent’s always shown from his young days before he was injured he was a strong, fierce competitor, he’s got some weapons – his kick is one and his speed another – and his strength now, he’s a matured man and he just wins physical battles.
“There was always enough talent in Trent McKenzie’s football, it was just getting an opportunity to show it.”
McKenzie’s agent James Pitcher confirmed he had been in talks with Port Adelaide’s list manager Jason Cripps and was confident the defender would remain at Alberton next year.
While Pitcher said there was no expectation of a multi-year deal, News Corp understands McKenzie has shown enough to secure one and it will be completed in coming weeks.
McKenzie was one of Gold Coast’s inaugural signings as a 17-year-old and played 106 games in seven years before his body began to let him down and he was delisted at the end of 2017.
His former coach Guy McKenna had seen enough to know he was a quality player but more importantly so had his assistant at the time – Ken Hinkley.
“He was never a defender in his early days, we played him on the wing and it was only through necessity we had to send him back at Gold Coast,” McKenna said this week.
“We played North Melbourne on a wet night at Metricon and Trent sat behind the ball by himself and he was like a goal-keeper, and I reckon Kenny was around to witness that as well.
“He’s a good mark for his size, plays tall, and gets the free ball behind the play, and off one step he can really hurt a modern-day zone.”
McKenna said McKenzie was one of his favourites at Gold Coast and he’s thrilled to see him kicking on at Port Adelaide.
“I’d seen his older brother at Williamstown and he was as hard as a cat’s head and all of a sudden Trent emerged on our radar as a 17-year-old,” McKenna said.
“He was playing in the VFL as a teenager against men and fearless and hard, and I don’t think he gets enough kudos for that.
“He’s physically hard because he puts his body on the line but he’s mentally hard because he keeps at it and because of his laconic nature I don’t think people give him enough credit for that.
“Port gave him a lifeline but there would have been an adjustment of going to a new state and finding his feet, and now he’s over his injuries he has a role clearly defined thanks to Kenny and he’s up and running. We all need a bit of confidence and belief from a coach and he’s got that.”
Liam Pickering from McKenzie’s management group said Hinkley was crucial to McKenzie’s revival.
“He’s got the best out of him and Charlie (Dixon) because he has a great relationship with his players,” Pickering said.
“He is a story of perseverance and faith from his coach because Kenny has been his biggest fan and he’s getting some rewards now.
“Trent just couldn’t get on the park towards the end at Gold Coast, he was stuck on 99 games for ages and at one stage I said ‘are you going to play your 100th?’
“He’s always been highly rated by other clubs and Port to their credit they gave him a chance because he hadn’t played for two years.
“I’m not sure how close he came (to getting cut by Port) but they picked him towards the back end of last year, he played some good SANFL footy, came in and played well in the AFL, got him an extension for this year and he hasn’t put a foot wrong.
“I’m not surprised by what he’s done, I’ve always rated him, he just needed a run at it.”
Fellow Power defender Hamish Hartlett said McKenzie had become “incredibly reliable” for the team.
“He’s strong in the contest, marks the footy when he gets a good look at it and has a beautiful left-foot kick which helps us,” Hartlett said.
“He played some really good footy in the SANFL last year and didn’t get an opportunity until late in the season but he’s capitalised on that.
“I’m not really surprised by what he’s done this year, he didn’t have a great run in terms of injuries but once he got consistent training and games under his belt, we could see he’s a really strong player for us so I’m happy his opportunity has come and he’s playing great footy.”
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