WHILE Port Adelaide has been waging an off-field battle against an outbreak of viral meningitis, the club is still trying to diagnose the 'virus' that has debilitated it on the field.
It was supposed to be the Cinderella story that ended with the Power attending the ball - well, the AFL Grand Final anyway.
But the clock struck midnight five weeks ago and coach Ken Hinkley has been left standing with a bunch of footy boots that don't match ... so to speak.
In the midst of a fairytale rise to power, the battlers sat top of the table after 12 rounds, eight points clear of league heavyweights Hawthorn, Geelong and Sydney.
It appeared the only thing capable of stopping the Power's surge was some Lance Franklin magic, the superstar forward kicking Sydney's last five goals to ensure his Swans held off the then ladder-leader by four points at the SCG in round 13.
But Port's fall from grace has been startling, it beginning two weeks later when Adelaide (in the role of evil step sister) trounced it at the Adelaide Oval.
It was the first of four defeats the Power has suffered in the past five rounds, with its only success a three-point win over a visiting Melbourne.
The intensity delivered by the team renowned for its incredible fitness has dropped, though Hinkley was adamant yesterday suspicions his playing group had been overtrained was "a whole big myth".
Maybe it has just come down to opposition teams having worked out how to blunt the attack once so potent it rivalled Hawthorn's.
After averaging 111 'points for' in its first 13 games, the Power's output has dipped to just 76 per game over its next five - against teams sitting outside the top eight.
Port poster boy Chad Wingard has booted three goals in the past six games after slotting 23 in his first 11, one-time All-Australian contender Robbie Gray six in his last seven after 21 in his first 11, Angus Monfries one in his past four after 12 in his first seven, and Justin Westhoff three in his past five.
With a two-game buffer on the chasing pack, even if the fifth-placed Power manages to lose its last four games - a distinct possibility - it should still make finals, but a top-four finish certainly looks out of the equation, and maybe even hosting duties in week one of the finals.
With teams such as Port falling off the pace and others making late runs, the jostling for a position in the final eight looks set to go right down to the wire.
The battle for a top-two finish alongside Sydney could hinge on the Hawks-Cats blockbuster in round 22, while spots in the bottom half of the eight could come down to that last Sunday in August when Gold Coast hosts West Coast.
HAWTHORN (56pts, 141.1%): Melbourne (h), Fremantle (a), Geelong (h), Collingwood (a).Projected finish: 3rd (17-5) SYDNEY (56pts, 138.8%):Port Adelaide (a), St Kilda (h), Bulldogs (a), Richmond (h).Projected finish: 1st (18-4) GEELONG (56pts, 113.7%):Fremantle (h), Carlton (a), Hawthorn (a), Brisbane (h).Projected finish: 2nd (18-4) FREMANTLE (52pts, 131.5%):Geelong (a), Hawthorn (h), Brisbane (a), Port Adelaide (h).Projected finish: 4th (15-7) PORT POWER (48pts, 130.2%)Sydney (h), Gold Coast (a), Carlton (h), Fremantle (a).Projected finish 6th (13-9) NORTH (40pts, 109.3%)GWS (a), Bulldogs (h), Adelaide (h), Melbourne (h).Projected finish 5th (14-8) ESSENDON (40pts, 107.7%)Richmond (a), West Coast (h), Gold Coast (h), Carlton (a)Projected finish: 7th (13-9) COLLINGWOOD (40pts, 105.1%)West Coast (a), Brisbane (h), GWS (a), Hawthorn (a).Projected finish: 9th (12-10) GOLD COAST (40pts, 99.4%)Carlton (a), Port Adelaide (h), Essendon (a), West Coast (h).Projected finish: 10th (12-10) ADELAIDE (36pts, 106.3%)Brisbane (a), Richmond (h), North (a), St Kilda (h)Projected finish: 8th (12-10) WEST COAST (32pts, 108.2%)Collingwood (h), Essendon (a), Melbourne (h), Gold Coast (a).Projected finish: 11th (11-11) RICHMOND (32pts, 103.1%)Essendon (h), Sydney (a), St Kilda (h), Adelaide (a).Projected finish: 12th (9-13)
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