Friday’s clash of the birds could be this year’s grand final preview

mastermind5991 Roar Guru

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    A sell-out crowd of more than 50,000 is expected to pack into the Adelaide Oval this Friday night to watch the two form sides of the competition, the Adelaide Crows and Sydney Swans, duke it out in what shapes as a potential grand final preview.

    Rarely do two non-Victorian teams get scheduled on a Friday night during the premiership season, but that’s exactly what the case will be when the Crows and Swans lock horns for the first time since last year’s semi-final.

    In that match at the SCG, the Swans taught the Crows a brutal lesson about finals football, winning by 36 points on the back of a strong performance by their midfielders.

    Not only did it add to the Crows’ pain of recent finals failures, it proved they still had a long way to go if they were to challenge for a third flag and first since 1998.

    But the Crows have surely used last year’s finals capitulation as motivation to go further in 2017, having spent the entire season in either first or second place, and kicking at least 100 points in 16 of their 20 matches.

    Their attack is deadly to the point they have kicked over 300 points and 45 goals more than the next best team, the Geelong Cats.

    That said, on each of the four times the Crows failed to crack the ton, they lost (to North Melbourne, Melbourne, the Geelong Cats and Hawthorn).

    This Friday night, Don Pyke’s men come up against the best defensive side in the competition, the Swans having conceded 38 points fewer than the next best side, Richmond. What’s more, Sydney’s percentage of 123.7 per cent is second to the Crows’ 142.1 per cent.

    The Crows may also have to face the Swans without their two most influential leaders, Taylor Walker and Rory Sloane, after both players picked up injuries in the 43-point win over Essendon last week. Losing Walker or Sloane would come as a huge blow against a side that has gathered steam in recent months, winning 12 of their last 14 matches after starting the season with six straight losses.

    That poor start led many to believe that Sydney’s time at the top was coming to an end. However, aided by the return of several key players, the Swans have risen from bottom of the ladder to fifth, with a chance to climb into the top four by the end of Round 23.

    They were barely made to sweat against a dismal Fremantle side at the SCG last Saturday afternoon, winning by 104 points, Lance Franklin kicking all four of his goals before halftime.

    What’s more, they did it without captain Josh Kennedy, who also missed the just-as-impressive win over Geelong at Simonds Stadium in Round 20, but is expected back this week.

    While the Crows can all but wrap up the minor premiership with a victory, they will have to overcome somewthing of a hoodoo to do so.

    Adealaide have lost five of their last six matches against the Swans, their only win in that period coming in Round 4 last year, when Eddie Betts kicked the match-winning goal with 30 seconds remaining.

    Betts’ record against the Swans since switching from Carlton at the end of 2013 is also surprisingly poor, kicking just seven goals –
    with six of them coming from last year’s two matches.

    Much of that can be attributed to the impressive form of Nick Smith, who has become the backbone of the Swans’ defence, along with Dane Rampe and Heath Grundy.

    A win for Sydney would see them move into the top four, and there’s the strong chance they could stay there by Sunday night, given Port Adelaide and Richmond both face tricky away assignments, against the Western Bulldogs and Fremantle respectively.

    The Swans then face Carlton in the final round before they embark on their eighth consecutive finals campaign.

    But first things first.

    While the Crows have been the best team for the majority of the season, when you take away the first six rounds, the Swans have been more impressive, winning more matches than any other side and also putting together the longest winning streak (seven matches, between rounds 12-18 inclusive).

    Whoever wins this match just might assume the mantle of premiership favourites given we are so close to what promises to be another exciting September.

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