Start crucial to Friday night’s blockbuster Swans-Crows clash

Justin Mitchell Roar Rookie

By , Justin Mitchell is a Roar Rookie

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    Two of the AFL’s biggest and best teams will fight on Friday night for the heavyweight title in what’s shaping as a grand final preview for the ages. The best attack against the best defence – a familiar trend for Swans fans over the last five years.

    In the left corner, wearing red and white trunks, weighing in at two premierships, five grand finals and countless finals since 2005, the Sydney Swans.

    In the right corner, the challenger wearing yellow, red and black trunks, weighing in at three preliminary finals since 2005, the Adelaide Crows.

    The fighters size each other up, move out to their corners and get ready to go to war, with the start of the fight crucial in determining the victor. They move smoothly but cautiously towards one other, jabbing and weaving, waiting to land the crucial blow.

    Such is the importance of the first half for the Swans that since the 2013 season – a time when Adelaide and Port Adelaide were still battling it out with Football South Australia over their licences and Football Park deal – they have led by an average of 33 points at the main break when they win.

    The closest the Crows have come to matching the Swans at half time was Round 3 in 2014, when they trailed by 19 at the long break – but they still went on to lose by 63 points.

    Last year’s semi-final is another example of the Swans killing the Crows with a fast start, smashing them in the first quarter to lead 45-20. By half time it was all over, the Swans up by 37.

    The Crows came back in the second half and especially in the third quarter to trim the margin back to four goals, but it was too little too late. The Swans once again surged in the last quarter and won convincingly.

    The Swans certainly struggled to score fluently in the first half of the games in the early to middle part of the season. More recently, though, the Swans’ fast starts appear to be back. Sydney belted the Cats and the Dockers off the park in the respective opening stanzas, leaving them little to no chance of a result, especially last weekend against Fremantle.

    Against the Cats it was hardly a case of their opponents failing to turn up, with Geelong dominating the ball in the opening quarter and especially in the first five minutes. The Swans, on the other hand, took efficiency to an entirely new level, scoring 32 points with little more than 20 possessions, blowing away the match in the space of ten minutes.

    Such was the surge that it obliterated the Cats’ confidence, with their opening two goals of the match coming from hack kicks that fortuitously fell into the hands of their forwards. Fremantle, on the other hand, had their opportunities, but the pressure of the Swans midfield and defence forced their entries wide and shallow and ultimately into congestion.

    Despite their horror start to the season, the Swans have won 12 of 20 first quarters and, more ominously, four of their past five. Over the course of the season they average 22 points in the first quarter, but in the last two games they’ve averaged 48.5 points.

    The Crows haven’t been without their own chances in that same period, winning just nine of 20 first quarters, going scoreless once and scoring seven or more goals on three occasions. Their most recent five games include four wins and a draw, averaging 27.4 points in the first quarter and 53 points for the first half.

    But the Crows do have issues in the first quarters of their matches. They’ve kicked two or fewer goals on seven occasions, and in the last five matches they scored 15 points or less on two occasions. Meanwhile the Swans have averaged 33 points in their first quarters.

    (Image: Photo by James Elsby/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    Both sides have certainly put their scoring shoes on, with the Swans averaging 40 more points than their opponents in the last five matches and the Crows averaging 38, but more impressive is that since Round 7 the Swans have scored just 19 fewer points – 1420 to 1401 – and conceded 904 points to Adelaide’s 1054.

    This really is a battle of the heavyweights, with the odds and betting in favour of the Crows despite the Swans being the form team of the competition with an average of 155 since Round 7 compared to Adelaide’s 135, winning 12 matches compared to nine.

    Sydney hold no fear at the thought of travelling to Adelaide Oval having lost just once in four visits. Their only loss was against Adelaide last year, falling short by ten points in seesawing thriller, a late Eddie Betts goal clinching the match.

    In last year’s semi-final the Swans kicked seven goals in the opening 25 minutes, effectively killing the contest, but beyond that a trend emerges, starting in 2013. In the four games that Sydney have won they’ve averaged a whopping 37 points in the first quarter.

    Regardless how strong the Crows are, they’re going to find it incredibly difficult to come back into the match if they’re trailing by five goals at the first change again.

    Adelaide haven’t lost a game when they’ve scored 100 or more points this season, but they’ve failed to stop the Swans scoring fewer than 100 points in their last five encounters, averaging almost 120 points per game. The Crows in the same period average just 76 points.

    Success for the Crows rests on the shoulders of captain Taylor Walker and midfield maestro Rory Sloane, both of whom are under injury clouds. Should they fail to play, the odds firmly swing in favour of the Swans, and another belting could be on the cards.

    The Swans, who’ve been on fire recently despite missing their captain and midfield bull, are set to regain Kennedy at the expense of Nic Newman.

    This is the heavyweight showdown we’ve waited for all season: the best attacking team against the best defensive team, both overflowing with talent, no doubt ready to throw down another classic.

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