There’s no footy. Richo and Browny are resorting to calling Xbox simulations of AFL fixtures. And Brian Taylor’s commentating on traffic. What better time to seek out some off-kilter and slightly unhinged reasons to watch each club in 2020?
Will a new coach herald the upward trajectory of the Adelaide Crows?
Last year: 7-15, 14th
Best and fairest: Scott Thompson
Leading goal kicker: Taylor Walker (32)
Key additions: Lewis Johnston (Sydney), Tom Lynch (St Kilda)
Key losses: Phil Davis, Jack Gunston, Ivan Maric
Last year Adelaide missed the finals for the second year in succession, winning just seven matches for the season and finishing in 14th position – their lowest since joining the AFL.
After a string of poor performances in 2011, there was a strongly held belief that senior coach Neil Craig had taken the side as far as he was capable. Following a heavy loss to St Kilda in round 18, Craig stood down as coach and was replaced by former captain Mark Bickley for the remainder of the season.
Despite leading the club to five successive finals appearances early in his coaching tenure at Adelaide, Craig was heavily criticised for not having a Plan B. Craig’s apparent inability to change tactics when things weren’t going well was thought to be one of the major contributing factors to the Crows’ poor form in the preceding two years.
Given so much of the blame was directed at Craig, just how the Adelaide side performs this season will be fascinating and is difficult to predict.
The new man at the coaching helm is Brenton Sanderson, and he takes over a list full of talented players who should be nearing their peak performance in the AFL over the next couple of years.
Patrick Dangerfield is quickly becoming a star of the competition with his ability to both win the hard ball and damage the opposition with his crowd-pleasing runs downfield. In the past Dangerfield has played both in the forward line and midfield, but we can expect to see him consolidate his game in the midfield over the coming years.
In a season with more bad news than good for the Crows, the emergence of midfielder Rory Sloane proved a ray of sunshine in 2011. Sloane’s courageous attack on the ball will appeal to Sanderson, and he has been rewarded with inclusion in the club’s five-man leadership group despite having played less than 50 games.
Kurt Tippett is believed to be the highest-paid player in the City of Churches, but has failed to live up to his price tag. Tippett has been played in both the forward line and the ruck the past two years, and has not looked truly comfortable in either.
By contrast, fellow young gun Taylor Walker appears a much more natural forward. Walker lead the club’s goal-kicking last season despite playing just 13 games.
The forward pairing of Walker and Tippett has at times been prickly, but if Sanderson can get them working in tandem they loom as the twin forward options around which Adelaide can base their attack.
Throw a fit Jason Porplyzia into the mix, and the forward line starts to look threatening on paper at least.
Ruckman Sam Jacobs cemented his spot as the number one big man in the side last year, but will now need to focus his attention on joining the elite ruckmen in the AFL to give the Crows a decisive midfield advantage.
Expect the Crows to play a much more physical brand of football under Sanderson, who spent the previous four years as an assistant coach at the hugely successful Geelong side. The big bodies of the Geelong players and the emphasis on being strong over the ball were hallmarks of the Cats’ brand of football, and Sanderson will look to inject these attributes into the Crows outfit he takes over.
In fact, so much emphasis has been placed on beefing up the Crows players over the pre-season that it is believed the side had to re-order their club jumpers after the first set proved too small.
The Crows will be without key defender Phil Davis this year after his defection to the GWS Giants. The loss of Davis is a doubly bitter pill to swallow for the Crows, having lost fellow key defender Nathan Bock to the Gold Coast the previous year.
The Crows chances of making the finals this year are greatly aided by what looks a soft draw. The Crows play the Gold Coast Suns, GWS Giants and cross-town rivals Port Adelaide twice each, all teams expected to finish at the base of the ladder. The Crows will fancy their chances of securing six wins from these clashes alone, which will get them halfway to the finals.
There is no doubt that this side has plenty of potential, but whether this promise can be turned into sustained good performances will be the key determinant of the Crows fortunes in 2012.
m0nty’s Fantasy Picks
FanFooty.com.au‘s Paul Montgomery gives us his AFL fantasy picks for each team for 2012, including a keeper (the one you must have), cash cow (good prospects for healthy trading), and fools gold (avoid at all costs).
Keeper: It can be said that Scott Thompson had a soft draw last year, but it’s even softer this year so he’s every chance to challenge again for top six midfield scorers.
Cash cow: One season for Norwood in the SANFL was all it took for Adelaide to want to trade with GWS for rebounding halfback Luke Brown. While 19 is not old enough to be considered mature-aged, that year of playing amongst men will help him compete for a Round 1 spot for the Crows with the likes of Brad Symes and Brodie Smith.
Fool’s gold: Jason Porplyzia is in a lot of fantasy sides right now. Plantar fasciitis seems to be catching down at West Lakes, as both Chris Knights and Ben Rutten have suffered from it after the Porpoise went down early last season. He’s overpriced for the risk you’d be taking.
Adelaide photo gallery
First five fixtures
Round 1 vs Gold Coast, Metricon
Round 2 vs Western Bulldogs, AAMI
Round 3 vs Hawthorn, MCG
Round 4 vs GWS Giants, AAMI
Round 5 vs Port Adelaide, AAMI
Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelFilosi