Adelaide Crows vs GWS Giants: AFL Finals Forecast

Ryan Buckland Columnist

By Ryan Buckland, Ryan Buckland is a Roar Expert

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    So it begins. The current 1-2 in most premiership betting markets get a most anticipated finals series underway, in what is the duo’s first game since Round 1.

    The winner wins a week off and a home preliminary final. Although, that doesn’t matter anymore according to some pundits. Last week’s break calls into question the ongoing integrity of AFL finals series. Yes, the pre-finals bye alters the momentum of the season as a whole, but to say it eliminates the advantage of finishing in the top four is a gross miscalculation.

    More AFL Finals
    » Expert tips and predictions
    » Adelaide vs GWS preview
    » Crystal Ball predictions from the team

    Tonight’s victor will host a preliminary final at its home ground, against a team who would have had the pleasure of travelling for at least two weeks in a row – if not three. Indeed, many of the media members questioning the integrity of premierships or finals games are also those who subscribe to the vague ‘noise of affirmation’ free-kick theory. Pick a plot line, guys.

    Finishing in the top four is still important, and the next three weeks will prove it. With that off my chest, let’s get to the forecast.

    Adelaide and GWS played each other once in season 2017, and it was in their respective first games of the season. The Crows shredded the plucky Giants at home, nullifying their stoppage work and generating repeat entry after repeat entry. A 65-47 inside 50 count was ultimately too great to overcome, and Adelaide won by 56 points.

    It was a 70-point turnaround from quarter time to the final siren, Adelaide’s margin peaking at 56 with the final score of the game. Where the Giants were able to score with their outside run and carry in the first quarter, the Crows were able to shut it down and win the territory game thereafter.

    For all the talk of Adelaide being a razzle-dazzle scoring machine – and they are – they apply more pressure than any team left in the race. Adelaide’s tackle rate in 2017 is 73.5 per 50 minutes (ranked number one, against an average of 68.2), while opponents take just 70 uncontested marks against them per game (the fewest in the league). This in turn creates turnovers, and scoring opportunities.

    In the pre-season I was worried the Crows’ game was a bit like a house of cards – take away the ball and they’ve got nothing. 2017 has proven this to be mostly false, albeit when Adelaide was touched up (in Round 7 and Round 8) they lost both the disposal count and time in possession count by reasonable margins. Their opponents – North Melbourne and Melbourne – recorded very high tackle rates (78.0 and 84.4, respectively).

    Is that this game in a nutshell? Not quite.

    Where Adelaide are the game’s leading tacklers, the Giants are the leaders at evading the capture of their opponents. GWS’ average opponent tackle rate – ie the number of tackles their opponents lay per 50 minutes of possession – is 17th at 61.9 per game. For the Giants, that’s probably as much to do with their open space style of play as an ability to evade pressure, but still.

    So, it’s the great tackler versus the great tackle evader. GWS’ challenge to the Crows: catch us if you can. Adelaide’s challenge to the Giants: match us at the coalface.

    This brings GWS’ selections and non-selections into sharp focus. Small forward Devon Smith will certainly miss with knee soreness, while Steve Johnson has been omitted from the team that lost against Geelong. It means Matt De Boer comes into the team, helping with the Giants’ forward half pressure without losing too much of the offensive output of Johnson. Harry Himmelberg is the 22nd man and will likely play forward unless the Giants look to play with an extra man behind the ball for the full game.

    For Adelaide, Taylor Walker and Daniel Talia have returned to the team that lost to West Coast in the final round of the season – we won’t say they were rested – in place of Alex Keath and Wayne Milera.

    Meanwhile, Rory Sloane has not been named having had an appendectomy nine days ago. Teammate Eddie Betts returned from a burst appendix 14 days after surgery. According to Adelaide’s selection statement, Sloane will be ready to go for Adelaide’s next game regardless of a win or loss this evening. He’s been replaced in the side by Hugh Greenwood.

    Eddie Betts Adelaide Crows AFL 2017

    (Photo by Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)

    Selection means both teams are very close to full strength. The Crows would much prefer Sloane to Greenwood, but the category B rookie has been impressive in his opportunities this season. It is less clear that Smith is a more ideal fit than Himmelberg for the Giants, but there’s little doubt in my mind the team is sounder with De Boer than Johnson.

    With Adelaide’s expected to experience a reprieve from its current spate of wet weather by game time, the Crows will almost certainly roll with their four tall forward half line-up. This suits the Giants nicely, given they play with a flexible four tall defensive line-up and rotate a handful of smaller guys through the back six of the formation.

    Last time out, it was the small players who feasted for Adelaide. Eddie Betts kicked 4.2, Charlie Cameron 2.3 and outside midfielders Rory Atkins (three), Riley Knight and Richard Douglas (two each) all scored multiple goals. Josh Jenkins and Mitch McGovern kicked three and two goals respectively, while Tom Lynch was goalless and Taylor Walker was missing from the team.

    The midfield battle looks tantalising. Both sides have a high number of stoppages in their games on average (77 for the Crows and 77.1 for the Giants, ranked one and two). Indeed, both sides like to dish the ball to a fleet of rotating outside midfielders, and have a core inside group that is excellent at their jobs.

    As we discussed in yesterday’s finals preview, the Giants have rediscovered their stoppage dominance as the year has progressed, and shutting this avenue to goal down will be Adelaide’s number of priority. That’s where the tackle rate issue will come to bear.

    Like every final this round, it looks delicately poised. So, we defer to home ground advantage, recent form, and a bit of informed gut feel as to how the game might play out. Can the Giants do enough to overcome the structural factors working against them?

    Phil Davis GWS Giants AFL 2017

    (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

    Removing Sloane from their midfield calculations could have huge ramifications at stoppages. Now everyone on the Giants is able to shift down a position in terms of defence, and should coach Leon Cameron feel inclined his shutdown target is abundantly clear: Matt Crouch. That is advantage GWS; a small advantage but an advantage no less.

    The spectre of the GWS juggernaut has loomed over this season like one of those alien ships on Independence Day. Is tonight the night they’ll fire their laser beam? It has to be right? No matter. Adelaide is the best team, with a flexible game plan and the right pieces to make it all work – excluding Sloane of course. That’s where my tip is tonight.

    Adelaide, in a close game that might be up for grabs in the last 10 minutes of the game, will win by six points. That’s my finals forecast, what’s yours?

    Ryan Buckland
    Ryan Buckland

    As an economist, Ryan seeks to fix the world's economic troubles one graph at a time. As a sports fan, he's always looking one or two layers beneath the surface to search for meaning, on and off the field. You can follow Ryan here.

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    The Crowd Says (23)

    • September 7th 2017 @ 5:50am
      Geoff Schaefer said | September 7th 2017 @ 5:50am | ! Report

      You’ve only got one right out of the last five Friday predictions Ryan. As a Crows fan I hope your form continues.

      • September 7th 2017 @ 9:14pm
        Col in paradise said | September 7th 2017 @ 9:14pm | ! Report

        Yep Ryan’s has cursed many a team this year ! Just finished a full on day working 12 hours ! And driving to a venue to watch the game thought GWS I think may get hammered out of the finals as they haven’t really had it together as a team since mid season – and thought a big factor that no one has mentioned – maybe alluded to – is the the Giants have all these top pick young guns – and egos have grown with the wins and the big PLUS in the equation is that now many are getting hunted and smell big offers from other clubs – mainly Melbourne clubs the mecca if the AFL still and talk for some of trade deals – now the psychological effect it is having on these young kids is affecting their game – and team cohesion!

        Now some get right into the stats , charts and graphs but most of the time it’s the data you cannot capture – the unchartable ! The mistake many young economists make ! Now I am a old economist and one thing after decades of markets and trades it’s the psychology of the market more than the stats that decides outcomes !!!!….but of course love reading Ryan’s analysis – always live a reverse indicator !!

    • September 7th 2017 @ 7:39am
      Brayden Rise said | September 7th 2017 @ 7:39am | ! Report

      As a Crows fan I am very nervous yet confident. I feel this is our big statement game and I believe GWS are vulnerable away and potentially not as good a team as last year. This is where we announce our finals arrival and tighten in the premiership odds. We will burst away early and ease up in the last quarter to win by 43 points.

    • September 7th 2017 @ 8:54am
      Franko said | September 7th 2017 @ 8:54am | ! Report

      Had the Crows all week but with Sloane out this is a genuine 50/50.

      GWS have the best list in the comp, Crows the best coach/structure.

      • September 7th 2017 @ 9:21am
        Birdman said | September 7th 2017 @ 9:21am | ! Report

        agree – I think the bye makes it a pretty line ball call for any final fixture this weekend.

        Neither side in ripping form heading into finals but Crows just for me

    • September 7th 2017 @ 9:42am
      Liam said | September 7th 2017 @ 9:42am | ! Report

      Tackle rate, Ryan?

      Sometimes I really do wonder. Where did you get that statistic? How is it calculated? How is it differentiated between a low stoppage side and a high stoppage side? Does it demonstrate that whoever wins it gets more of the ball, or is second to the ball? How does it influence the contested ball?

      It’s all very well and good to use a statistic to prove something, but here you’ve mentioned it merely as something significant, almost completely free of context, of which the only thing you offer by way of context is GWS’ tackle evasion rate. If a statistic is meaningless in its isolation from context, then its opposite is equally so.

      • Columnist

        September 7th 2017 @ 10:26am
        Ryan Buckland said | September 7th 2017 @ 10:26am | ! Report

        It is tackles laid per 50 minutes of opposition possession; calculated by taking the number of tackles a team is recorded as laying divided by the minutes of opposition possession in a game (yielding a tackles per minute) and multiplied by 50 (to reflect the average time in possession of a team in a game is 50 minutes). Tackle counts are easy to get, and I manually pull time in possession and game time data from a couple of sources.

        I’m not sure what you’re accusing me of here? All it is is a way of showing which teams apply pressure against which teams do not; conversely, which teams avoid pressure and which teams do not.

        • September 7th 2017 @ 12:51pm
          Liam said | September 7th 2017 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

          Not accusing you of anything, save using a statistic without context which would render the statistic meaningful.

          I like your articles Ryan – when you’re not taking cheap shots at Carlton, at least – because you usually take the stats the rest of the media regurgitate merely to froth over and make them meaningful. You didn’t do that here.

          Thanks for outlining the methodology.

    • September 7th 2017 @ 10:18am
      stevedeanski said | September 7th 2017 @ 10:18am | ! Report

      Nice take Ryan. I don’t think Harrison Himmelberg is a South Australian by the way – Adelaide liked him and bid for him at the draft but were overruled by GWS’ academy rights to him. The Crows then drafted his brother the following year (who for some reason wasn’t bound to the GWS academy).

      Sloane is too important to Adelaide – so his missing changes my tip to the Giants. However, if Adelaide DO get up – they mean serious business this finals series.

      GWS 12 pts.

    • Roar Rookie

      September 7th 2017 @ 10:26am
      Lamby said | September 7th 2017 @ 10:26am | ! Report

      Just a small point – Greenwood was another ‘not’ rested last week and was always going to play this week. His mother is terminally ill and it is only his 2nd season as an adult Aussie Rules player (he is the basketballer). I am not sure who would have been left out if Sloane was fit? Probably between Knight, Seedsman, Mackay & Atkins.

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