While the wooden spoon seems more than likely for the Adelaide Crows as each round goes by, so to do the rumblings of player movement at the club – something Crows fans are accustomed to at a season’s end.
The 2017 AFL grand final has been billed as a battle between two clubs who have suffered too much since their most recent triumph. For the Tigers, a victory would end 37 years of heartache. The Crows, a win would be 19 years in the making.
All the wash-up from the 2017 AFL Grand Final
» Match Report: Tigers are premiers
» BUCKLAND: Richmond go from rabble to flag
» Six talking points from the match
» Richmond Tigers player ratings
» Adelaide Crows player ratings
» Watch video highlights from the match
» Re-live the match with our live blog
Adelaide has been the best team in the league all season long, carving up opposing teams with their slick ball movement, potent forward line, and steadfast defence. Richmond, whose potency went largely unnoticed for much of the season, are characterised by their manic forward-line pressure and their league-best defence. Having Dustin Martin and Alex Rance on the same team does no damage either.
When you look closer at the stats, it’s hard to find an area where Richmond can exploit the Crows. League-wide, the Crows rank first in contested possessions, third in contested marks, third in hitouts, second in clearances, third in tackles, fourth in one-percenters, second in inside 50s, 12th in disposal efficiency and ninth in uncontested possessions.
They rank higher than Richmond in every single statistic mentioned above. And that’s without any mention of scoring, Adelaide’s biggest strength.
As the Western Bulldogs showed last year, though, all the statistics in the world amount to nothing if one side brings more heat and intensity to the contest than the other. The Bulldogs shocked the footy world and claimed a flag against all odds by simply not allowing their opposition any time and space to move in, even on the wide expanses of the MCG.
Richmond will be hoping to do the same. Their now famous ‘mosquito fleet’, consisting of the nimble Daniel Rioli, Jason Castagna, Dan Butler and Kane Lambert, is renowned for its pace and forward pressure.
Adelaide faced Richmond in their opening pre-season match in 2017, and it was clear then that the Tigers had more pace than in previous years, and that they could really bother some teams with it.
Here is the difference between the 2016 Bulldogs and the 2017 Tigers.
The Bulldogs were not a contested marking team. For their first 25 games of the 2016 season and the entirety of the 2017 season, teams exploited them in the air. In the Bulldogs preliminary final win over the Giants, Tom Boyd competed hard in the ruck and in marking contests as he was forced to take over the ruck duties in place of the injured Jordan Roughead.
Boyd competed at contests, and more importantly, gave his team a bailout kick down the line, where he was able to halve the contest and force a stoppage. In a big final, with every player on his last legs, this contribution is invaluable, and ultimately booked the Bulldogs their place in the grand final.
In the final match of the season, Boyd took it one step further. Playing in the forward line as Jordan Roughead reassumed ruck duties, Boyd took eight marks, six contested, en route to kicking three goals. The Bulldogs, in spite of their manic pressure around the ground, are not the reigning premiers without the aerial work of Tom Boyd in the final two games of the season.
And Richmond, as they take on a potent Crows outfit, will need a Boyd-like performance from one of their taller players to end a 37-year premiership drought.
Alex Rance controls the air better than anyone in Richmond’s defence, whether it is through his elite intercept marking or by fisting the ball 12 rows into the seats. Ruckman Toby Nankervis is the best intercept marking ruckman in the game, but will need to apply his craft closer to Richmond’s goal. Given the aerial prowess of Sam Jacobs, Nankervis will have his work cut out for him on Saturday.
Jack Riewoldt will play a huge role in the grand final. Likely matched up with All Australian defender Daniel Talia, Riewoldt will be asked to provide a contest and hit the scoreboard to give the Tigers a chance. Otherwise, the Crows’ sturdy defence of Kyle Hartigan, Jake Lever, Jake Kelly and Rory Laird will dominate in the air and let the likes of David Mackay and Paul Seedsman loose on the MCG wings.
If Adelaide is able to prevent Richmond from taking contested marks, the Tigers’ menacing forward half pressure will count for naught, and the Crows will have completed the masterpiece the late Phil Walsh began.