The Adelaide Crows premiership dreams were brutally crushed in Saturday’s AFL grand final, as Richmond sensationally ended their 37-year premiership drought with a 108-60 victory.
The Crows, having finished on top of the ladder and dispatched of the Giants and Cats in their first two finals, were predicted to have too much potency up forward and in the midfield for the young Tigers team.
As the match unfolded, however, it became clear that Richmond’s pressure at ground level and the sturdiness of their Alex Rance-led defence would be too much for the Crows to overcome.
So as Adelaide enters the off-season with their eyes fixed firmly on the 2018 season, what should be their primary focus?
Lever and Cameron
With the season in the rear view mirror, the Crows must now seriously look at the futures of Jake Lever and Charlie Cameron. Cameron, who starred in the Crows preliminary final win over Geelong with five goals, is reportedly interested in playing with the Brisbane Lions. He is under contract for the 2018 season, and Brisbane would have to offer something in return, likely a first or second-round draft pick.
Lever, who was named in the 40-man All-Australian squad in 2017, reportedly has a five-year, $900,000 deal on the table from Melbourne. Lever is, however, a restricted free agent, meaning the Crows can play hardball should the Victorian choose to return home. The Crows would at minimum request two first-round draft picks for Lever, with the possibility of former Crow Bernie Vince also being involved in the deal.
The Crows defensive stocks took a hit when Brodie Smith suffered a torn ACL in the Crows qualifying final win over the Giants. Smith provides the Crows with run and a long kick off half back, and at 25, is one of Adelaide’s most experienced defenders. Smith will likely miss the entire home-and-away season in 2018; with the possibility of a finals return should his recovery go as planned.
Rory Laird, All-Australian in 2017, will be asked to be more daring with his disposal and look to create offense off of half back for the Crows. Laird is a safe, reliable kick, but typically does not take risks or break lines like Smith does.
David Mackay filled in the void left by Smith’s injury in the Crows final two matches of the season, but was ineffective in the grand final. Waiting in the wings is Harrison Wigg; a long left foot kick who many believe has been unlucky not to have debuted at AFL level. Wigg was named in the SANFL’s team of the year, and provides a like-for-like replacement for Smith.
If Lever does indeed pack his bags for Melbourne, the Crows will have lost one of the game’s elite intercept defenders. Former cricketer Alex Keath was given six games of AFL exposure in the latter stages of the season, and showed enough positive signs to suggest he could replace Lever. Keath possesses good length and quickness, and although his disposal is not elite, is reliable by foot.
Also in the mix is Tom Doedee, who was the 17th overall pick in the 2015 AFL draft. Doedee, similarly to Lever, is a good intercept marker and had a solid SANFL season. Andy Otton, who played much of the season as a forward, is also reliable when called upon down back, but will not provide anything special.
Although Lever was an important part of the Crows success in 2017, his exit would be far from catastrophic, provided they get good value in return.
At the start of the season, Adelaide’s midfield was their most glaring weakness. And as it turned out, it was exposed in their grand final loss. However, it remains the least of the Crows worries. They uncorked a gem in Hugh Greenwood mid-season, although a calf complaint saw him limited in the finals series.
Greenwood, similarly to Rory Sloane, is a tackling machine and adds depth to the previously-shallow Crows midfield. The improvement of the Crouch brothers, particularly Matt, in 2017 was terrific, and should hold the midfield in good stead in the future.
Sam Jacobs also had an excellent season, and his position in the team is as guaranteed as anyone’s moving forward. Should injury strike, however, Adelaide has a back-up option in Riley O’Brien, who possesses good speed and endurance and at 22, should develop nicely over the coming seasons.
The only major move I see Adelaide making in the offseason in the midfield is the addition of Bryce Gibbs, who they tried to acquire last summer. Gibbs is under contract at Carlton still, and the Blues previously asked for a first round pick and either Charlie Cameron or Mitch McGovern.
With the possibility of Lever and Cameron exiting the club, the Crows could find themselves loaded with first and second-round picks in the upcoming drafts. Whether they decide to use them to lure Gibbs home to South Australia is another matter, but they will likely have the assets to get a deal done.
Adelaide boasts the most potent forward line in the competition. Every player is a threat, and their chemistry and ability to create space is second to none. However, it was exposed in the grand final, and the absence of Mitch McGovern was a huge part of that.
Adelaide was forced by the Tigers to kick long and high instead of lowering their eyes and finding short targets. Andy Otton, Josh Jenkins and Taylor Walker are not known for their contested marking, and so this played right into Richmond’s hands. McGovern’s aerial presence may have changed the dynamic of the Crows forward line and opened up other avenues to goal.
Tom Lynch also had his worst game of the season, not allowed to play his usual link up role through the middle of the ground. Despite this, Adelaide’s forward line will be just as dynamic next season, and as is the case with any team, when the midfield is being comprehensively beaten the forwards will struggle.
The Crows did what they had to and locked up McGovern for a further three years, ensuring the group stays together, bar a Charlie Cameron trade.
Adelaide’s season ended with disappointment on grand final day. But the structure and age of the team will give them every opportunity to be among the best teams in the league again next season. A good offseason, particularly on draft night, will set them up nicely for the future.