Welcome to the last of The Roar’s AFL preview series for 2019. We’re only a day away from the opening of the season, and it’s a magical time of nervous anticipation.
Adelaide is the last team to get a run, predicted for first, which will surprise many after their underwhelming 2018.
As has been well documented, the Crows did not handle the 2017 grand final loss to Richmond well. The hubris of pre-emptively booking a seat for the premiership trophy on the flight home, the power stance they adopted during finals, the pre-season camp that unraveled the entire club…
They played lost football for much of last year, particularly in the first half of the season, and the lowest period was a four-week block where they lost by 91 points to Melbourne, couldn’t even beat Fremantle, and kicked only four goals against Hawthorn.
They finished the season in solid fashion, winning six of their last nine games. It wasn’t a bad platform on which to build 2019 success.
Adelaide Crows best 22
B: T.Doedee K.Hartigan L.Brown
HB: R.Laird D.Talia B.Smith
C: P.Seedsman R.Sloane B.Crouch
HF: T.Lynch T.Walker R.Douglas
F: E.Betts J.Jenkins J.Galluci
Foll: S.Jacobs B.Gibbs M.Crouch
Int: H.Greenwood W.Milera R.Atkins J.Kelly
Em: D.Fogarty R.Knight C.Jones
Looking at this team, there is a reason they finished on top of the ladder and started favourite in a grand final only 26 AFL weeks ago.
On paper, talent-wise, they don’t have a weakness in any area of the ground. They have always been a tall side, and have options for this to continue despite Mitch McGovern leaving for Carlton.
Josh Jenkins is a Coleman Medal smoky with the new rules being implemented this year. He should be Adelaide’s deepest forward, as he traditionally has been, and with his height can also make use of the lightening of the hands in the back interpretation.
Taylor Walker had an injury-interrupted in 2018, too often not firing a shot, and Tom Lynch was also far less effective in his linkman role. Both players averaged far fewer marks and goals per game than they had for the prior three seasons, and can be expected to bounce back.
Darcy Fogarty has a lot of fans as a young tall forward on the up, with a beautiful kick on him, and whether he plays will be a question of structure.
Eddie Betts had a down 2018, like a lot of teammates, and the question around him is whether it was just a blip or the beginning of the end at his age.
Jordan Galluci shows promise in a small forward role too, and Tyson Stengle was a depth pressure player at Richmond but does address a hole.
Bryce Gibbs was supposed to be the missing piece of the midfield puzzle after the grand final loss, but it didn’t work out that way due to factors beyond his control. He still had a solid year though, and when you add in Rory Sloane, as well as Matt and Brad Crouch they start to look very strong.
The Crouch brothers are the ultimate accumulators, and can post huge numbers. They just have a knack for finding the ball and are smart in how they find space. Sloane has assumed a share of the captaincy, and strikes as the type of player that will elevate his game accordingly from an already high level – he has always led by example with his ferocity and gut running, and this won’t change.
Midfield depth isn’t a problem either, with Richard Douglas still providing good service, Paul Seedsman filling a role as an outside running with a long right-boot, and Hugh Greenwood as an underrated extraction player and physical presence at stoppages. Rory Atkins is a bit of a jobber, but Riley Knight still has upside if he can get a good run with injury.
Sam Jacobs isn’t the sexiest ruckman in the AFL, but is ultra-consistent and durable. He’s only missed four games in the last seven years, which is remarkable for a player in his position.
Down back, there’s a good blend.
Looking at the talls, Tom Doedee finished sixth in the best and fairest, in his first season at AFL level after a few years on the list, filling in the Jake Lever intercept marking role. Daniel Talia has been the rock holding it all together for many years and has better balance in his game than he used to. Kyle Hartigan and Alex Keath are competing for the same spot as another key defender, with Andy Otten in reserve as a capable swingman.
Luke Brown and Jake Kelly give Adelaide smaller lockdown options in defensive 50. The all-important run from the back half is provided by Rory Laird, one of the best decision-makers in the league and deliverer of pinpoint shorter kicks, while Brodie Smith likes to run and carry and drive it long as often as possible. Laird and Smith complement each other perfectly.
Then you have youngster Wayne Milera, who was thrown back last year when Don Pyke wanted to look at a few different things, and uses speed, agility and lovely kicking skills to great effect.
For all of Adelaide’s flaws last year, they still won 12 games. Just by virtue of bouncing back to their best they will improve on that. Add in they have Gold Coast and St Kilda twice, which smell like percentage boosters. The other double-up matches they have are against West Coast, Geelong and Port – all sides they beat in the second half of 2018 when they were playing better football.
If the Crows can be 2-1 after opening against Hawthorn (home), Sydney (away) and Geelong (home), they then have a run of six matches where they would start favourite in all of them. They’ll get the chance to set up their season.
At their best, this is an attractive team to watch, utilising dynamic ball-movement from the back half inside forward 50, and able to score heavily when they get on top of an opposition side. Two good hit-outs in the pre-season suggest they have put the failures of last season behind them and are once again a united group.
Make no mistake, the Crows are as in the premiership race as any other team.