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When will the Crows break out of their ongoing crisis?

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Roar Rookie
9th October, 2022
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In the past five years no AFL club has endured the calamity and chaos visited upon the Adelaide Crows.

After the goodwill extended the club as a result of their brave response to the tragic death of coach Phil Walsh midway through the 2015 season up until their loss in the 2017 grand final, a series of poor decisions and unfortunate events has dogged the Pride of South Australia.

This has led to historically low finishing positions on the ladder and a team that looks like needing longer than five years to complete anything resembling a rebuild.

The concept of the five-year rebuild, as announced around the time of the appointment of Matthew Nicks as head coach for the beginning of the 2020 season, has always been fraught.

What does it really mean? A Premiership? That the club will be in the premiership window? Contesting finals? Competing for a finals berth?

After three years at the helm even the last of these options looks a long shot for Nicks’ team for the forthcoming 2023 season. The team has improved in this time but improvement without results is not enough.

As it stands the Crows are in the midst of the longest streak without playing finals in club history, the 2017 grand final loss being their last visit.

The damage done by the disastrous Collective Minds training camp and the list decisions both forced and unforced and fallout that resulted left the club in the deepest, darkest hole in their history, claiming their first ever wooden spoon in 2020 and following up with two years a long way short of competing for the top eight.


Obviously the talk of a five year rebuild was designed to minimise expectations from fans and stakeholders in the short term.

However no coach at Adelaide has previously survived more than two years without a finals appearance and Nicks is coming into his fourth year, with his current contract taking him to five years until the end of 2024, presuming it is honoured.

The once-proud supporter base of the club has been humbled and the patience that has been shown will turn quickly if results are not forthcoming at the back end of the so-called rebuild.

Jake Kelly crestfallen after another loss

(Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

In the past three years the Crows have been obvious also-rans by the time of the mid-year bye, if not earlier. I would suggest that anything less than being in the finals race for the majority of the season as a springboard for making the top eight in 2024 will have the Adelaide board looking for a replacement coach.

This would mean that the Crows at a minimum would need to win 10 games in 2023. So is this a realistic expectation?


Nicks appears to be developing a game style based on a full team defensive press with players delivering fanatical pressure without the ball then streaming forward once in possession. This is a sound game style tactically, designed to compete in finals.

However it relies not only on outworking their opponents defensively but employing precision skills to open up the opposition defence and score quickly before the opposition can set themselves to counter with their own pressure.

It is in this second aspect of this plan that the Crows have fallen down, with turnovers from skill errors in midfield leaving the defence caught short time and time again resulting in easy scores against.

At the end of the 2022 season Adelaide have at the very least improved their reputation to the point where they are viewed as a difficult team to play against, a team that won’t give up the match and must be beaten. Teams that have underestimated them and not brought requisite effort, such as Carlton in round 20, have come away the poorer for it.

Adelaide has also reduced the number of blow-outs against, with no losses over 10 goals and only an early year aberration against the Giants and a deflating Showdown loss in the final round against the Power getting close.

With that said, after some brave efforts early in the year the majority of the Crows’ losses through the season were comfortably in the four to eight goal range suggesting that they are still a long way off being consistently competitive.

So where does the improvement required come from?


The Adelaide forward line is one of its clear strengths. Although it has been heavily reliant on the late career resurgence of Tex Walker, the emergence of Darcy Fogarty as a reliable avenue to goal in the second half of 2022 along with the continued improvement of Riley Thilthorpe and the sporadic input of Elliott Himmelberg leaves the Crows with the potential for an imposing roster of marking forwards.

Their small forwards, notably to this stage Shane McAdam and Lachlan Murphy, have been serviceable and the expected development of Josh Rachele along with the acquisition of Izak Rankine has the potential to make this aspect of their game elite.

Izak Rankine of the Suns celebrates kicking a goal.

Izak Rankine. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

The backline, while not as strong or reliable as the front half, definitely has the makings with astute leaders in Tom Doedee and Jordan Dawson and a solid supporting cast emerging with Jordan Butts, Josh Worrell and Nick Murray all showing their potential at the top level.

The problem lies in the midfield. Rory Laird has been an outstanding performer throughout the lean period and captain returning from injury Rory Sloane will undoubtedly bolster their defensive attributes, although at his age his role and continued effectiveness are currently an unknown.

Aside from these elite talents the prospects are underwhelming. Ben Keays has been a revelation, his commitment and ball winning ability are unquestioned but his disposal and decision-making are often found wanting.

Of the younger cohort looking to consistently find a place in the engine room only Sam Berry has proven up to muster to this point and despite his toughness he has many of the same flaws as Keays.


The solution is to be found in the emergence of players such as Harry Schoenberg, Ned McHenry, Jake Soligo, Jackson Hately, Mitch Hinge and Lachlan Scholl.

Of this group Soligo looks to be an elite talent in the making. Schoenberg and Scholl have shown glimpses while the rest have considerable ground to make up to be regular contributors.

McHenry has the courage and desire but needs to bring something extra, especially given that with Rankine and Rachele up and about he will find less opportunity as a small forward.

The lack of elite talent in the midfield has made the pursuit of Rankine a head scratcher outside the club, given the salary he will command.

It is why the club was so desperate to get a hold of Jason Horne-Francis before last year’s draft. That ship has sailed and the problem it was hoped to resolve remains unaddressed.

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Improvement in this area of their game is the only way the Crows can make up the ground they currently occupy to being a realistic finals chance. Without the midfield holding its own their backs are compromised and their forwards bereft of opportunities.


The proven talent there is thin and potential scope for improvement appears negligible. Without turning this around there is every chance of another poor year and the end of Nicks’ time in charge, leaving the Crows in more or less the same position they were in when he was appointed.

The heat is on and the time is now.

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