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AFL season 2017 finals preview: Why Adelaide can win the flag

The Adelaide Crows have set themselves up for a deep finals run, but what are the factors that are potentially holding them back?


Season Overview

Win/loss: 15-6 (1 draw)

Ladder Position: 1st

Percentage: 136

Biggest win: 100 points over Fremantle

Biggest loss: 59 points against North Melbourne

The Crows were the early bolters in season 2017. Winning their first six games, Adelaide were lauded for their fast-paced game style and forward line prowess. A 56-point win over the flag-favourite Giants in round one set the tone for the eventual minor premiers. Led by Showdown-medallist and early Brownlow Medal favourite Rory Sloane, the Crows also notched impressive wins over Richmond, Port Adelaide and Essendon. Then, as teams started to employ a hard tag on Sloane, the Crows limped to a 3-4 record over their next seven games, including a horrendous 0-64 first quarter against North Melbourne in the always-blustery Tasmanian conditions.

After a disappointing loss to Hawthorn at Adelaide Oval in round 14, however, the Crows would win their next six games, highlighted by a home win over the Cats, whom they have struggled badly against in years gone past. An 84-point rout in the Round 20 Showdown, the largest margin in Showdown history, saw the Crows rocket into flag favouritism. What was hyped as the game of the season against Sydney in Round 22 turned out to be just that. Adelaide was jumped early but fought back to control much of the second half, before Sydney kicked two late goals to send the Crows plummeting back to Earth. With top spot locked up, however, the Crows went to Perth in the final round, falling to the Eagles. Despite that, Adelaide achieved just what they set out to, sealing a top placed finish with the chance to earn a home preliminary final and end their 19-year premiership drought.


Major Strengths

Midfield

The emergence of 25-year-old basketball-player-turned-footballer Hugh Greenwood against Brisbane in round nine gave the Crows season a whole new perspective. Greenwood set an AFL-record for tackles through the first ten games of a career, and gave the midfield an extra physical presence – never a bad thing in finals footy. Major improvements from the Crouch brothers, particularly Matt, who earned his first All-Australian appearance, took the pressure off of Sloane and turned the Crows biggest weakness in 2016 to one of their great strengths in 2017. Jacobs had an All-Australian calibre season, narrowly missing out due to the brilliance of Port Adelaide’s Paddy Ryder. Jacobs is the best hit-out ruckman in the game, and delivers first use to his midfield more often than not. Impressively for the Crows, they were the number three tackling team in the AFL, a trait that should hold them in good stead in September.

Forward line

Adelaide possesses the most potent forward line in the competition. Led by captain Taylor Walker, who kicked a team-leading 49 goals in the Home and Away season, the forwards compliment each other nicely and share the load when under duress. The recently signed Mitch McGovern along with Josh Jenkins, provide the Crows with marking targets and big bodies, while the pressure and speed of Eddie Betts and Charlie Cameron makes every forward a threat. Not to mention Tom Lynch, who was named in the All-Australian squad of 40 and acts as a link up between defence and attack. Overall, Adelaide’s forward line simply has too many weapons for a defence to shut down. If the midfield is firing, this team is more than capable of kicking 100+ points regularly in the finals.

Health

As was the case last season, the Crows have had to deal with very few injuries. Curtly Hampton and Cam Ellis-Yolmen are Adelaide’s only players regularly in the side who have suffered long-term injuries. Minor injuries to Eddie Betts, Taylor Walker and Jake Lever along the way have hindered the team slightly, but their overall depth hasn’t been tested as a team such as the Giants has. Doubts over the availability of Rory Sloane for Thursday night’s elimination final against the Giants are growing, as the star midfielder underwent appendix surgery last Tuesday. The loss of Sloane would allow the Giants to focus more on Matt Crouch, creating a domino effect, which could become a huge storyline.


Weaknesses

Recent finals history

Adelaide’s two previous finals campaigns have ended in blowout losses on the road against Hawthorn and Sydney. Whilst each team went on to compete in the Grand Final, the Crows were beaten in the midfield and their forward line was held lifeless. Although the midfield has made great improvements over the past twelve months, there is still a question mark over how they will perform when the pressure is at its highest. Going back further, the Crows have suffered devastating preliminary finals losses in 2005 and 2012, having been in winning positions on both occasions. Until the Crows can break the shackles and record their third Grand Final appearance, questions will remain over their September chances.

Set shot accuracy

Inaccurate kicking in front of the big sticks has plagued the Crows in many of their losses this season. Most notably against the Swans in Round 22, Adelaide kicked an inaccurate 11.14. Eddie Betts in particular has had an unusually inaccurate season in front of the big sticks, struggling more recently on set shots from outside thirty metres. Whilst Taylor Walker is capable of bringing the team to life with a long-ranging goal from outside 50, and Mitch McGovern is typically reliable when kicking for goal, the murmurs will begin to ring around Adelaide Oval if the minor premiers start to miss a few easy ones.


Key players

Captain Taylor Walker is vital to the success of his team on the field. Not only does Walker attract the opposition’s best defender and allow McGovern and Jenkins to play on lesser opponents, Walker is tremendous at seeing how a game is unfolding and communicating it to his team. Forever organising stoppage set-ups and communicating with his forward line, the Crows look much more one-dimensional when their leading goal kicker is on the sidelines. 

At the other end of the ground, the intercept marking and spoiling of Jake Lever is crucial to the Crows defence. Playing a role similar to Richmond’s Alex Rance, Lever reads the play better than anyone on the team and provides a toughness and competitive fire rare for a player of just over fifty games of experience. 

The tackling pressure of Charlie Cameron has been huge in finals in previous seasons, as has the run and penetration off of halfback from Brodie Smith. Perhaps the Crows’ most important player, at least against the Giants, is Luke Brown. Often underrated in the media, Brown is one of the game’s elite small defenders and will likely draw the huge matchup of Toby Greene. If Greene is kept quiet for the most part, that will go a long way in setting the Crows up for a home preliminary final.


Prediction

Statistically speaking, the Crows are the best team in the AFL. The pressure is on for them to succeed, and a potential Preliminary Final meeting against the highly rated Sydney Swans could mean trouble. A loss in the first week, however, could set up a semifinal showdown against the Power, a situation that Adelaide will be trying desperately to avoid. 

Success in September is never easy, and many teams seem to be peaking at just the right time. But if the Crows can play their type of footy, there is no reason to suggest they can’t cause a stir at the MCG on September 30.


  1. Can the Crows go the distance in 2017?

    1. Yes. They have the quality who can win them a flag.
    2. No. Their finals form and poor set shot accuracy will let them down.
    63 votes
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Justin Ahrns

A dedicated sports fan and writer, I follow Hockey, Basketball, Australian Football, Tennis, Cricket and Baseball.

AFL season 2017 finals preview: Why Adelaide can win the flag

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