Adelaide 2.3 7.9 15.14 22.15 147
GWS 4.5 6.7 11.7 14.7 91
All the talk leading up to Sunday afternoon was that of the ultimate challenge Adelaide were facing in hosting a side one kick away from last season’s Grand Final, and one who were overwhelming favourites to be there come the end of this season.
With the news of captain Taylor Walker’s late withdrawal came even more scrutiny, and less optimism for the Crows’ chances in causing an unlikely upset in a milestone game for Charlie Cameron (50 games) and Sam Jacobs (150 games).
Adelaide's back-line undermanned, their midfield too weak, their forward-line now one vital cog short, and a genuine lack of experience with senior leadership group members Walker and Thompson looking on from the stands; the task ahead was deemed just too difficult before the first ball had even been bounced.
And so it seemed in the early stages of the contest - a rampant Giants outfit brought all the intensity and slick ball movement early on giving credence to their credentials as flag favourites, despite Adelaide winning clearances and applying the fierce pressure they have been cultivating all summer.
As the quarter continued, it was becoming apparent the Giants were taking their chances more than the home side, with the Crows’ consistent pressure counting for little. After stemming the Giants transition game through relentless tackling, Adelaide’s inability to execute was quickly becoming their undoing as a raft of Crow turnovers saw GWS end the quarter with a resounding nine shots at goal, with all four of their goals resulting from Adelaide turnovers.
Breakout contender Josh Kelly was outstanding for the visitors early on despite Adelaide’s clearance dominance, ending the quarter with three inside 50s and five score involvements.
At the opposite end, Adelaide were able to turn two of their five kick-ins into majors, continuing a trend that saw them end 2016 as the League’s best exponents of launching scores from their defensive 50, and in particular from this scoring source. It seems the Crows’ acclaimed ability to turn defence into attack will once again be its ultimate strength in 2017.
These were Adelaide’s only two majors for the quarter, as they trailed the Giants by 14 at the break. Coach Don Pyke calmly advised his charges they were still in the contest, and would need to maintain their heavy pressure and start using the ball more wisely if they were to turn the contest on its head.
Someone must have been listening. After an early goal to Jeremy Cameron opened up a 20 point lead for the visitors, the home side piled on 5.6.36 to a paltry 1.2.8. Adelaide had turned the contest around – transforming the Giants’ strength in the first quarter (scores from turnovers and execution) into its own dreaded virtue.
The Crows had well and truly found their groove. With Rory Laird continuing the form that saw him unlucky not to be awarded his first All Australian gig last year, the brilliant gut runs and pace of Rory Atkins capped off by two consecutive running goals to the emerging winger, outstanding cameos from electric forwards Mitch McGovern and Charlie Cameron, Adelaide won the second quarter by four goals - heading into the main break 8 points up courtesy of a Josh Jenkins long bomb from outside 50m after the siren.
The Crows had contributors all over the park; last year’s first round draft pick Wayne Milera was showing off all the benefits of a solid second pre-season at the top level with his ability to burn away from his opponents and create space under pressure a standout. Virtual new recruits Troy Menzel and Curtly Hampton were working their way into the contest, while the forgotten man Andy Otten (playing his first game in 960 days) had done his best to quell dangerous big-man Rory Lobb inside the Giants’ 50m.
The Crows weren’t finished there however.
Relentless pressure, hunting the contested ball, dominating the outside, blistering pace and elite transition were all the hallmarks of an Adelaide masterclass in the third term; smashing the flag favourites off the park with an eight goal avalanche and putting to bed any of the pre-game doubts about its ability to cover even the most dire of personnel disadvantages.
It was much the same for the home side in the final quarter, piling on a further 7.1.43 to 3.0.18 with Eddie Betts kicking three goals, electrifying the crowd in the process and adding further theatrics to his already copious collection of highlight reels.
Milera, Knight, Atkins and Jenkins all joined in the party as the Crows ran out resounding 56 point victors, completing a 76 point turnaround from the early stages of the second quarter and capping off a wonderful weekend for the football club after their Women’s team had claimed the inaugural AFLW Premiership.
Rory Laird was easily BOG as he put on a performance for the ages with a 40 possession effort in the back half, leaving All Australian selectors scrambling for their pencils early; perhaps he won't be leaving them with any doubts as to his credentials when their selection process rolls around this year.
Charlie Cameron showed why Crows fans have been screaming out for his move further up the field, setting the crowd and the scoreboard alight (and a torch to the Giants) with his electrifying bursts out of midfield stoppages and silky skills inside 50, finishing with 23 possessions while kicking 2 goals 3 behinds to round off one of his best performances for the club to celebrate his 50th senior game in style.
This overall performance suggests Adelaide possess the depth and flexibility across all lines that so often they’ve been lamented for in the past.
Playing Otten for his first game in over two and a half years, and Jake Kelly who had only played 10 games before Sunday, against the League’s second-best forward line last year, spoke volumes of its ability to cover the likes of Jake Lever and Kyle Cheney down back. Both Lever and Cheney will have their work cut out forcing their way back into the defensive setup.
The inclusion of Riley Knight up forward (playing his first game in almost 12 months and having played less than 15 career games in total) in place of Taylor Walker, and the introduction of Troy Menzel (having not played a game for the club and less than 50 career games in total) into the Crows’ system at senior level resulted in three straight goals between the pair, not to mention valuable link up work through the midfield and backward of centre – proving Adelaide’s forward depth is even scarier than first imagined.
The lack of midfield depth that had so often been discussed all summer and throughout the JLT series seem unfounded; yet if ever it was to face a truer test, Sunday was almost certainly the ideal conditions against the scariest midfield in the competition. In searing heat, upwards of 33 degrees, missing the likes of Scott Thompson, Brad Crouch and Paul Seedsman, the experts declared it all but be a fait accompli – the Giants midfield would massacre the undermanned Crows onball brigade.
Yet the Crows midfielders were first to the ball throughout the day, smashing their opponents inside the contest and embarrassing them with blistering pace and exquisite execution on the outside – both familiar traits of the heralded GWS midfield, adding further insult to the experts’ misguided analysis and opinions.
The younger Crouch, the seasoned trio of Douglas, Mackay and Sloane (bereft of any match fitness returning from facial surgery), and the youthful exuberance and lightning-fast speed of Atkins, Cameron and Milera left the GWS boys licking their wounds. The heavily underrated group setting in stone a new level of confidence moving forward in 2017, should they be forced to carry the midfield load at any stage again this season.
Fielding seven players in total with less than 50 games experience, on average, Adelaide had 15 less games experience per player than the Giants across the board, and were almost a half year younger on average to a man. Yet despite fielding a younger, less experienced outfit than that of the overwhelming Premiership favourites, Adelaide picked apart their more fancied opposition with extreme pressure, work rate, deft transition and sheer firepower.
Will this be the story of Adelaide’s 2017 season, or was this just a fleeting glimpse into a future far beyond this year? Either way, we will all watch on with renewed optimism and unparalleled intrigue for what will surely be a season full of surprises for the West Lakes faithful.
Stats courtesy of footywire.com and afl.com.au