We have moved through seven sides and forecast bleak 2016 seasons for Essendon, Brisbane, Carlton, Melbourne, Gold Coast, St.Kilda and the GWS Giants. We move to South Australia and find a team that fought crippling odds in 2015 to play finals footy but look like their might plateau in 2016.
Adelaide – 11th
No sporting side has dealt with the pain and adversity that faced the Crows in 2015; the alleged murder of their coach Phil Walsh mid-season placed the side in a place no-one could comprehend. They fought hard to finish the season in seventh spot and notched a stirring finals win over the Western Bulldogs but lost their best player and best and fairest winner Patrick Dangerfield. Whether they can improve enough across the field to make up for this loss and the fact their next best midfielder is almost 34 years old remains to be seen:
B: Luke Brown, Daniel Talia, Ricky Henderson
B: Rory Laird, Kyle Hartigan. Paul Seedsman
C: Matthew Jaensch, Scott Thompson, Brodie Smith
HF: Tom Lynch, Josh Jenkins, Richard Douglas
F: Eddie Betts, Taylor Walker, Troy Menzel
R: Sam Jacobs, Rory Sloane, Brad Crouch
I/C: Matt Crouch, Charlie Cameron, David Mackay, Nathan Van Berlo
This is one of the more skilled, versatile and potent forward lines in the competition. Walker is one of the league’s better leaders; often seen as a joker, his ability to lead from the front and kick goals places him comfortably among the AFL’s best. Alongside Walker is Betts, arguably the league’s best small forward despite not having the profile and hype of some others including a certain player at Hawthorn. Betts kicked 63 goals to rank second in the competition in 2015, a remarkable return for a player seen as inconsistent in his time at Carlton.
Tall forward Josh Jenkins not only provides a quality third option, but has developed into a more than serviceable backup ruckman. Jenkins kicked three or more goals on seven occasions in 2015 and was held goalless just once; add him to the lethal combo of Walker and Betts and throw in the unheralded Tom Lynch and recruit Daniel Menzel and scoring will be the least of Adelaide’s problems in 2016.
Forward line – 8/10
The backline features an intriguing mix of players. Brown and Talia are two of the more low profile, effective defenders in the competition; neither are household names and most would blend into the crowd but both are miserly and critical to the Crows success.
Hartigan is presented with the opportunity to take centre half back and make it his; in a largely under-sized backline he seems likely to have the first crack at pairing with Talia in forming a key positional defensive duo around which the Crows can launch towards finals.
The defence ranked sixth for points conceded but conceded the seventh-most marks inside 50 and inside 50 entries; they ranked eighth in rebound 50s and that number is bound to improve with
Seedsman, Laird and Jaensch attacking from the half-back line. Talent has never been questioned for Seedsman, but Nathan Buckley grew tired of his inconsistency and reported lack of professionalism. Adelaide will hope a change of scenery helps for this very talented player who can provide drive and flair.
Backline rating – 5/10
Thompson remains a marvel ranking in the top 10 in both contested possessions and clearances per game and showing few signs of slowing down despite entering his 17th AFL season. Sloane provides quality support and Crows diehards will be hoping Brad Crouch can catch a break on the injury front. When he plays, the youngster is among the best contested inside players in the league – he averages almost 25 possessions a game but has played just 25 games in three injury-plagued seasons.
Those three are elite midfielders but the quality drops away quite quickly. Douglas is a solid player and Mackay, Van Berlo and Matt Crouch provide decent depth but the strong midfields often go 8 or 10 players deep; the Crows do not have that talent at their disposal and will hope Laird, Atkins. Jarrad Lyons and Riley Knight continue to develop and push into the best 22.
The Crows ranked second in contested possessions and fourth in clearances which reflects their top-end midfield talent, but just as importantly outlines the value of Jacobs. Cast off by Carlton, Jacobs quietly goes about his business as one of the league’s very best ruckmen. He features among the league leaders in possessions (for ruckman) and hitouts and remains one of the more consistent players in the AFL.
Midfield rating – 5/10
Playing at one of the more impressive home venues in the league, the Crows will need every bit of that advantage with a brutal 2016 draw ahead. Two matches against Fremantle, West Coast, North Melbourne, Geelong and Port Adelaide are as difficult an assignment as any team has; Adelaide play six of last season’s finalists in the first seven rounds with arch rivals Port Adelaide being the seventh team.
Facing North, Port, Richmond and Sydney in the first four weeks and Fremantle (in Perth), Port and the Eagles in the last three games poses challenging bookends to the season; the draw opens up in between but the start and finish will dictate where the Crows finish among the mid-table logjam.
Fixture rating – 4/10
Don Pyke was an unobtrusive, no-fuss footballer for the West Coast Eagles and one figures his coaching approach will be similar. Stepping into the breach left by Walsh leaves him large shoes to fill, but he survived a tough selection process and reportedly comes on board as the recommended choice of Crows legend and chairman Mark Ricciuto.
The game style he brings to the table will make for intriguing viewing; Adelaide played a largely contested game in 2015 but that was more than likely due to poor midfield skills. They ranked 15th in disposal efficiency and committed the second most clangers per game in the AFL, giving Pyke quite the challenge should he wish to change the gameplan.
A return to the finals looks to be a par score, but Pyke probably gets 12 months’ grace with the departure of Dangerfield and need to develop more midfield depth.
Coaching rating – 4/10
Adelaide’s forward line potency places them in a position where they may be able to cover deficiencies down back and in the midfield, especially if they improve their disposal efficiency. Thompson is a soft tissue injury waiting to happen and opposition coaches will put far more time into this forward line in the hope they can contain Walker, Betts and co.
Pyke is recognized as a coach who backs players to play with instinct and flair and his understated manner may be just what the Crows need.
Adelaide doesn’t accept mediocrity as a club and the way in which Ricciuto conducts himself embodies this attitude; if Pyke can pull the right reigns and get a good run with injury they may well replicate last season’s performance. However the lack of midfield depth and pressure on the forward line to reproduce their exploits of 2015 may result in year on the outside looking in once September starts.
Predicted finish – 11th