As we hit the bye rounds in the AFL season, The Inner Sanctum will be conducting our mid-season reviews of all 18 clubs and assessing the first half of the season and what fortunes may lie ahead.
Up next, Adelaide.
Hailed as the “the worst Adelaide side in 30-years” by Kane Cornes in the lead up to round one, the Crows’ rise has surprised many this year with impressive wins against Geelong, Melbourne, and St Kilda having them placed 12th on the ladder at the halfway point of the season.
Sporting the AFL’s youngest list, it is important the Crows now build on their five early-season wins and close the season out strongly as they look to carry momentum into season 2022.
When it comes to football storylines in 2021 it is hard to go past the career renaissance of Taylor Walker.
Following a lacklustre 2020 season, which yielded just 15 goals in 14 matches, many thought 2021 would be the 31-year old’s last hoorah as the Crows ushered in a new generation.
However, the boy from Broken Hill had other ideas, booting 37 majors in just 12 matches to be second in the race for the Coleman Medal and once again a key cog to the success of this Adelaide side.
The growth of Adelaide’s youth has also been impressive, with a host of highly talented youngsters proving themselves as up to the standard of AFL football.
Faced with the decision of either going down the local route with promising West Adelaide tall Riley Thilthorpe or looking at interstate prospects Logan McDonald or Elijah Hollands, the Crows ending up going with the hometown boy and hasn’t he delivered.
In his eight games to date, Thilthorpe has kicked 16 majors (including five on debut) and has already proven to be a difference-maker both in the air and on the ground.
Second-round draft picks Sam Berry and James Rowe have also slotted into Adelaide’s best 22 nicely, while the likes of Ned McHenry, Harry Schoenberg, Lachlan Sholl, Jordon Butts, and Chayce Jones have all taken steps forward in their development this season.
Consistency is the main area the Crows will be focusing on moving into the second half of the season, with lapses in games costing them on numerous occasions.
At their best Adelaide has shown they can match it with the competition’s elite, having already claimed wins over top-four sides Geelong and Melbourne. However, they have also shown themselves as vulnerable against lower sides such as Collingwood and Hawthorn.
It is a classic case of playing up to your competition and down to your competition, a tell-tale sign of a young side in the early stages of their development.
Matthew Nicks and the brains trust at Adelaide will be hoping to see more complete four-quarter performances to finish the year and an ability to limit teams once they get on a roll.
The Crows young backline is also an area that would be seeking improvement, with the team giving up over 100 points on five occasions (tied for second-most in the competition).
Jordon Butts has battled gallantly against some of the league’s most accomplished forwards, however, a lack of experienced support has left him vulnerable at times and susceptible to conceding big bags of goals.
Malcolm Blight Medal contenders:
Several Crows have enjoyed excellent starts to the 2021 season, making the race for this year’s best and fairest award an intriguing one.
12 months from his move into the midfield, two-time All Australian Rory Laird has had an outstanding season averaging 31.3 disposals, 15.2 contested possessions, and 6.9, and would have to be the front runner this stage.
Delisted free agent Ben Keays has had a phenomenal second year at West Lakes, taking more responsibility through the midfield and thriving with averages of 28.6 disposals, 5.7 clearances and 437.9 metres gained.
The out-of-contract Paul Seedsman is also in the midst of a career-best season, with the skillful line-breaking midfielder averaging 26 disposals and 636.5 metres gained per game and providing some much-needed run for the Crows.
Taylor Walker would also have to be considered following his hot start to the season around the goals.
Who needs to lift:
Coming to Adelaide from GWS over the off-season, former first-round draft pick Jackson Hately has had a slow start to his career in the tri colours.
Hailed by many as the replacement for the recently departed Brad Crouch, Hately has found it hard to nail down a spot in the best 22 only appearing in the senior side on just two occasions thus far.
However, a recent run of good form in the SANFL and more confidence in his body now has him in a better position to come in and contribute at the highest level when called upon.
After a promising start to his career in 2020, small defender Andrew McPherson has not quite progressed into the reliable contributor many thought he would be.
Shown up by a lively Jamie Elliott in their round 12 clash against Collingwood, it seems the 22-year-old is low on confidence and will need to lift if he wants to be part of this best 22 moving forward.
Expectations for 2nd half of the season:
After a promising start to the season, the only expectation for this team is to continue to be competitive and see more development from their exciting core of young players.
With finals not in the equation for this team in 2021, results are not the be-all and end-all for Matthew Nicks as he looks to nail down the game plan and build a culture that will ensure sustained success.