The versatility of the Adelaide Crows has become a weapon for the side this season with reigning premiers switching up their line-up to make themselves harder to play against. Continuing to play without their captain Chelsea Randall, they will look to other players to fill the gaping hole.

The thumping that the Crows received against the Lions in Round Eight wasn’t the biggest lowlight of the night with the ankle injury to their captain Chelsea Randall arguably souring the night even more so. She’s been crucial to their make-up this season, playing off halfback and through the midfield at times early this season, Randall has used her stamina and agility to keep herself in the play where she has taken those trademark back-with-the-flight efforts for her team.

Being utilised down forward in the last month, she has been a revelation for the side that has struggled to kick the high scores and capitalise on their ascendency in the middle as they have in past seasons. Her efforts were crucial in their games against Port Adelaide and Fremantle with her form line directly parallel to the team’s she has been the barometer that all great captains aspire to be.

Speaking to The Inner Sanctum exclusively post-match after the win over Fremantle, Ash Woodland describes the impact of Randall in the team and what her versatility allows the team to do.

“Chelsea Randall is an amazing player and she’s so good to play with,” Woodland said.

“She’s the most courageous player in the comp and her acts and her sacrificial acts on the field just helps us so much and it was great for her to get a few goals down forward again this week and I think she’s playing really well.

“She’s playing through the mids and the forward line, she’s so versatile for us and when we do need her down back, she can go back down back.”

Speaking to The Inner Sanctum young gun Eloise Jones echoed this sentiment around their beloved leader.

“We’d love to have ‘Randy’ on the field with us, she’s a fantastic player and a wonderful captain for us but unfortunately [she] had a bit of bad luck a couple of weeks ago with the ankle but she’s coming along really well.”

Who can fill the gap that Randall has left?

In terms of who is in line to step up in her absence there is a trio of young players that have slotted into the midfield rotation while starting to contribute down forward that could play her role coming into finals. Teah Charlton, Abbie Ballard, and Rachelle Martin have all been solid this season with more gametime for Charlton and Ballard being imperative to their own development at the level.

Charlton has been the third cog in the centre bounces this season alongside Hatchard and Marinoff, in her third season at the club she continues to grow in stature in the competition. Filling the hole vacated by former Crow Erin Phillips, Charlton has averaged 13 disposals from her nine appearances this season while also adding 4.6 tackles and 1.2 inside 50 entries to her work.

In a disappointing match last week against the Lions, Charlton was one that can hold her head up high. Arguably the player of the match for her side she had one goal, 17 disposals, two marks, and six tackles.

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Ballard has also been an underrated player this season for the Crows. Earning a rising star nomination in Round Two, Ballard provides the pressure of a small forward but also can play as an in-and-under midfielder at the centre bounces. In her second season at the level, she has already doubled her games tally of four games from last season to become a first-choice player in this team.

She has kicked four goals and gone on to average eight disposals, one mark, and 4.2 tackles a game. It’s not always the statistics that show in her game but her run-down tackles and pressure on the ball carrier that sees her admired amongst the team.

Martin is another Crow that could see more time in the middle without Randall but would also have the most to gain in her absence. Bursting onto the scene for the Crows in the 2020 season after a stellar couple of seasons in the SANFLW, Martin is another midfielder that has struggled to get regular game time in the star-studded Adelaide midfield.

After a quiet start to the season, Martin’s last few games have yielded better results with 11, seven, and 13 disposals coming against the Dockers, Lions, and Cats respectively. Being down in terms of disposals (9.8 last season in comparison to 7.4) and tackles (5.2 last season, 3.2 this season), she ought to push into the midfield to contribute more with her trademark pressure acts and tackling.

Another Crow pushing to become a force in the backline in Randall’s absence is Kiera Mueller. Debuting in Round Nine against the Geelong Cats her first touch was a free kick, one consequence of the effort and pressure that she brings.

Playing alongside her in that game, Jones described her influence in her debut match.

“I think ‘Kiz’ (Mueller) came in and played a defensive role for us on the weekend and I think she played a fantastic debut game in all honesty. She’s a wonderful player,” Jones explained.

Without Randall’s influence in the forward line, the Crows will have to find another marking target that is able to take some contested marks to set up the team’s forward entries.

As a partnership in the ruck, both Montana McKinnon and Caitlin Gould have been pivotal in the Crows’ marks in the forward line and the backline. Combining for 50 marks for the season (29 for Gould and 21 for McKinnon), this dynamic duo has been underrated in terms of ruck partnerships in the competition.

Gould in particular has shown as a forward with McKinnon staying more in the ruck, Woodland speaks about their combination and its importance to the Crows.

” ‘Mon’ and Gouldy are great rucks, they play really well in the ruck position and hit-outs but also around the ground they take amazing marks and they give us that link up in the forward line,” Woodland said.

“I think they are really good players, I think they are great in the air and take good marks which is most of the marks for us.”

As the team’s leading goalkicker in season six, Woodland herself has seen the shift in the forward line where she isn’t always the focal point but she doesn’t have to be. This season has meant less of a load for the Crows spearhead with a more even distribution of goals and some from the midfielders too.

From the nine games played Woodland has contributed 11 goals in tandem with Danielle Ponter (seven goals) who has missed a few games with injury. Randall has chipped in with seven herself while forward McKenzie Dowrick, midfielders Anne Hatchard and Abbie Ballard as well as forward/ruck Gould have kicked four each. Another two midfielders contributing on the scoreboard are Ebony Marinoff and Rachelle Martin kicking two majors each.

Woodland explains how her role changes depending on defensive match-ups from the opposition as well as who’s in form in front of goals.

“I think our team is really versatile so if you are gonna put two defenders on say me, we’ve got DP (Danielle Ponter), we’ve got ‘Gouldy’, so we are happy to take it,” she said.

“If my job is to take two defenders which opens up two other players or another player, then go for it because so many girls can kick goals in our team and that’s why we are so hard to play on as a forward line.”

When asking what the Crows have to do going forward, Woodland maintains during the finals it will be no different to what is expected by the team from week to week in the regular season.

“I think we’ve just got to keep playing our footy, we’ve got to press and shift and be first to the ball,” she explained.

“It doesn’t matter who we are playing or what team we are coming up against we know it’s going to be a big fight and we take every team the same so we want to play our brand of footy each week and we go into the game knowing it’s gonna be a hard contest.”

The Crows will look to close out the home and away season with a win against St Kilda at RSEA on Saturday.

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