Crows forward Riley Thilthorpe (Photo: Daniel Cohen)

Crows forward Riley Thilthorpe (Photo: Daniel Cohen)

Adelaide Crows rising forward Riley Thilthorpe will be out for at least three months after injuring his knee during the pre-season. But who takes his place?

Tearing his lateral meniscus in the weekend’s win in their pre-season game over the West Coast Eagles, Thilthorpe will not be in Adelaide’s plans until mid-season, with an expected return to play in 12-14 weeks.

Darren Burgess, the Crows’ High Performance Manager spoke about his confidence in Thilthorpe’s ability to rehabilitate his injury and play the second half of the season.

“It’s obviously very disappointing for Riley and the team, he’s had a fantastic pre-season and had put in a lot of hard work to put himself in a strong position for the year ahead,” Burgess said.

“But now his focus shifts to his rehabilitation and Riley is very diligent when it comes to his training and preparation which will hold him in good stead.

“Given his age and that he is such a valuable, long-term player for us, we are taking a conservative view with his return to play and see him being a significant contributor for the second half of our season.

“After a period of rest at home, he will continue his upper body training at the Club and will spend about six weeks in a knee brace before progressing to on-legs training and then running.”

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With no other forwards of note on Adelaide’s injury list currently, they have a few options to replace the 21-year-old.

It is also important to note that Ben Keays, Lachlan Murphy, Josh Rachele, Luke Pedlar, Izak Rankine, Jake Soligo, Ned McHenry, Darcy Fogarty and Taylor Walker will be considered as Adelaide’s first choice talent (through practice match teams fielded) to varying degrees.

Tried and tested

There are a few natural forwards that are on the Crows list that have been utilised already. Forward now turned-backman Elliott Himmelberg and Lachlan Gollant are the two that fit this mold.

The more prolific option is 25-year-old Himmelberg, who has been recently training and playing in the backline due to the plethora of tall forward options.

He has not been in great form the last few seasons, which has seen Thilthorpe and Fogarty overtake him from starting team perspective.

After debuting late in 2018, he played 18 games in his first two full seasons, currently he has kicked a goal a game for his 41 AFL games.

This option seems unlikely due to his move down back and the coaches’ desire to keep him settled in his new role.

If the Crows are looking for a tried and tested option, they could be rewarding patience by giving 22-year-old Gollant a recall.

A leaner body type, Gollant has had to build his physique so that he could meet the demands of the game. He is a natural marking forward, which is something that isn’t in the Crows’ forwardline, with mostly leading and crumbing options.

He made his debut in late 2021 and has only managed 12 games in a two years for 12 goals. His most impressive performance came in the Crows’ first showdown win in 2022 where he kicked four goals.

Will a former Sun get his Crows debut?

Another option that the Crows could go with would be new recruit Chris Burgess. Recruited as a defender for the Suns, Burgess has now become a goal kicking forward in his time in the VFL.

On Monday Crows forward coach Jack Hombsch suggested that Burgess could be in line for his club debut when asked about Thilthorpe’s replacement.

“We brought Burgess over from Gold Coast last year, who can certainly play that role & Lachie Gollant, he’s chomping at the bit to have a crack. Those guys are ready to go.”

Burgess had limited opportunity at the Gold Coast, playing VFL football for much of the last few seasons. 36 games for 14 goals was his total return for his five years at the Suns.

However he is fresh off winning two consecutive Jim Frosty Miller Medals (VFL leading goalkicker), where he has shown more consistent form.

The left-field choices

New draftee Daniel Curtin could be the one to replace Thilthorpe if he is able to overcome knee soreness that has plagued him this off-season. It is unlikely considering he is considered more of a defender that a swingman though.

Young midfielder Billy Dowling could also be in the frame, yet to debut, he is a highly rated and skilful prospect. Dowling could be utilised in the midfield to push another midfielder forward or, as seen in the SANFL, he could be deployed in stints down forward.

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