AFL 1 year ago

Round 23 Preview: West Coast vs. Adelaide

West Coast travel to Adelaide to take on the Crows in a game that can still have important ramifications for the finals. West Coast have an outside chance of making the top four, but need to win against the Crows and then hope that certain results go their way. 

The Crows would all but consolidate a top two position, which would guarantee two home finals. However, Adelaide could still drop out of the top two even with a win, if the Cats can make up the percentage difference in their game against Melbourne.

The Form

West Coast have continued on their second half form, with only one loss since the bye. The Eagles have won eight of their past nine, and while many of the wins were against bottom half teams, the final two weeks have seen West Coast take the points against top four sides GWS and Hawthorn.

Andrew Gaff picked up 38 disposals in the win against Hawthorn in a strong patch of form. Gaff had a quiet period through the middle of the season, but has been at his accumulating best in recent weeks. Matt Priddis is another who seems to have stepped up a gear. No doubt the midfield tyro has enjoyed the recent additions of Naitanui and Sheed to provide more inside support around the contest. Josh Kennedy all but wrapped up the Coleman with five goals against the Hawks, and has also been in solid form during the Eagles winning streak.

Not surprisingly, sitting 2nd on the ladder means the Crows have been one of the form teams of the year. Adelaide have won 12 of the past 13, with the only loss against the Cats down at Kardinia Park. Adelaide have been just as impressive at home, winning 10 of 11, with the only loss again to Geelong.

The Crows strength is their forward line, and Eddie Betts is one of the form forwards in the game. Betts is a lock for the small forward position in the All-Australian side, and is on track to finish with over 70 goals and his best haul ever for a season. Betts has plenty of support in Josh Jenkins, Tom Lynch and Taylor Walker, who is peaking in form following a slow start to the year with a foot injury.

The Recent History

The last meeting between the sides was the game where Adelaide stamped themselves as premiership contenders. The Crows knocked off the Eagles in Perth by 29 points, holding West Coast scoreless at Subiaco for the first time in West Coast’s history. Eddie Betts booted five goals, as Adelaide overturned a 26 point deficit booting the final 8 goals of the game to run out winners. Rory Sloane and Matt Priddis both had 29 disposals to lead their respective sides

Historically, not much separates the two sides. Of the past 10 meetings, both teams have won five games, although only one of those games has been decided by less than 20 points. The Eagles record in Adelaide is fairly decent, having won three of the past four games played there against Adelaide, as well as knocking off Port Adelaide twice in the past two seasons in Adelaide.

The Teams

West Coast made two changes to the side that knocked off Hawthorn, with Nic Naitanui tearing his ACL and Jackson Nelson making way for the returning Tom Barrass. Barrass’ inclusion is an important one for West Coast with the Crows boasting a number of talls in their forward half. Nelson was solid against the Hawks down back, but Adam Simpson identified the ‘horses for courses’ selection with the Hawks generally playing a much shorter forward line.

The big question of the week was what strategy West Coast was going to take into the game surrounding the ruck situation. Many different options were spoken about, but the most obvious was chosen, with Jon Giles brought in as a direct replacement. Giles hasn’t shone in his two appearances so far at West Coast, but he has a large opportunity to be a part of a finals campaign.

All three emergencies – Jackson Nelson, Mitch Brown and Jack Redden – travelled to Adelaide, as the Eagles considered all their options at the selection table, but it would be unlikely to see any late changes.

Adelaide were forced into two changes of their own, with Rory Sloane accepting a one-week ban for his strike on Brad Ebert in the Showdown, and Brodie Smith rested after leaving the ground against Port Adelaide with concussion. Ricky Henderson comes in across the back half while Cam Ellis-Yeoman plays just his 2nd game of the season.

The Crows have been the most settled side in the competition for 2016, using just 29 players throughout the home and away season. Ellis-Yeoman comes in to the side, but has been a dominant player in the Adelaide reserves, while other notable players in Nathan Van Berlo, Paul Seedsman, Andy Otten, Wayne Milera and Curtly Hampton have all spent the majority of the year in twos.

The Talking Points

Which forward line can get on top?

Adelaide and West Coast have two of the most proficient forward lines in the competition, with Adelaide the highest scoring team and the Eagles the third-highest scoring team. Both teams are flush with talls, with Josh Jenkins, Tom Lynch and Taylor Walker leading the Crows and West Coast having Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling leading their forward line.

Jenkins, Lynch and Walker have combined for 138 goals in 2016, while youngster Mitch McGovern has contributed 29. They all trail small forward Eddie Betts who leads the Crows with 65 majors and provides a dangerous option for any opposition. The Eagles duo of Kennedy and Darling have combined for 115 goals, with the two talls shouldering much of the goalscoring load.

While the Eagles don’t have a genuine small forward in the mould of Betts, the mid-sized forwards of Le Cras, Hill and Cripps all hit the scoreboard, and those three have been a good foil to Kennedy and Darling, in booting 84 goals between the three.

Surprisingly, neither side gets much of a contribution from the midfield, despite the new age style of football which spreads the goalkicking load. This may partly have something to do with the two styles of the teams.

Much has been made of Adelaide’s ability to get “out the back” and they kick a high portion of their goals from the goal square.  The Crows aim to score from turnovers through the middle of the ground and even in their back half, before run-and-gunning back the other way, often exposing high-pressing teams, as their forwards can operate in large amounts of space.

The Crows are the second highest ranked team in the league for inside-50’s so they get plenty of opportunities to get shots on goal. Conversely, the Eagles try to press as high up the ground as possible, provided they can assert a dominance at the stoppages. This may change now with the loss of Naitanui. During his stint on the sidelines earlier in the season, the Eagles lost the clearances and contested possessions in all games, and this ultimately affected their inside-50’s.

The Eagles were also badly exposed by Adelaide in their earlier meeting, with the Crows able to pierce the ‘Web’ at Subiaco, and score a number of goals behind the Eagles defence. Defensively, the Eagles like to guard space and close in on the opposition ball use, but if they don’t bring the manic nature that was exhibited against the Hawks, Adelaide will be too precise for them.

While the Eagles like to zone off their opponents, the Crows defenders are very much one-on-one, and Kennedy and Darling will struggle to shake the attentions of Daniel Talia and Jake Lever.

Which loss hurts more – Naitanui or Sloane?

Both teams have lost influential players for this game that could shape where the game is won. The Crows and West Coast are fifth and sixth, respectively, for clearances and both Naitanui and Sloane have a large bearing on this area in their own ways.

Naitanui provides the West Coast midfielders with a decisive advantage around at the stoppages, and allows the Eagles to set up in a proactive manner. With Naitanui missing, West Coast will need a different structure around the ball. The Eagles forward press is based upon winning the clearances and driving the ball forward from the centre, but they struggled to win these areas during Naitanui’s absence earlier in the year. Defensively, the Eagles allow a high percentage of scores from inside-50’s conceded, and if the Eagles can’t control the middle, their defence is immediately under pressure.

Rory Sloane was one of the favourites for the Brownlow before accepting his week suspension and it isn’t hard to see why. Sloane leads the Crows for disposals, tackles and contested possessions, and is 2nd at the club for clearances (behind Scott Thompson) and inside-50’s (behind Brodie Smith). Such is Sloane’s influence, he is even fourth at the club for hit-outs and he has magnificently filled the void left by Patrick Dangerfield to lead the Crows midfield.

Sloane was the leading possession winner for the Crows in their win over West Coast earlier in the year, and without him, the expectation is going to fall on the Crouch brothers and Thompson to step in and be the first-possession winner. Sloane’s absence is a boost for West Coast in the middle and Matthew Priddis could be the greatest beneficiary. Sloane and Priddis would likely have gone head-to-head, but against the less experienced Crows in the midfield, Priddis could have a big say in whether the Eagles can take an advantage.

Naitanui will obviously be the longer term loss, but Sloane’s omission is costly for the Crows, and the intrigue will centre over who can cover their loss the best.

The Result?

The Eagles will go into Friday night’s game with confidence following their past two wins, but the loss of Naitanui is going to require a re-jig of their midfield operations on the precipice of the finals. Adelaide are a tough proposition on their home ground, and the Crows have as much to play for as the Eagles do. If West Coast can protect their back fifty, they will be a big chance, but Adelaide will probably be too much for West Coast to defend.

Adelaide by 31.

This is the first time that West Coast have played consecutive Friday games since the Qualifying and Semi Finals of 2007. It is the first time in the home-and-away season since Rounds 12 & 13 1998. (@WCE_History) 

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