In an absolute must-win game for the embattled Crows, Adelaide’s big guns stood tall to effectively end St Kilda’s finals chances. The Saints battled hard all night and refused to go away, but the cream rose to the top for the Crows as they got their faltering season back on track. Here are the big questions coming from Adelaide’s 22-point victory over St Kilda.
CAN ADELAIDE DO ANY SEPTEMBER DAMAGE?
It was a match that the Crows simply could not let slip. Having lost four of their past five encounters, Adelaide now suddenly find themselves on shaky ground, having been as high as fourth on the ladder earlier in the season. With three games left, Adelaide has banked themselves 10 wins, and are sensing at least two winnable games to come (the exception being West Coast in Perth).
So with all that said, and assuming the Crows do make it to September, will they be able cause an issue for any team they face? If the finals started now, Adelaide would face the ultra-talented Giants in Western Sydney, a venue the Crows have not tasted victory at since 2014. Regardless of who they play, it will definitely be away from Adelaide Oval, and the Crows haven’t been consistent enough to be trusted with sure fire victory.
Possessing one of the oldest lists in the competition, Adelaide has enough talent to be a force, but it needs to dramatically turn around a ship that is threatening to capsize, and their experienced players are on their last legs in an era that is unforgiving on players over 30.
WHO SHOULD ST KILDA TARGET IN THE OFF SEASON?
It is quite clear from the outside looking in, that St Kilda’s biggest hole on their list seems to be a lack of top level talent capable of carrying a team on their back and winning matches through sheer brilliance. The Saints have a long list of players that would be considered in the “B” category (a good player that will be loyal servant of a football club but not in the true upper echelon of superstars), and their young stars are developing nicely, but for St Kilda to return to the top of the ladder, they need to get aggressive at the trade table and bring some talent into their system.
So who should they go after? Out of contract Giant Stephen Coniglio is on the radar of Hawthorn and Carlton, and he absolutely should be a target for the Saints, as his game would easily make St Kilda a finals worthy team. Another hole on the Saints list is in key defence, with Nathan Brown heading towards the end of his career and Jake Carlisle being far too injury prone to be relied on. Looking around the AFL, it seems there is no glaring option that is currently out of contract, so it may be worthwhile spending their first round draft pick (currently sitting at pick 5) and significant cash to lure a superstar defender from another club. After the club traded for injury-riddled Dan Hannebery (player who it seems won’t get any better despite St Kilda’s optimism), the Saints cannot afford to bust another trade target. His recruitment was a failure, and is St Kilda go down this primrose path again, it could spell disaster for the list management team.
One thing is certain however, after another stellar performance from Rowan Marshall, is that the Saints should be going nowhere near another ruckman for big money. While he is currently dealing with a mental health issue, Billy Longer is a more than handy back-up, and if the Saints are desperate for another big man, they should look towards someone like Adelaide rookie Paul Hunter, who has been the third banana at the Crows since his arrival to West Lakes. Spending huge amounts of dollars on a ruckman is asking for trouble, especially with all the money tied to Dan Hannebery.
WHAT DOES DON PYKE DO AT THE SELECTION TABLE?
Don Pyke’s decision to bring back over 800 games of experience seemed to pay dividends, but it still showed that the Crows coach’s selection gambles this season have boggled the mind. This week alone, experienced pair Josh Jenkins and Paul Seedsman, as well as rookies Tyson Stengle and Patrick Wilson were all demoted to the SANFL, but were dropped on a week that the Crows reserves have a bye, giving the quartet (as well as former regulars Jacobs, Knight and Greenwood) no chance to stake a claim for a return to the senior side.
Adelaide supporters have been scathing of their coach for his sometimes odd demotions this season, with Gibbs, Jenkins, Jacobs, Betts, Greenwood, Mackay, Seedsman and Douglas all spending time with the SANFL side, and Darcy Fogarty, Elliott Himmelberg, Myles Poholke, as well as the aforementioned Stengle, Wilson and the rookie Chayce Jones suffering from a lack of development that comes from playing at the highest level when it seemed like they were about to get a decent run at it.
In a two-team town like Adelaide, the pressure to perform rises with every loss, and Don Pyke’s confusing selections have done him no favours either from the players under him or the supporters in the stands, who have become very vocal in their criticism. It is absolutely fine for Pyke to tinker with the line-up, but if you are going to bring a player in, at least give them time to get into their work, and when you send a player down a grade, don’t drop a player that, on the surface at least, doesn’t deserve to feel the axe.
WHO WERE THE PLAYERS OF THE MATCH?
Brad and Matt Crouch
One of Adelaide’s most important long term players, Brad Crouch was a midfield beast, both with the ball and without. The older brother had his usual 29 disposals, but also contributed seven clearances and an equal high seven tackles to his team’s cause.
Younger Crouch Matt had a night to remember, with his 35 touches higher than his career average, and his two goals had so much value from a player not renowned for his work in front of goal. Matt was the main beneficiary of his brother’s grunt work in and under the packs, with Matt’s five inside 50’s complementing Brad seven clearances.
With the Malcolm Blight-led talk that the Crows should look at trading one or even both of the Crouch brothers for high end draft picks, both brothers put together performances that reminded us all that their true value lies in Adelaide’s midfield, and trading them only gifts another team two brilliant players capable of leading the Crows for the next decade.
St Kilda’s most effective tall forward, Membrey’s stellar work all over the ground complemented his forward line nicely. With Josh Bruce providing an effective target closer to goal, Membrey was able to use his tank to get up the ground, collecting 17 disposals (14 kicks, three handballs), taking eight marks and sending the ball inside 50 five times. As a goal kicker, his three goals were a team high, and his disposal efficiency of 82% was elite for his team. With Membrey and Bruce, who have kicked 71 goals between them, St Kilda has found a key forward combination that with another star midfielder getting it to them, are capable of carrying the Saints back to premiership contention.
A superb defensive rebounding display from the AFL’s most underrated defender. Gathering 38 disposals, Laird took 12 marks, rebounded from defensive 50 eight times and had nine score involvements. With St Kilda going inside 50 over 50 times, it was Laird’s presence in defence that rattled the Saints going forward. It is staggering that a player of Laird’s consistent excellence is yet to be selected in the Mongrel All Australian Team, and it seems that if Laird played for a team in Victoria, his profile would be far larger than his current status as a member of an interstate based team.
Once again it was a herculean effort from the AFL’s most improved player, playing opposite another of football’s best young big men. Tonight it was Marshall that took the points, as his influence around the ground was a telling factor in the Saints being in the contest for so long. O’Brien won the tackle count, but Marshall was victorious disposals, clearances and hit outs to advantage. Brodie Grundy and Max Gawn are the two premier ruckmen in the competition, but Marshall’s rapid rise to a clear third is one of St Kilda’s biggest positives in a season that will ultimately end in disappointment.
WHO NEEDS TO IMPROVE?
Now in his third season, this has been Ben Long’s most promising year to date, and in his 13 games he has continued to develop. However, after gathering just four possessions and having no impact on the contest, it is clear that Long still struggles for consistency. A player like in the infancy of his career, Long will not yet be expected to carry his team like a grizzled veteran, and the focus will be on continued improvement. It may be time to send Long (nephew of Essendon champion Michael) back to the VFL so he can dominate at the level below and get his confidence through the roof before he returns to St Kilda’s senior side a more complete player for the long term.
Playing opposite Josh Bruce, Hartigan’s night was flattered by Bruce’s wayward kicking. Copping a slight ankle injury in the first quarter, Hartigan has long been Adelaide supporters’ whipping boy for criticism, and tonight’s performance certainly won’t do him any favours. Once Alex Keath and eventually Tom Doedee return to the backline, Hartigan will find his place in jeopardy, as he doesn’t have the rebounding ability of Keath or Doedee, and his pure stopping power has value, but others around him are more skilled in this area, making Hartigan almost surplus to requirements.
When trying to find players to fill these spots, it is easy to single out McKenzie’s afternoon, as he simply did not get enough of the ball to impact the contest. Now in his fifth season, 23-year-old McKenzie’s season averages haven’t shown enough improvement for his time in the game. Still far too inconsistent, McKenzie’s best form is brilliant, but it only ever surfaces in small patches, and there are players on St Kilda’s list capable of filling McKenzie’s role should his development continue to stagnate.
This passage was written after St Kilda’s loss to Richmond, and unfortunately the message still rings true. Gathering just 10 possessions as a late inclusion, McKenzie once again did not have enough impact on the contest to warrant selection at this point. McKenzie’s teammates stuck either at Sandringham or in the medical room are getting close to returning, and McKenzie has well and truly put himself under the pump come selection, but another stint in the VFL should be his development continue to trend upwards.