There are those who believe and those who do not.

Coming into this game, there was a bit of talk about how much longer the renaissance of Tex Walker would last. With 11 goals over the first two rounds, he was up and about, but if you were one of those people waiting for him to crash back to earth, I’m sorry to say… no – I am delighted to say that you’ll have to wait at least another week.

Maybe a fair bit longer.

Tex was a star, ending with six goals, and in a tight game, was the difference between the teams.

The Crows and Suns engaged in a ripping contest that ebbed and flowed wildly before the relentless pressure from Adelaide gave them a break in the last quarter and they grabbed it with both hands.

With Jarrod Witts down with an injured knee, Reilly O’Brien shot to the fore in the final quarter as the Crows picked up their second win of the young season, and showed a marked improvement on their 2020 form.

Do you believe? Or do you not?

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

SIX-SHOOTER

Another week – another half dozen goals for Tex Walker.

It’s been brilliant to watch Taylor Walker rediscover both good form, and I am sure, a love for football in the process.

With the Suns off to a fast start, it was Walker that stepped up to the plate and kept his team in the game, with three first quarter goals. The Suns gained the momentum again in the third quarter and looked as though they may take control of the game again.

Nup… not on Walker’s watch. Another two goals from the former captain once again tightened things up and allowed the Crows to mount another challenge.

But the Suns answered, and even with Jarrod Witts down, hit the front in the last quarter a couple of times. It was only fitting that it was Tex Walker that slotted the goal – his sixth for the evening – to give the Crows back a lead they would not lose from that point.

When Walker stepped down as Adelaide captain, many said it was about time. Some suggested he should retire. Quite a few sunk the boots in when he was playing the role of key forward on a team that was just unable to score, or win games in 2020. Those who didn’t like Walker had a field day, bagging him out and laughing it up. Oh, they had seen enough of Tex to know what they were talking about, right? They were avid football followers that knew better than Walker, than Matthew Nicks and than the people at West Lakes.

Only they didn’t know squat, and in the first three weeks of the 2021 season, Walker has rubbed their noses in it – not by firing back at those who called for him to move aside or move on, but by firing on the football field. Those people forget that Walker was voted as best captain in the AFL by his peers fro a couple of seasons in a row for a good bloody reason. If you want to see leadership, go back and watch this game again.

Yes, you’ll see some heroics from Rory Sloane, Rory Laird and Brodie Smith, but it was Tex that changed the momentum of the game on three different occasions. When the Crows were down, they looked to their big forward and he bloody well delivered!

I am loving every second of this Taylor Walker renaissance and hope it continues. Those kids around him are walking taller knowing that their big man is hitting packs, clunking marks and kicking goals, and I hope like hell he has got plenty more to rub in the noses of those too short-sighted to see what he was bringing to a struggling team last season, and can’t bring themselves to admit they were wrong this season.

Long live Tex Walker.

 

THROWBACK

I’ve just given a whack to those who condemned Taylor Walker to the scrap heap last season, so in the interest of fairness, I reckon I should cop a whack of my own in this section.

Watching Rory Sloane last season, I thought he looked like he was cooked. Yes, he was carrying injury, but that maniacal attack on the football and the contest just didn’t seem to be as prevalent in his game as it used to be. Sloane looked slow and cumbersome – as though playing league football had become an unwelcome chore.

I wasn’t alone in wondering aloud whether Sloane’s best footy was well and truly behind him, with several chiming in with similar opinions.

And then he goes and does this.

Just the second player to collect 20 or more contested touches in a game this season, Sloane was a complete and utter warrior in this game, throwing his body into harm’s way without a care for his personal wellbeing. Whilst that may sound a little reckless, by god it was good to see him doing that stuff again.

Sloane had 11 clearances to go with 11 intercept possessions, which are usually the realm of the specialist half back flankers when you’re talking about big numbers. His positioning was excellent, and his desire to scrap for the footy at ground level would be the sort of example that young blokes on the team would look at and think “THAT is where I need to get to.”

So yes, at one point… or several points last season, I wondered whether we were ever going to see a vintage Rory Sloane performance again. As a matter of fact, I highly doubted we would, but Sloane proved me wrong, and I am happy to cop it.

I mean, what better reason is there to cop it than someone stepping up, winning the hard footy and inspiring his team to victory?

 

THE KID ON THE OUTSIDE

I’ll get to the bloke he played on pretty soon, but I was intrigued by the match up on the wing that saw Lachie Sholl and Jack Lukosius go head-to-head.

On one hand, you had Sholl, who is a combination of line-breaking run and long kicking, against the precision… or supposed precision of Jack Lukosius.

This was an easy win for Sholl, who really got off the chain at points and made his disposals count.

Last season, Sholl was robbed of his first tilt at a Rising Star nomination, but immediately made up for it the following week, and he doesn’t look as though he will be taking the foot off the pedal this year at all.

With 18 touches at 83% efficiency, Sholl was damaging on the rebound and made Lukosius pay whenever the Gold Coast wingman failed to pay enough respect to him. His eight disposals and three intercepts in the last quarter alone helped propel the Crows to the win, and with a tank that can see him run all day, he will give some opposition teams nightmares in the last five minutes of quarters this season.

 

THE LIFT – PART ONE

Remember last season when the Suns knocked over the Crows? Oh… you’d like to forget? Allow me to regale you with a tale of a former Crow who had a war of words, good-natured as they may have been, with club director, Mark Ricciuto.

Hugh Greenwood left the Crows after being starved of opportunity behind the Crouch Brothers and Rory Slone. His emergence at Gold Coast more than justified his move, but after the Crows fell to the Suns, Ricciuto made a bit of a jab at Greenwood about the number of disposals he picked up in the game.

It wasn’t Roo’s best moment.

Greenwood then pointed out that possessions were worth bugger all in the grand scheme when you were losing, or something along those lines and things simmered from there.

It seems like Greenwood gets up for playing against his old team – it’s like he has something to prove, and after a relatively quiet first half, I started wondering whether he was trying to fill a different role for the team in this one.

And then the third quarter happened.

Let me put this in context for you.

There were four players who laid more than eight tackles in this game, Greenwood was one of them as you’ll soon see. So that means there were 42 players with less than eight tackles to their name.

Greenwood had eight tackles in the third quarter alone. Yeah… by himself, all on his lonesome. He threw everything he had at the Adelaide midfield and was a wrecking ball in the middle of the ground. He finished the game with 14 tackles, ten clearances and 32 pressure acts as he flat out refused to allow the Crows clear passage out of the middle.

Whether you like Greenwood or not, you have to respect what he has been able to do with this Gold Coast midfield. He has turned a group of pussycats into a pack of snarling panthers, and he has done it on the back of hard work and desperation.

 

THE LIFT – PART TWO

Well, it would be hard to get through the positive aspects of the game without highlighting the way Reilly O’Brien elevated his work in the last quarter to give his team a lift around the stoppages.

I’ll cover the Witts injury a bit below, but the fact remains that O’Brien had to step up and become a presence, whether Witts was there or not, and he was able to do just that in the last quarter. Seven of his ten touches were contested and he also managed to lay three tackles in the kind of performance that earned him the Crows’ best and fairest award in 2020. He drifted back into defence to shut down most of the Suns avenues to goal and his second efforts were excellent.

I remember hearing a story last season, told my Mark Ricciuto, that told the tale of how there were quite a few that didn’t believe O’Brien had what it takes to be a number one ruck in the league… or be any sort of ruck in the league at all. However, he has well and truly proven those people wrong, and with his work ethic and ability to lift when his team needed him to, he was a huge part in the Crows storming home to win this one.

 

 

THE BAD

 

REPUTATION GREAT. REALITY… NOT SO GREAT

Much has been made of the elite kicking skills of Jack Lukosius and how he almost massages the ball into the vicinity he wants it to get to.

I’m sure you’ve heard the commentators salivate over him, drool running down their chops like Joe Ganino browsing through a Bras ‘N’ Things catalogue, but in practice… well, Jack really stunk it up in this game.

Normally so reliable by foot, just seven of Lukosius’ disposals found a target in this game. He overshot leading teammates, missed spot up targets as he exited defence and opted to bomb the footy when it became apparent that he wasn’t on his game.

But the Suns need him on his game for them to flourish – he is their weapon on the wing, both running hard forward and getting back to aid the defence. If he is wilting under pressure and missing targets, what hope do the others have?

Lukosius had a whopping nine turnovers in this game, and had a look about him late in the game where safety was his primary option. The Suns usually like to see Luko bite off a tough kick into the middle to open up the game, but with most things he tried turning to shit, that just didn’t seem to be on the cards at all in this one.

The Suns will need a huge lift from him next week against the Blues in what is looming as an early season eliminator.

 

THE UGLY

 

THE GAME CHANGER?

The Suns battled on manfully, however, the loss of Jarrod Witts is the kind of injury that can tear the heart out of a team.

When Reilly O’Brien crashed into Witts’ leg in a disputed ball situation, the big fella went down and looked to be in a bad way. He tried a couple of run-throughs before pulling the pin on his night and subbing out for Nick Holman.

His absence really opened the door for Reilly O’Brien to step up to the plate. Whilst Witts seemed to have ROB’s number prior to the injury, the dynamic changed greatly with the Gold Coast co-captain on the bench. As I covered above, O’Brien shot to prominence in the last quarter, picking up ten touches as he willed himself into the contest.

The Suns were gutsy and they fought on impressively at the stoppages, but with O’Brien building a wall in the Adelaide defensive half and no one big enough to impede him, it really put the Suns in a vulnerable situation.

When you add in that Zac Smith is still five or so weeks away from being available, the Suns may be forced to try something out of left field in the role next week. Not sure how you guys feel about it, but you’d be praying for an Easter miracle with Witts’ knee here and hope that it is just a couple of weeks out at most.

 

TOO MUCH LEFT TO TOO FEW

I’ll over one of these players a little bit more below, but the Suns had way too many passengers in this game, and when there are people struggling to get involved in the play, it increases the pressure on others around them.

And that’s what we saw in this game.

You’re always going to get maximum effort from guys like Hugh Greenwood, Noah Anderson, Touk Miller and Brandon Ellis, but what about those blokes we heard so much about in the preseason.

Oh, I remember the talk about Will Brodie coming back in excellent shape and wanting to secure a place in this team on a regular basis. Not with performances like this, he won’t. Playing in the guts, he collected eight touches for the game, and when you’re second to the footy, you should be tackling, right?

He did – twice. That’s the effort of a player known as a “February Champion”. Great in the preseason, but tends to disappear once the real stuff starts.

Alex Sexton has long been either the hero or villain for Suns fans. He can turn it on and snag a handful of goals, or go missing for 90% of the game. Have a guess which one it was in this game.

Sexton had just five touches for the game, his opportunistic nature no match for the desperation and hard attack on the footy of those surrounding him. Very disappointing.

This next one – I like this bloke and still think he has the makings of an All-Australian small forward. That said… what the hell was Ben Ainsworth up to out there in this game? He collected just seven touches and the two most important ones of the game went wide when the Suns were praying for someone to hit the scoreboard.

All these fellas above have immense ability, but in the cut-throat world of AFL football, ability only takes you so far. Look at blokes like Lemmens or MacPherson… you don’t question their effort. Touk Miller or Hugh Greenwood – you know what you’re getting, but from Brodie and Sexton in particular, I reckon we saw them look at this game, feel the heat and put it in the too-hard basket.
And in a game decided by a couple of kicks, that can make all the difference.

And that leads me to another bloke…

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

DOES BEN KING DO ENOUGH?

In a nutshell, no.

He threatens to, but I mean… I threaten to clean the yard and wash the car all the time. I never bloody do it!

King started this game like a world-beater. With Tex keeping the Crows in it at one end, King was the focal point at the other. He snagged two goals in the first and another two in the third, but it is those in-between periods that you start to wonder what else he can do other than launch at the footy and mark about one in eight attempts.

I’m aware he’s just 20 years old, but the bloke playing on him is only 21, and he managed to get his fist to the footy on 13 occasions in this one. King, meanwhile, had six disposals for four goals. Efficient, yes… but dangerous every time the ball went inside 50? Hardly…

Last season, in AFLW, Collingwood fullback Stacey Livingstone was interviewed after blanketing Tayla Harris and when asked about it, she said that Harris was “useless” if you take away the aerial game. King is starting to garner a reputation like that as well. Four goals is a nice return for a 20 year old key forward, but zero touches in the second quarter, and one in the last quarter are stats that the four goals should not completely wallpaper over.

He has to find other ways to stay involved when the footy isn’t kicked out on front of him on the lead.

 

HOW IMPORTANT IS BEN KEAYS BECOMING TO THE CROWS?

Amazingly, he is becoming very important.

I admit, when he trekked down from Brisbane to join the Crows, I did think it was a case of a bloke trying to squeeze a bit of life out of his career by signing with a team that was evidently going to struggle.

However, the commitment of Keays, and the fact that when almost everyone else was out on their feet in this game, he still had enough in the tank to keep motoring on, is enough to indicate that this wasn’t a brief stopover for him as he contemplated which country club he could get paid most for playing at on weekends. Ben Keays has developed into a hard nut midfielder who takes no backward steps.

When I look at a team like the Crows, I have a quick calculation as to who will still be there when they next contend. Adelaide have a couple of years until they’re ready to start pushing for finals, but currently 24 years old, Keays will be right in the window to experience success with this group.

 

 

WILL WE ONE DAY WONDER WHY NOAH ANDERSON WAS RATED BELOW MATT ROWELL?

It’s probably a very reactionary call, but as Rowell is rehabbing again, Noah Anderson continues to improve.

I believe it was last week – possibly the week before, when Anderson was interviewed and was asked what it was like to be second fiddle to Rowell. His answer made me think – he said something along the lines of “It’s always been like that.”

But will it always be the way?

Rowell’s potential is massive, but until he gets out on the park for longer than a few games, Anderson is the player that is coming on in leaps and bounds. He may not have the same level of attention that Rowell is getting, but right now, he is the one giving the Suns bang for their buck, and with 26 touches and seven clearances, the second year man is really starting to emerge from the shadow on the number one pick.

And he is starting to cast a pretty significant shadow of his own, as well.

 

IS LAIRD INTO THE MIDDLE THE BEST POSITIONAL CHANGE OF THE LAST COUPLE OF SEASONS?

We all know Rory Laird can find the footy – hell, when he was playing half back in 2018, he managed to average the lazy 32 touches per game. So, with his strong body, it seemed a natural move to shift him into the middle where he could add some real oomph to the Crows midfield.

And it continues to work a treat.

It seems as though whenever a highly-skilled player makes a name for themselves as either a half forward, or half back flanker, it is just a matter of time until the media start calling for them to move into the middle. The Crows were never rushed to send Laird into the guts, but now that the genie is out of the bottle, there is no getting him back in.

Laird had the 28 touches, six clearances and nine tackles in this game as he became a real thorn in Stuart Dew’s side in the middle. He is so hard to move off the spot, and with that low centre of gravity and good decision-making, he can stand in a tackle before releasing and setting his team off and running.

I always thought it would be one of Laird or Brodie Smith that made the leap into the midfield, but watching Laird ply his trade in there, I am glad they went with him. Smith can still add that penetration off half back, whilst Laird’s quick hands and great vision open things right up for the Crows.

 

OTHER BITS

Talk about making an impact as the sub – Nick Holman was supposed to be a bit of a letdown after losing Jarrod Witts, but with two goals in the last quarter, you can hardly fault him in terms of making the most of a very short situation.

I really liked the game of Paul Seedsman, who provided some great run and carry for the Crows. Loving life on the outside, the wingman sent Adelaide inside 50 on six occasions and picked up two direct goal assists for his trouble.

Best one-on-one win of the day? It would have to be Tex, wouldn’t it? That mark he took against two Suns defenders by sticking his big backside out and protecting the space was a beauty. Second best might have been Sam Berry’s contested grab against Oleg Markov, but given he missed the ensuing shot at goal, I have to grade him a little lower.

Good to see Tom Lynch get through the game unscathed and start doing the things that made him such a valuable part of this team a few years back. Injury has really held him back, but with a clean run at things, he could really help open up the forward fifty with his hard leads up to the wing.

 

Guys, I m tired… that’ll do me. Great game of football and a very solid win for the Crows. Tex and Sloane were great in the kind of performance I am sure Adelaide supporters wanted to see from them last year. Tell me, guys… was it worth the wait?

 

 

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