Well, well… will you look at that?
AFLW has kicked off and even with a pretty short season, it overlaps with the men’s competition. You know that means?
Tick tock… the AFL season is edging closer, and the Mongrel Season Previews are gathering steam.
Teams are now back at training, and in full swing heading toward the new season.
Over the last few weeks, I have been slowly compiling questions relating to each team to include in our season previews. There were so many questions in need of addressing. When I finally sat down and started the previews, it quickly became apparent these articles were going to be huge. There were simply too many things in need of addressing.
So, the way this is going to work is that the first five questions are available for free for each team, to whet your appetite and the next 12 are for our members.
So, it’s a ploy to get people to join the site?
Ummmm, yeah, kind of, but it also about providing value for those who support what we do here and enjoy the content – those who are already onboard. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
I am aiming to provide the most comprehensive team previews out there, so if you like sinking your teeth into articles with a bit of meat on the bone, that’s what you’re getting here. No flippantly thrown together article with a stupid prediction at the end – I’ll leave that to those with restrictions on word counts and pressure to make space for gambling ads. We’re diving deep.
So, without further ado, here are The Big Questions about the Adelaide Crows in 2022.
HAS THE TRANSITION OF RORY LAIRD FROM DEFENDER TO MID BEEN THE BEST IN RECENT SEASONS?
Well, he has a little bit of competition, with Callum Mills making a very successful transition from defence into the middle of the ground, but over the last couple of seasons, Laird has made moving into the midfield look easy.
With the Crows’ midfield struggling with injury in 2020, it was Laird to the rescue, taking his desk-like frame into the guts and winning the footy like he was born to do it. Already an All-Australian in defence, there was a pretty strong case for Laird to be considered in 2022.
He averaged 32 disposals per game, whilst elevating his clearance work to lead the Crows, notching 6.9 per game (good for eighth in the league) and almost tripling the number of tackles per game he registered as a defender in 2019.
Unassuming and workmanlike, Laird was a pillar of strength for Adelaide as they morphed into a very good contested footy team. Laird’s 14.8 contested touches per game were behind only Clayton Oliver and Ben Cunnington on average, as he put the midfield group on his back at times.
Whilst some may have seen Laird’s move into the midfield as a bandaid, with Adelaide having Rory Sloane and the Crouch brothers fighting injury, the move has been an incredible win for the team, as they have now unearthed a player that can take the heat off the ageing Sloane, cover for the oft-injured Matt Crouch, and make people forget about Brad Crouch, whilst aiding the young players such as Ben Keays as he learnt the ropes in the middle.
With another season akin to his 2021 output, Laird’s name should well and truly be in contention for an AA slot in 2022. He made the squad of 40 last season, but with a slight improvement in the overall performance of Adelaide in general, his performances will be difficult to ignore.
So, is he the best in recent years moving from defence to the midfield?
Absolutely, he is. And it is not even close.
HOW IMPORTANT WILL IT BE FOR TEX TO SLOT BACK IN?
Incredibly important. No two ways about it.
There will be sections of this preview that go into detail about the development and ceiling of Riley Thilthorpe. What we saw in 2021 were moments from the young key forward. Yes, there were times that he fell off a cliff in games and was hardly sighted, but you expect that for a kid in his first year. There have been very, very few key forwards who hit the scene and make an immediate and consistent impact, and whilst Thilthorpe’s impact was huge at times, it was not at others. The presence of Tex Walker inside 50 allows him to develop at his own pace and find his feet in year two.
Walker is a magnet for defensive heat. Decide to zone off him or don’t go to help his opponent and he will make you pay. His start to the 2021 season wasn’t just the best form of any forward in the league – it was the best of any player in the competition. 17 goals across the first three weeks set the tone for a vastly improved Adelaide unit who let everyone know that they were not going to sit back and have a repeat of the horror start to 2020.
With time running short on his career, you’d think Walker would like to have a similar impact this season.
There was a period late in 2021 where the future of Tex at Adelaide was up in the air, externally at least. People questioned whether he would be broken after the incident that saw him suspended by the league, however, as further details emerged, it became apparent that Walker would indeed return to the Crows.
The team, and their young forwards, will be vastly better off for it.
So, what do we expect from Tex in 2022? What can he offer this team as their rebuild starts to kick into a higher gear?
We won’t see Walker until Round Four, as he serves the remainder of that suspension. Once he is in the team, if he is able to continue at above two goals per game, he will once again make space for his developing cohort of forwards and make them better players in the process. The development of Thilthorpe, and hopefully, the rise of either Darcy Fogarty or Elliott Himmelberg is paramount to the future of this club. With Tex out there, those three players walk taller.
WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES THE RETURN OF WAYNE MILERA MAKE?
I’m glad to have read a few pieces this off-season touting the return of Milera to this team as a big win for the Crows.
They’ve been without him for roughly two years and with Rory Laird moving into the middle, their run and carry from defence has largely fallen on the shoulders of Brodie Smith. The return of Milera allows the Crows to share the love at half-back, with his ability to rebound from defence and slice his way through traffic it is a very, very welcome return.
Though I have no doubt it will take him a month of senior footy to genuinely start feeling comfortable and confident in his abilities again, Milera is no longer the 22-year-old making his way in the league. At 24, he is a little older, a little wiser, and will be pretty eager to once again cement his place in the team. He played 52 games over 2017-19, averaging between 15-18 touches per game, but without putting pressure on him, a lift in those numbers is more than likely required to help the Crows continue to climb.
Is 20 touches per game in 2022 a fair expectation?
Even when taking into account the rustiness his first month will work off, Milera is simply a player who knows how to find the footy, and if he is permitted space to operate in the back half, can well and truly cut a team to ribbons. Absence may make the heart grow fonder for Adelaide supporters, but it also preys heavily on the forgetfulness of the remainder of the AFL – out of sight, out of mind. This is a big advantage for the Crows – similar to getting a new recruit in many aspects.
Milera’s combination with Jordan Dawson will be interesting to see unfold. Dawson is a weapon by foot, but is also quite a good intercept player. If Milera can feed off his work, and that of Tom Doedee, Jordan Butts, Fischer McAsey, and Andrew McPherson, Adelaide’s back six looks like it could be quite potent on the rebound. Given the way they attacked in 2021, the addition of Milera allows this team to drop the hammer and go fast from half back. That causes chaos, and in the AFL, if there is one thing opposition coaches and defences do not like dealing with, it’s chaos.
DOES JORDAN DAWSON BELONG ON THE WING, OR HALF BACK?
Following on from the Milera discussion, the arrival of Jordan Dawson is one of the better picks up of the off-season.
This time last season, I speculated that Dawson may very well emerge as an All-Australian candidate in 2021. While I was a little too optimistic with that prediction, his play during the year indicated that I was well and truly on the right track. Dawson turned into a complete gun in 2021, switching between half-back and the wing, and resulting in him running hard forward to hit the scoreboard.
In one outing in 2021, Dawson bolted forward to snag three goals as he owned the wing role. If he gets forward of centre, anywhere within sixty metres out, an opposition would be foolish not to have players run right at him – if you give him room, he will make you pay!
The issue here is that Adelaide already have two excellent options on the wing, which I will get to later. Lachie Sholl is coming on nicely, and Paul Seedsman won our 2021 Mongrel Punt Wingman of the Year award (members column every week during the season… I’m telling you – we look after our members here).
In Sydney, Dawson moved freely from wing to half-back as required, switching with Justin McInerney, who also provided great run in both roles. Could the Crows try something similar? Could we see Seedsman drop back inside defensive fifty to allow Dawson to move through the middle and get dangerous? Or do they start grooming Sholl to play a more defensive role running off half-back now and again?
It is a great problem to have – the Crows now have something they were lacking over the last couple of years; genuine threats running off half-back and through the wing positions.
If I am sitting in the coaches box, I’d want to start Dawson on the half-back flank to allow him to settle into his role before throwing him around. The first twelve months in a new team often see players taking time to adjust. so you’d prefer him to feel at home and confident in a singular role before changing things up too much. There is a new gameplan to digest, new teammates to get used to, and a new environment to adapt to. The sooner he gets a handle on everything and finds his feet with this team, the sooner you can start experimenting with positions (oh yes… that was intentional).
WAS 2021 THE WAKE-UP CALL JACKSON HATELY NEEDED?
2021 was a bit of a kick in the pants for the former Giant, wasn’t it?
I have a bit of a feeling that Mr Hately may have thought he’d have an easier time of it in Adelaide than as part of GWS. We’ve all seen how good the Giants’ midfield can be, with names like Hopper, Taranto, Kelly. Ward, Coniglio… when he is not captain, and kids like Tom Green coming through. Players feel the squeeze there and getting a regular gig can be very difficult. Lachie Ash would be in most midfield in the league, but he is forced to look for opportunities as a defender – the squeeze is real at GWS, and I don’t blame Hately for looking elsewhere.
But at Adelaide, it should not have been so difficult. Matt Crouch was hurt, Brad Crouch was gone, Rory Sloane was starting to slow a bit… I am a firm believer that there was a bit of a sense of entitlement about Hately as he started with the Crows. Perhaps he thought he’d be gifted a spot in the rotation based on what he may be able to provide one day?
Nope – doesn’t work that way with the Crows – you have to earn your place in the team. I love that.
What Hately didn’t reckon with was the continued excellence of Rory Laird, as covered above, or the guts and determination of Ben Keays, who has had to do things the hard way. He did not expect the improvement from Harry Schoenberg, and the other kids coming through were pushing just as hard as he was for a spot.
As a result, Jackson Hately, the heralded recruit from GWS, languished in the Adelaide system, compiling just three games for the season in what can only be termed as a major disappointment. On other teams, you had players taken around him (he was pick 14 in 2018) finding regular places in their teams (Butters, Duursma, Quaynor, McHenry), yet Hately simply could not break into this Crows team.
What did he learn?
Did he learn that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard?
I sure as hell hope so!
He is still only 21, so there is a heap of time for him to round into the type of form the Crows were hoping for from him when they picked him up last season, but you get the feeling that Matthew Nicks would like to start seeing some results pretty quickly, even if it is just in terms of application and the ability to break into the side. I don’t want to go and start putting conditions on what makes 2022 a success or a failure for Hately, but you’d want to see him start to have his name mentioned a lot more often when the club’s best-22 is discussed as a starting point.
2022 is not a make or break season for Hately by any stretch, but after seven games in his debut year, six in his second, and three in his third, all with decreasing disposal averages, to put it bluntly, he needs to pull his finger out.
And that’s it for non-members. The next 15 questions are for those members who support us. I want these to be the biggest season previews you’ll read and am determined to give value for money. Some sites will give you lip service about your team – I will be diving deep. The Mongrel does the work… always. Want to join us?