In the lead-up to this game, you could sense the Saints supporters getting a bit nervy about their game against Adelaide.
Even with their big win over the Cats at Docklands last week, playing either Port or the Crows in South Australia has long been cited as a weak point for the Saints over the years. They won against both at Adelaide Oval in 2020, but before then, success interstate has been rather scarce
Consider the injury to their captain Jack Steele and all of a sudden, this was immediately looming as a game that was up for grabs and one that the Saints were in real danger of dropping.
Despite their standing in the bottom six currently, the Crows are a side that boasts very good potential and on their best day, can rattle the best sides in the competition, it’s more about just finding that level of consistency that the better sides have.
In what was – and I’ll be brutally honest here – a shithouse game of football (well at least until the last quarter), the Crows started the game in control, forcing the Saints to play wide and to the advantage of the likes of Adelaide’s interceptors. This enabled the Crows multiple inside 50 entries, 18 of them to quarter time if we’re being specific.
However, poor accuracy let the Crows down and kept the door slightly ajar for the Saints to seize the opportunity with a pair of hands.
Well as they say in the old country; leave it to Max King and he’ll do the rest. We’ll get to him shortly, but the Saints bagged eight goals in the final quarter after kicking six in the first three quarters to overpower the Crows in a massive win away from home.
Good sides will find ways to win, especially away from home and the Saints are continuing to put wins on the board and press for a spot inside the top four. Pending the result from the Fremantle game, the Saints sit outside the four, percentage above Fremantle and a win behind the third-placed Carlton.
Time to break this game down with another good ol’ fashion autopsy.
BOW DOWN TO THE KING
Much has been made about Max King’s fleeting accuracy in front of goals across the past 12 months but when you kick six goals from just six kicks, you put the notion of him having the yips to bed this weekend.
He was the match-winner in this game, particularly early on, when the Saints struggled to find much up forward. Tim Membrey presented well and got on the end of a good crumbing goal in the second term, but the Saints looked more potent when they were kicking the ball to a spot that enabled King to run and jump at the ball without being impeded.
The Crows missed Jordon Butts badly in this game, and hopefully, it won’t be before long until we see him out there. I rate Nick Murray – he’s a guy that gives 110 percent effort every time he steps out onto the ground, however, without Butts out thee, the Crows struggled.
Against a guy in King, who has a bit of a height advantage over Murray before we take into account the leap and when he goes to stretch his arms out to take the mark at the highest point, it was always going to be tough for him if the Saints had their way with the ball, and they had it enough to deliver it to Max with the right precision to allow him mark after mark.
He took six marks in this game, five of them were contested, which outlines just how good he was aerially and there probably wasn’t much else to his game. The ones he didn’t clunk, he at least managed to bring it to ground level.
Now that you think about it – six marks, six kicks and six goals. Nice and devilishly efficient, I’d say.
MEANWHILE, AT THE OTHER END
I made note of it at the start of the game that Callum Wilkie was being sent directly to Taylor Walker and it was a match-up that delivered plenty.
Say what you want about Taylor Walker, but as the football player, he remains extremely key to Adelaide’s chances of winning any game of football. He’s got a good kick on him, he presents well and he doesn’t mind getting into the opposition player’s head if he has a couple of bad moments in the game.
However, Wilkie played him superbly in this game. Walker struggled to introduce himself to the ball in the first half. It’s interesting to see in a few moments, Wilkie’s closing speed ended up catching Walker and getting the spoil in at the last possible moment.
Whilst Tex would go on to kick 1.2 – the one goal being on the back of one of those kicks that defenders simply cannot defend – he was well and truly taken to the cleaners by Wilkie in this game. Taking the goal aside, Wilkie’s bodywork, his closing speed and his focus in the contests are all such underrated facets of his game.
In fact, you’d just about say he’s one of the more underrated players in not just this team, but the entire competition. He often comes into the game with either a lockdown role or a role to ensure that life for the opposition forwards are extremely difficult.
Also, it was very good to see Wilkie let Walker know all about how well he was playing him, only to infuriate the former Adelaide captain even further’ the best sign of seeing someone thrown off their game.
And just to further rub salt into Walker’s wounds, Wilkie finished with more disposals than him, along with 10 intercept possessions, three intercept marks and nine spoils for the game. Walker had just the 11 disposals.
BEN KEAYS – POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE INFLUENCE?
For the record here, I’m a massive fan of Ben Keays and what he offers to this Adelaide team. I couldn’t have been happier for him to be picked up by the Crows at the end of 2019 and to see him thrive during the pandemic era after being starved of opportunities at the Lions is nothing short of remarkable.
Currently, I feel a bit frustrated with his game. There is no doubt he works hard, -I watched him in one centre bounce; shark a hitout, win the centre clearance and then immediately follow up to get his hands on the ball and continue to surge the ball inside 50 – all up, he had nine clearances for the match, the most of any player on the ground.
He gets his hands on the ball enough times, but it’s how he uses it that I’m not exactly sure about. Of course, the clearance winners’ job does not involve having to be squeaky clean and find a target ten times out of ten. However, with nine of his 15 kicks being turnovers, that becomes a problem for not just himself individually, but for the entire team.
Understandably he’s not the only culprit, but he’s the man basically in charge of the engine room at the moment and if something is awry, you’ve got to start at the top and Keays’ kicking from this game alone was average at best.
Look at who else is currently in there; Rory Laird kicked at 50 percent, Sam Berry at 37.5 percent, Jackson Hately went at 69 percent and Kieran Strachan? Let’s just say I hope Reilly O’Brien’s game in the SANFL on Friday night is enough to get him back into this team, because that other redhead just isn’t cut for it, yet.
The problem with Adelaide right now is that there are no finesse players that are running through the middle. It’s good that the players they’ve got in the engine room have ticker and work rate and are willing enough to get from contest to contest, but it’s for naught when they constantly turn the ball over.
It’s not something that Matthew Nicks can fix overnight. They have found themselves to be a great in and under team over the past 12 months, but until they find a greater consistency with their foot skills, then the Crows will not be going far in a hurry.
EVERYTHING’S COMING UP HILLY
Considering how much I’ve put the boots into Bradley Hill since coming across from Fremantle, he deserves something here, because he played some brilliant footy in this one, in his 200th game as well might I add.
I say that, but I internally complained about the idea of him playing as the spare in defence in the opening term after he failed to impact on a contest, which led to Riley Thilthorpe kicking for goal. It was looking like it was going to be another one of those games where he was going to be paid an extraordinary sum for doing sweet bugger all.
But as the game progressed, his influence in the game grew and he was allowed to run with the ball in his hands and allowed to make things work in transition.
He had 30 disposals – 20 of those being kicks and going at a strong 85 percent is a great return from someone who has been oft-maligned for his lack of production as a high-value signing. But it’s also good that he’s finding some little strings to his game.
Out of his 10 marks, two came from interceptions, and five rebound 50s is just a testament to the faith that Brett Ratten has put in him through all the very difficult times, would’ve been extremely easy to drop him after even a dozen of poor games.
But on that though, I think they are starting to run the ball through him a little more and his skills by foot have been very handy over the years. Put the ball in Bradley’s hands and often he can help open the play up and help open up the forward line and give them the best chance for a score – he had seven score involvements in this game, including two direct goal assists.
SOLIGO – REMEMBER THE NAME
There was little to like about Adelaide in comparison to the Saints; Brodie Smith and Jordan Dawson were perhaps the best two Crows out there on the park with their run and dash and in the case of Dawson, two big goals to help try and get the Crows home.
But there was a young man in his fourth senior game that caught my eye this week, a young man that goes by the name of Jake Soligo.
This kid’s got a future in this team, make no mistake about it. There are some young players you just watch and you can tell that they’ve got a work rate and a hunger for the contest that is nearly second to none, and I see that when Soligo pushes back to play defence and save what could’ve easily been a Saints’ goal.
And then to see him push up the other end and provide as a forward option, or even be that option that helps open up the forwards and puts it out in front. He’s got great knowledge and understanding for the game, and it’s with that, he provides a good hand for versatility.
He finished this game with 19 disposals, including his first career goal, a textbook set shot for goal, he had five score involvements all up and four inside 50s, but also managed six intercept possessions, three tackles and 10 defensive pressure acts.
He’s no world-beater yet, this is just a kid remember. But I love everything that he’s done so far. Applies himself well to contest and uses his skills superbly well – just keep your eye on him as the season continues to unfold.
Let’s touch on both Dawson’s game. He did a lot at both ends, intercepted well, took three intercept marks, but also showed that popping up for a goal in a crunch time situation is something he can easily handle, kicked a clutch goal in the last quarter and a goal to steady in the second.
Touched on Sam Berry’s poor kicking efficiency earlier, but one thing I loved was his hardness around the ball and his defensive work when the Crows don’t have the ball – led all Crows on the ground for pressure acts with 27 and led all players on the ground for tackles with nine.
Take away his very good goal in the last quarter, Josh Rachele struggled in this game, is it perhaps time for Matthew Nicks to give him a week’s break and let him regenerate heading into the second half of the season?
I do love players that show a bit of mongrel about them, and Ned McHenry is a guy that has a lot of it. Attacks the contest with a lot of intent and isn’t afraid to get in the face of the opposition as well. Loved the confrontation with Zak Jones in the second half.
Because I want Reilly O’Brien back in this team, I’m going to highlight Strachan’s decision to try and pull off a 45-degree kick from the back pocket, to Chayce Jones essentially in a two-on-one and then watch it spill to Bradley Hill for a casual goal. Used the ball horribly tonight and was arguably third-best to both Ryder and Marshall in the ruck contests.
Not that Ben Paton was massive in this game, but I think the defensive unit looks a little more settled when he’s involved. Positions himself well to pick off opposition passes at ground level and finds the composure with the ball in his hands to make sure it gets away without turnover.
Massive game from Brad Crouch against his former side. That last quarter in particular was something like what Jack Steele would’ve pulled out in past seasons, won important clearances, kicked a very nice goal – it was a terrific performance from him all around.
I’d like to pinpoint Marcus Windhager’s decision to kick it to Max King in a one-on-one deep inside forward 50 in the last quarter. It was a high up and under, it had enough height in it so that no one can fly in to cause a spoil, plus it was to the space which advantaged King significantly. I like this kid a lot, hope he plays more.
Won’t go down as his best individual performance this season, but I thought Jade Gresham had a very solid night in the office in this one, used the ball by foot very well, won some important contested ball, as well as some centre clearances and helped create some good scoring opportunities.
I’m not sure how often Cooper Sharman was used tonight as a lead-up option, but I hope he doesn’t get dropped next week. I think he presents himself well as a second/third tall in tandem with Membrey, and his set shot in the last quarter was very impressive.
And on that, that’s this week’s autopsy wrapped up and called to an end.
A great win away from home from the Saints, who face some stern tests coming up – North Melbourne next week isn’t one of them, but they do play Brisbane in Brisbane, Sydney in Sydney, Carlton and Fremantle within the next six weeks
The Saints are doing enough to put the wins on the board we’ll find out well and truly where the Saints sit in amongst the grand scheme of things by the time we get to July.
As for Adelaide who sit at 3-7, it doesn’t get easier for them – they play Geelong in Geelong next week, but also have games against Gold Coast at Metricon and Melbourne in the next five games. But also have very winnable games in West Coast at home and North Melbourne away as well.
It might be another long year for the Crows fans, but the signs of a turnaround are coming.