Adelaide v West Coast – The Mongrel Review

 

No team in the history of AFL have lost eight-straight matches by 50+, and West Coast were keen to avoid being the first.

Adelaide were looking to demonstrate that they’re building towards something, with a mix of young players coming through and older heads mentoring them on the field.

In a week where both clubs have had a bit of time in the papers, Adelaide and West Coast would have been very keen to put that to one side and get on the oval.

The game was a much tighter contest than the margin might suggest, and while Adelaide were in control much of the match, West Coast were far from shamed.

 

The lead up

With pressure mounting in the media on Adam Simpson, the Eagles needed to show that they still had the intensity in them to match a Crows squad that is on the up, but still off the pace of the league leaders.

I’m not sure it’s fair to put all the blame on Simpson, but as they say, there are two types of coaches in the AFL; Those that have been sacked, and those that one day will be.

West Coast was buoyed with the news that their ladder position allowed them to recruit promising 19-year-old tall mid/forward Jai Culley. They were so keen to have him on the team that instead of heading to Perth, he went straight to Adelaide to hook up with the side.

Adelaide had a mixed bag of media mentions, with Seedsman’s ongoing concussion issues forcing him onto the inactive list, and putting his career in question. With concussion and CTE a major problem with contact sport players, and treatments still in trial stages and not ready for use yet, there’s every chance that he will have some heavy decisions to make about his future.

Likewise, the future was a big conversation piece around Taylor Walker. On form, the 32-year-old former Captain has shown form worthy of another year or two, but the asterisk of his racial vilification incident will be attached to any contract talks that the Crows (or any team) have with him.

The Crows also picked up a player that may have an impact this season in former-basketballer Brett Turner. The 25-year-old midfielder has the maturity and physique to add depth to the Crows midfield, while also playing forward or back. As a local lad, it’s a feel-good story that the Crows enjoyed publicising in the local news, and fair play to them for it too.

 

Ins and Outs

West Coast were delighted to welcome back Shannon Hurn, with Naigh and Foley joining him in the side, while injuries to Jones and McGovern would have dampened the mood significantly. Adelaide lost Butts to injury and Brown to health and safety protocol, while Schoenberg, Walker and debutant Patrick Parnell came into the side.

As big an in as Hurn is, McGovern has been a vital part of the team’s defence and has been forced to play a lone hand back there trying to patch up a defence under siege for a majority of the game.

Adelaide’s losses were more than made up for with the inclusions, and despite the distracting commentary that follow him, Walker is a player that his teammates can rely on to put immense pressure on opponents when the ball goes forward.

As the clouds gathered in Adelaide, the teams lined up and the siren sounded for the match to commence!

 

The opening

In a game where both teams wanted to show their commitment, it’s unsurprising that the tight-marking accountable football on a damp track was the strategy from both sides. Or at least, that was the intention.

West Coast attempted to match the power and speed of Adelaide, but the difference in cohesion was readily apparent from the first bounce. Adelaide ran in formation, spreading wide to pull defenders away from the ball carrier, while West Coast tried to switch responsibilities on the fly. The result was confusion at the contest where players didn’t know whether to run off their direct opponent or stick to the structure, creating situations where multiple players were covering the short disposal, but leaving the mid-distance option open.

Adelaide exploited their disciplined approach to put a heavy scoreline on the board, with goals to McAdam, Fogarty and Soligo early in the quarter before West Coast even looked like mounting an attack.

McAdam was the beneficiary of a quick handpass from Walker in the goalsquare, an unselfish option to bring a young player into the game early, while Fogarty kicked a long bomb from about 70 metres out that bounced through with the greasy ball.

Soligo’s goal came from a long run to make himself an option, and a clever awareness from McHenry to put Adelaide’s third on the board with West Coast yet to score.

A blend of corridor movement, switch play and long runs along the wing gave Adelaide most of the early play and frustrated the West Coast defence that couldn’t rely on McGovern’s ability to read the build-up to repel the Crow’s attack. The defenders worked very hard though, particularly Barrass, and while the quarter-time score wasn’t encouraging, it could have been a lot worse without the commitment they showed.

West Coast gathered their wits and switched to a man-on-man style of play that restricted Adelaide’s ability to get into space for most of the middle part of the opening term. It’s to Simpson’s credit that his squad was able to adapt to this quickly, and to Nicks’ credit that he didn’t let it affect his gameplan. His players simply upped their workrate with the intention of burning out the legs of their opponents, and it worked. It would have worked even better with a little more accuracy, as it took Walker until his third shot at goal to kick one for the Crows, his team’s fourth, while Fogarty was dialled in early. His second shot at goal from distance went right through the middle from 55 out on a tight angle.

As the quarter wound down, West Coast managed a forward thrust that gave them a single point, their only score of the quarter, avoiding the embarrassment of a pair of doughnuts on the board by the smallest of margins. Adelaide however enjoyed a 31 point advantage going into the first break.

 

The mid-game

The Crows pushed forward, but Walker couldn’t convert. Shortly after, Josh Kennedy came off with a facial injury, and was taken down to the rooms to get patched up.

Despite missing one of their tall targets up forward, the Eagles managed to push the ball up rapidly and score their first of the match through an end-to-end play from Walker’s miss, and some hard work from Jack Darling. He was busy in the first quarter, but with Kennedy off, he upped his work rate and became a focal point at high half-forward when the ball was coming in quickly, and deep full forward when the Eagles were moving the ball in marking chains.

Adelaide kept pushing and had frequent inside 50 entries, but West Coast flooded back to stifle the free-flowing movement and restrict Adelaide to quick snaps rather than reliable shots. While a few of them went astray, Milera and Fogarty had some great scrambling goals to keep Adelaide’s momentum up.

West Coast’s defence was working overtime and was a bit unlucky when a Barrass intercept mark was overturned due to a block on McAdam. To me, it looked more like he was looking to put a hand on him to track where he was while his eyes were on the ball, but the ump called it as he saw it. McAdam kicked another for Adelaide, and Walker is, as always, first to congratulate him.

With just under six minutes left on the clock, Jack Darling took a great one-handed juggling mark on the boundary, and followed it up with a long, bending kick around the corner for his second of the day. He was outnumbered and the kick was less than ideal, but he just willed himself into the contest.

Darling followed up his effort with another bullocking play, pressing hard towards goal and finding Gaff open in the square with a bullet handpass to get the third for the Eagles, and the first sequential scores for West Coast in the match. West Coast seemed to gain a bit of confidence from their momentum surge, and started pressing harder, but a quick response from McAdam late in the quarter with a quick clearance through Keayes and Laird gave Adelaide a 38 point lead at the main break.

Despite the scoreline and injuries, West Coast looked a lot more competitive in the second, in no small part due to Darling’s work rate, and the constant harassment of the Eagle’s mids around the ball.

 

The battle for momentum

After a few stitches and the obligatory Elastoplast headband, Josh Kennedy returned to the field, much to the relief of the players and fans in the blue and gold at the match. Well, the lighter blue and gold anyway, and without the red, but you get it.

Both teams switched to more of a possession-style of football, tightening up and making each other accountable. Nicks’ strategy was smart, despite the commentary team’s assertion that they may be leaving percentage at the table that they could need later, as West Coast had hit a purple patch, and moving the ball quickly and being caught on the overlap was likely the best way that Simpson’s charges could get back into the match.

The art of coaching is as mysterious as it is powerful, combining long-term strategy that takes into account multiple years of development, as well as tactics that might only be relevant for a few minutes in a season. Nicks seems to be able to blend the two very well while still keeping his players motivated to play for their club and teammates. While Simpson has had a lot of disruptions this season, Nicks didn’t’ underestimate the resolve of the Eagles outfit, or the wiles of the coach, and made sure the game would be played on his terms. Underrated coach in my opinion, and will do well for the Crows in the years to come.

Speaking of the commentary team, a Tex Walker tackle that was given as holding the ball drew the ire of Gerard Healey, as there was an attempted kick. Now, Healey’s accomplishments as a player and commentator are significantly greater than mine, but as long as I can remember, someone trying to kick a ball, missing and the ball dropping to the turf while being tackled has been holding the ball every day of the week. Maybe I missed a memo about it, but if a flagrant incorrect disposal while being tackled is no longer penalised, I’m going to have to add it to the list of things to complain to the new AFL CEO about when I send a drunken email to the AFL at some point during an upcoming family wedding that includes an open bar. Either that or talk to ‘that’ Aunt about her new business that involves selling essential oils that are guaranteed to cure everything, but also require a 12-month subscription to purchase.

As the match remained a tight tussle, the wear and tear on everyone on the field started to show. West Coast’s players started to look gassed, with lots of them bent over, hands on knees, sucking air. Adelaide had their share of players with hands on heads, pulling oxygen deep into their lungs too, but it was an unlucky boundary ump that paid the price as he backpedalled into Adelaide’s forward line, stepping awkwardly and rolling his ankle pretty badly as the ball came right for him, with Tex Walker and Tom Barrass in hot pursuit.

I really feel for the bloke. He’s probably been copping the usual amount of banter from over the fence, then he goes down with the crowd’s enthusiastic voice lighting up the area at his misfortune, then to top it off, you have nigh-on 400cm and 200kgs of key position players coming right at you.

Fortunately, the ball rolled out before they had to decide whether taking possession of it was worth smearing the boundary ump all over the turf, so he got up, had Barrass and Walker enquire about his health and receive a dry “she’ll be right” from Tex as the play reset, but the ump quickly gave the ball away and went to the trainers. Hope he’s OK, might be worth strapping the ankles for a while though.

The throw-in from that play saw Kelly try and break through the pack, only to find Laird hugging him like a long-lost cousin at an airport. Laird was awarded the free and Walker casually strolled around behind him to get the easy handball and put one through from bang on 50 metres.

So tight was the play that this was the first goal of the quarter after almost 20 minutes of play.

As the scores hovered close to the dreaded 50 point margin, Adelaide seemed to understand that the game was theirs, and lifted the foot off the gas a little. They still chased, but didn’t have that desperate running to be an option that they had earlier.

West Coast made the most of this break in concentration, scoring quickly through Darling contesting a mark, picking up his own crumbs and finding Gaff who gave to Redden for West Coast’s first of the second half. Redden’s ‘don’t argue’ looked a little high on Laird, but so too was the tackle a moment earlier, so it all comes out in the wash.

West Coast continued the surge in the last minute, with a run from 80 metres out to kick from 45 in the pocket and guide it through.

The Crows pushed forward, but run out of time. They dominated the quarter with time in possession, but it was West Coast who managed to claw back the deficit to 35 points with their late surge.

 

Bringing it home

As the rain started falling, West Coast opened the quarter with a huge push in effort and were looking to run the game out strong. Hately and Waterman careened into each other as they both go for a ball entering West Coast’s forward 50. Both seem OK, but the contact definitely knocked them about. Waterman took a shot from 50, but pushed it wide as Nelson ran around behind him calling for a handball on the boundary side in a worse position while Waterman was taking his run-up.

Asking for the easy handball is a time-honoured tradition of forwards, right up there with accentuating any contact to pantomime-like levels and having three effective disposals and feeling like you did your job as long as two of them were goals, but Nelson didn’t help his teammate much in this case. Would not be surprised if that required a contribution to the end of season trip fund for distracting his own teammate while taking a shot.

West Coast then managed to keep the ball locked into their forward line, creating repeat opportunities and finally getting the goal they deserved when Petrovski-Seton roved a ball at the feet of Redden to put through West Coast’s third in a row, bringing the margin below five goals.

The Adelaide crowd had gone from cheering to a confused hubbub as there crept in a slight amount of doubt. Their team had a significant margin on the current wooden spooners, so the game should be beyond doubt…. Shouldn’t it?

The disturbance continued to fester as Darling bulldozed his way out of a tackle to find Conor West with a few metres of space. West then kicked off a step to bring the score deficit to just 22 points and with more than 15 minutes remaining in the game.

The West Coast supporters found their voice and started to believe as the Eagles chant went up in their supporter’s pocket. Adelaide’s coaching box noticed the swing in momentum, and played with the magnet board to bring players onto the defensive side of the oval, dropping the wings back and pushing the flanks towards the middle to attack any quick clearances. Another great gameday move by Nicks, and may have been the difference between a win and a heartbreaker in this match, or at least changing the cruise to victory into much more of a scamper.

When the pressure started to rise, Adelaide stuck with their system. Soligo kicked long to Fogarty from the wing, and another long kick to Walker who had Barrass all over him. Somehow, Walker managed to position his body perfectly, taking the mark in his hip pocket in a way that required a few replays to understand. If you’re an up and coming forward, watch the body movement and positioning of Tex, it’s as good as you’ll see there.

Tex kicked truly for Adelaide’s first since his last goal at a similar time in the third quarter, going against the grain of possession and much of the momentum in the early part of the final quarter.

Parnell took a knee to the thigh in a contest with Clarke and stayed down as the play threatened to run over the top of him. West Coast made the most of their outnumber to move the ball quickly through the middle and find Kennedy 40 metres out in the pocket. Kennedy launched the kick and squeezed it through, though replays suggested it may have grazed the padding, though with the definition of your average UFO-sighting and no way to tell if it was before or after the goal line, the umpire’s decision stood.

Both teams caught injury worries at this point, with debutant Partick Parnell coming off due to injury, and Isiah Winder taking the cautious approach to a knee concern, bringing on Schoenberg and Naish for their teams. Shoenberg subbing in is a mixed blessing for the bloke, as he is also named to play for Adelaide in the SANFL against rivals Sturt as they fight it out for third spot on the ladder (he did actually play as well, putting in a fairly decent effort, despite his team losing by 21 points).

Time was running out for West Coast, and as they lifted their hunger and pace, they tried to break a few too many tackles. Duggan pushed through the contest to take on Rory Laird, but Laird proved too strong, and capped off a probable Best On Ground performance with Adelaide’s 12th goal, sealing the game for his side.

To West Coast’s credit, they didn’t give up, but pushed themselves to keep up with the Adelaide squad that knew the game was won. The final goal of the game came through a brilliant left-foot kick from the pocket to find Soligo a the top of the square. It was the sort of cross that would excite any EPL fan, and Soligo duly converted from the spot to put the margin at 33 points with four minutes left.

As the clock wound down, both teams kept working, but the sting was gone in the game. Both squads will walk away having learned a lot though, and West Coast put together three quarters of football that was almost enough to forget a terrible opening term. That’s not to deride Adelaide though, they played a smart game to make sure they took the four points instead of putting the game result at risk while trying to add percentage. Whether it was the right move in the long term is yet to be determined, but it was a solid outing for the Crows.

Laird gets a great tackle on 14 who tried to break the tackle, laid over the ball. Laird kicks from 40 out in the pocket for Adelaide’s 12th.

 

One-sided players

One thing that seems to be becoming far too common in the AFL is players with no opposite hand or foot. Modern players are extremely good at kicking the ball inside-out or handballing in awkward direction across their body, but too often they wheel around to get onto their preferred foot instead of taking a kick on their opposite side.

Now, I do realise the modern game is faster than ever, so having a player with leg speed or astounding athletic ability is vital to success in the AFL, but surely there has to be a case made for a player that can kick the ball in a full 180° or save themselves the four metre distance it takes them to switch to their dominant side?

It’s not completely lost, there are plenty of players still capable of using either foot, but it’s slowly becoming rarer and we’re instead seeing players use awkward kicks or wheeling around. Yet, when you think of the all-time champions, how many were only good on one side, and how many could use either? Throw up any champion mid you like and chances are they had a reliable 30-40 metre kick on their opposite foot, and plenty of forwards could snap with either leg too. Defenders may be a little more predicated to using a single leg, but that may just be because they had to work on using either elbow as well as either hand, so it’s forgivable.

 

What next for Tex?

This is the question that will keep coming up until there’s a contract on the table, or his parking pass is suddenly cancelled at Adelaide Oval.

Purely on form, he’s best 22. Adelaide has gone through the pain of his well-publicised off-field incident, so it seems odd to suffer that and then cut him loose when Rachelle, Thilthorpe and Fogarty are still developing and could benefit from at least a year of on-field mentorship.

Having said that, it’s easy to understand that for many fans, he will forever be tainted by the scandal. Again, plenty has been written about it, so I don’t think anyone will be interested in me going into it here.

One suitor that keeps being mentioned is Fremantle. As a team currently looking like they’ll be coming into form, adding a KPF with excellent field kicking could be a net positive, or at least the sort of depth to offset the injury toll that every team deals with in a season of footy. As a former Captain and someone that the Crows have (up until last year) regarded very highly, it’d be a shame to see him in another team, but the chance at being part of a flag would be a serious temptation.

Adelaide look to be building towards a finals tilt, but will likely be at least four years away from a serious run. By that time, if Adelaide is not fully reliant on one of the young forwards, then the team is in a lot more trouble with their failure to develop talent than Walker could fix anyway.

Will he play out a season or two at Adelaide and then hang up the boots a one-club player, or will he look to start afresh with a team on the rise out West?

For the moment, it’s up to the Adelaide list management, but it shouldn’t ever be underestimated how alluring a chance at a flag is for an AFL player, especially one who made it to the big game and had to give that dreaded losing speech.

 

Jack Darling

Like Walker, Darling’s summer filled plenty of footy columns with speculation, opinion and occasionally outright condemnation. Whatever you think of his position, it’s been put to bed and he’s shown that his main focus is footy. In this match, he did everything you could hope for and nearly dragged his side back into the game from his efforts.

As soon as Kennedy went down to the rooms, Darling stood up and demanded the ball in the Eagles’ forward line. He was taking contested marks when he could, bringing the ball to ground when he couldn’t, and finding open teammates when appropriate. Without him, West Coast could have been scoreless for a whole half, and facing utter annihilation.

So a big thumbs up to the bloke, hope he can keep up the form.

 

Ruck Battle

Withy Nic Nat out, Williams and Jamieson were tasked with taking on O’Brien and Thilthorpe. R O’B took the chocolates in this one, winning more taps than his opponents combined, with 40 hitouts from 66 ruck contests versus a total of 30 hitouts from 91 contests that Williams and Jamieson attended. O’Brien also hit the ball to advantage nine times to William’s four and Jameison’s two.

And that isn’t even bringing in Thilthorpe’s numbers, though between him and Walker jumping in for a couple, they didn’t amount to a lot. Not that they needed to when O’Brien was so dominant, but a good chop out is always handy for a big man.

Jamieson was a bit handier around the ground though, getting three clearances, four tackles and eleven touches.

Still, a clear win in the ruck for R O’B.

 

Stats that matter

Without McGovern, intercept marks were always going to be a problem. Barrass is no slouch in that regard though, managing 10 marks and 14 intercepts for the game, much of them under plenty of pressure from the Adelaide talls.

He was unfortunate on a few occasions, but his efforts went a long way to stalling the Adelaide momentum in the middle of the game.

Adelaide dominated the centre clearances 13-6, much of that due to the domination of their main ruck in O’Brien and the smart positioning of the Adelaide mids.

Marks were an interesting stat, with West Coast winning the overall total with 86 to Adelaide’s 71, but showing the discrepancy in quality forward 50 entries it was Adelaide who led the marks in side 50, with a handy total of 11-5.

A final oddity is the interchange numbers. Teams regularly use every change, or at least manage to get to the low 70s of their 75 change cap, but West Coast only worked off their bench 64 times. It may be due, in part to players like Kennedy spending extended periods being checked out and fixed up, but it’s odd that they didn’t increase the rotations around it.

 

Other bits

During the half-time vision, Luke Shuey reached into his pants and pulled out what looked like a cricket box. I can’t recall any footy players wearing a box, but having seen a few incidents of players copping errant limbs to their jatz crackers, perhaps he’s the smart one. Sure, there might be some chafing risk, but if it’s a choice between powdering up your thighs or copping a knee in the figs, it’s a wonder more blokes aren’t packing protection downstairs.

I’ve written about Shane McAdam before, and I’m sure I will again. The kid has an amazing goal sense and the skills to back it up whether the ball is on the ground or in the air. He and Walker are as dangerous a tall-small duo as the AFL has at the moment, and with a bit more class around them, they’ll make many defences very, very nervous.

On the TV, the commentary team talked about the contributions of his uncles, Adrian and Gilbert. Gilbert’s time in the AFL included highlight after highlight, but Adrian often gets overlooked. In this game, Shane matched the career totals of Adrian who only played 36 games at an AFL level. Few can say he didn’t have an impact though, kicking 7 on debut followed by bags of 10,6,3,3 and 9. It’s unfortunate for footy fans that a combination of the national fraternity of backmen deciding that they were tired of being part of his highlight reel and freeing up their knuckles and elbows a bit, as well as, by his own admission, a lack of dedication at a time where the game was turning more professional cost him a longer career in the top league.

With a pedigree that few families not named Rioli can match, it’s no wonder Shane McAdam is drawing plaudits, despite being only 36 games into his career.

If Culley does come into the squad in the next few matches, who makes way? It’ll probably depend on some WAFL form, but with a talent that has developed so much in such a short time, is it better to get him used to WA first, or get him into the side asap so he can get a taste of AFL this year, before sending him back with a list of development points? It’ll be interesting to see what West Coast decide to do.

When things are going your way, it’s forgivable for some players to let their inner showman out a bit. In the second quarter, Lachlan Murphy made Greg Clark look a little silly with a clever nutmeg tap between his legs to a teammate. There was a bit of Tom and Jerry about it as Clark nearly twisted himself into a croissant following the ball, but the boundary-line camera caught it in spectacular high definition that should make the Monday review in Adelaide.

I personally love a big bomb goal from distance. Back in the days of Sav Rocca, Brendon Goddard, even Malcolm Blight, having the ability to bang one in from 60 metres is such a devastating weapon for a team to have in their arsenal. It makes defenders move up much higher, and gets them nervous earlier. Fogarty’s goals from downtown were brilliant to watch, and I hope he sticks with them. I also hope some young lads are watching that game, going into the backyard and visualising the big boot goals from over the horizon, then putting in some time at training to make it happen.

Bring back the 70 metre torp, I say!

 

Next up

Both teams have a week off with the mid-season bye. West Coast will return on Saturday the 18th to host Geelong, while Adelaide play Gold Coast at Metricon on the Sunday.

West Coast have shown some improvement and hunger for the contest of late, but continue to have a very disrupted lineup, which may not stop for the rest of the year. There will be some interest on how soon they bring Culley into the side, but with Geelong coming off a bye of their own, they’ll likely have a bit too much class and hardened players for West Coast to be competitive for four quarters. Geelong by 33.

Adelaide vs Gold Coast will be an interesting match up, with both teams coming off a bye and looking to finish the second half of the season with some form. Gold Coast will also be looking to improve their finals chances, needing to rise above the congestion on the ladder from 8th to 12th for a chance to play finals. The draw is favourable for them, but Adelaide won’t just roll over.

Still, I think the Suns are looking a little too hungry and should account for Adelaide handily. Gold Coast by 26.

 

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