They’re an interesting team to keep an eye on in 2023, the Adelaide Crows.
They’ve been busy, luring a prized recruit home and continuing to rebuild a team that is five years removed from any chance of success in the league.
With the forward line starting to click and a young defensive unit emerging as a force of its own, The Adelaide Crows are now at the point where their supporters are not just hoping, but expecting to see significant progress.
Is the team up to it? Or will they fall further back into the mire of the bottom half of the ladder?
That’s what we’re here to check out
It’s that time of year, already.
We’re well under two months until the commencement of the 2023 AFL season. The holidays are memory for AFL players, and the hard stuff is well underway. Yes, the teams had been training for well over a month prior to Christmas, but as we head deeper into January, the ante is upped and the intensity increases.
This is where premierships are won and lost. This is where improvements are made and lists come together. New faces, new colours, old heads with renewed passion… so much feeds into the making of a contender. And as the days tick down toward to the intra-club clashes, practice games, and eventually the real stuff, questions are raised about each team and how they’re going to perform in 2023.
We don’t do things by halves here, at The Mongrel. When we do a season preview, we go all out to make sure it is the best, most comprehensive coverage you’ll receive. We pride ourselves on it. If you are going to read one season preview for your team, or any team, this series provides it.
The way it works is as follows.
Each club has a minimum of 15 questions asked about their 2023 season, their coaches, their players, and their expectations. The answers are not glossed over. We dive deep on each and every one – some singular answers would normally be long enough for an entire column. The first five questions/answers are free for you to consume. The next 10-14 for each club are for our members, including a special appearance from Mrs Mongrel to throw her two cents in the mix.
You will not read a deeper season preview than this – I guarantee it.
And with that, let’s jump into The Big Questions relating to the Crows in 2023.
IS DARCY FOGARTY FINALLY READY TO REPLACE TEX WALKER?
We’re all too quick to jump off power forwards, aren’t we?
No matter how many times you hear someone say “the big blokes need more time”, we still expect them to come out and take the competition by storm, crash into packs and play those five minutes of burst-footy where they break the game open. However, it has been proven multiple times that true power players need time to increase that strength, build their tank, and learn the ways of the force…
Sorry, thought I was writing a season preview for the next Mandalorian series.
Darcy Fogarty has been a slow burn, but perhaps we should have expected him to be just that. I have to admit, I was close to jumping off at the start of last season. I loved his rookie year – the physicality, the way he’d use his body to block for a teammate, and yes, the way he’d put someone on their backside if they looked at him sideways. I am a neanderthal when it comes to footy – I like a player with plenty of Mongrel in them, and Fog had it right from the start.
Sadly, all the mongrel in the world cannot lift you over the hump if you’re not getting your hands on the footy, and though Fog often converted when he gained possession… those possessions were too few and far between.
Early on, it appeared as though that would remain the case in 2022, as Fog’s first five games saw him average just 7.4 touches. More concerning was the fact that he slotted just two goals in those five games. All signs pointed to danger, and if Fog wasn’t going to be the guy to take the mantle from Tex, then who was it going to be?
And then… it clicked. Whether the penny dropped, the ball just started bouncing his way, or all the hard work paid off, Darcy Fogarty emerged as the player the Crows had been waiting for. Over the next 12 games, he kicked 31 goals – an impressive 2.58 per game – and started to look really imposing as the big, marking, bumping target. It was enough to bring a smile to an old fella’s face.
And it was just in the nick of time.
The Crows have been lucky to have Taylor Walker play at the level he has over the last couple of seasons. After leading the club for several years, the aftermath of the 2017 capitulation was not a great one for the Texan, and as he struggled to play with injury, the once mighty warrior started to look… meek.
Many thought his time was up and the footy world started to look beyond Walker a little too prematurely. He was determined to show them just how premature they’d been, and he responded with a career renaissance to kick 47 and 48 goals in successive seasons, despite missing nine games across 2021/22. Those missed games likely cost him his first All-Australian selection. Walker has been huge for this club – not just in his own reversal of form but in what it has meant to the developing forwards.
In short, Tex has given Fog, Elliott Himmelberg, and Riley Thilthorpe the time required to find their games, whilst taking the heat each and every week as the number one forward. He has held the fort whilst they loaded their weapons. And at least in Fogarty’s case, his efforts are now being repaid.
This should be the season where the understudy emerges to take more of the lead role. Not that Tex cannot continue to perform at an elite level – no, no… it is more that he doesn’t have to be the only one carrying the forward line, anymore. With Darcy Fogarty having his coming out party in 2022, the pressure is now off Tex to be the lone gun inside 50. Now, he has a partner in crime willing to stand with him and offer a consistent presence. With the Adelaide small/brigade strengthened this off-season, the Crows’ forward setup looks as potent as any in the league. If the mids can work the ball forward quickly and effectively, a pair of power forwards edging toward 40 goals apiece will create havoc.
And from a personal viewpoint, if Fog wants to knock a few into next week when they drop into the hole in front of him… it’s all good with me, too.
IS THIS A MAKE-OR-BREAK SEASON FOR JACKSON HATELY?
When he came in from the GWS Giants, having struggled to establish his place in a stacked midfield, many believed Jackson Hately was going to walk into the Crows’ midfield. And he did, in Round Six, 2021.
And then he walked back out after the Round Seven game and was only seen once more for the season. It seems that being a player in the world of AFL midfielders takes more than just a bit of talent and an opportunity – it takes hard work, too.
Hately was better in 2022, but it was obvious that the work was only beginning. He played ten games, looking fitter, more committed, and as though he realised the game wasn’t going to be handed to him on a silver platter. He was going to have to work hard to establish himself at Adelaide, and we saw the beginning of that hard work come to fruition. He began to take what was his – it was great to see. Still, he managed just 11 games and was behind several in the rotation.
Could this be the year he leapfrogs a few and realises his potential. If so, what does it mean to Adelaide?
When you look at the Crows’ onballers, what soon becomes apparent is a common thread – they all bust their arses in there. Rory Sloane, Rory Laird, Sam Berry, Ben Keays… they play on heart and continue to crack in as hard at the end of a game as they do in the first five minutes. Look at the tackle numbers of Berry and Laird – they’re ridiculous!
With players like that around him, the hope is that the work ethic, the determination, and the almost-obsessive desire to win the footy will rub off on Hately. He was taken at Pick 14 back in 2018 – his time to shine is fast approaching, particularly as there is a never-ending procession of young players coming through the door looking for opportunity of their own. He will have the opportunity to become an integral part of the Adelaide midfield… if he is good enough.
In terms of numbers, what does being “good enough” look like in 2023 for Hately?
He was almost at 20 touches per game in 2022 (19.9 to be exact), so sitting at over 20 per game in 2023 seems a formality. Ideally, you’d like to see him upwards of 22 per game, but with Sloane and Matt Crouch returning to the midfield, and Harry Schoenberg making strong claims on a role of his own, he will have to fight for his time in there.
Does he have the fight? Has he learnt how to scratch and claw his way to the top of the list like Berry and Keays have? Can he match it with those guys and bring the intensity?
Yes, 2023 is huge for Jackson Hately, and whilst not anywhere near checking into the Last Chance Hotel, this season may very well breathe life, or strangle his hopes of being an elite AFL midfielder.
Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
HOW DOES THE JOSH RACHELE/IZAK RANKINE DYNAMIC WORK?
Well, I don’t really know… but I am pretty sure it’s going to be exciting!
I’m gonna stop short of saying this is a “can’t miss” type of set-up inside the forward 50, as there is a lot of mouths to feed in the Adelaide forward line at the moment, and I reckon we are going to have to see these two blokes adjust their natural games in order to give everyone a good bite of the pie.
Rachele proved in his short AFL career to date that he knows where the goals are. Still yet to turn 20, his first game blast of five goals lit a fire under Crows fans and gave them a glimpse of what he is capable of. The rest of the season saw Rachele slip in and out of the action, with two more games of multiple goal-hauls in the first five rounds before a bit of a drought. By Round 16, his year was over, but we’d all seen enough to know that we were talking about the real deal, here.
Izak Rankine took forever to debut for the Suns, but once he did, it was pretty clear that he was going to live up to the hype. A few years older than Rachele, he will be thrust into the role of number one small forward pretty quickly, with the ability to get on his bike and work up through the wings to drag his defender away from the goal.
Rankine has improved his tank over the last couple of seasons and has added more steak to the sizzle that was so apparent early in his career. At 1.6 goals per contest in 2022, his explosive play and ability to finish in tight spaces (bum chika wow wow) will make the Crows’ forward fifty a very dangerous place for the footy to be. One thing I have not seen discussed much is Rankine’s ability to hit a stoppage and use his clean hands to sweep the footy away from congestion – the Crows have not had a player capable of doing what he does since Eddie Betts headed back to Carlton, and they will revel in having a player with the instincts to create opportunities from those situations.
I am sure Tex is licking his lips at the prospect of taking clean possession at a stoppage, hitting Rankine with a quick give as the small ran moves at speed, and picking up a goal assist or two as a result.
Together, Rankine and Rachele should be able to create carnage at ground level. They have pace, agility, goal sense, and neither are lacking in confidence. The trick will be how they bring each other into the game. Working in tandem at the feet of Walker, Fogarty, Thilthorpe, and Himmelberg, they will have many opportunities to make their mark on the 2023 season.
Whilst you would love to see one or the other have a big impact, the key to this forward line functioning at a high level comes when both Rankine and Rachele work hand-in-hand. If they’re able to do this, they become the most potent pair of smalls in the league in pretty short order.
ANY CHANCE RORY LAIRD GETS SOME LOVE OUTSIDE THE CLUB THIS SEASON?
Nup. Sorry, but the type of midfielder Rory Laird has become is really only truly appreciated by those who value the tough stuff, and that is those at West Lakes.
Laird is a workhorse. He is a first-hands kind of player, he lays tackles, he makes those around him better, but he is not flashy. As such, the ADHD sufferers in the AFL Media need something else to occupy them as Laird goes about his business of being one of the most consistently brilliant onballers in the game.
How many players in the league have averaged over 32 touches per year in the last two years?
The list is pretty short. Are you ready?
1 – Rory Laird
2 – No one
How about we lower the disposal numbers and add tackles to the equation? 30 touches and five tackles per game over the last two seasons. Who makes the list?
1 – Rory Laird
2 – Clayton Oliver
And that’s it.
What about one more? 30+ disposals and six clearances per game.
Well, would you look at that…
1 – It’s Rory Laird again
2 – And his pal, Clayton Oliver
Again, a short list.
As much as I love Oliver, he gets the attention he deserves. Laird does not, and it is just plain wrong. Another season playing at this level without recognition by the All-Australian selectors would warrant the Crows asking the league if they have something against the bloke. He does everything you would want from a midfield pillar.
Laird has been brilliant, and it’s about time others realised it. Another season with 32+ disposals, 6+ clearances, and 5+ tackles… how can anyone justify not having him ranked as one of the best players in the league?
HOW GOOD CAN SAM BERRY BE?
Some of you may be aware I am a Hawthorn supporter. For those who didn’t, there ya go.
Over the last year or so, I have had many Hawks supporters chew my ear off about the potential of Jai Newcombe to be a genuine force in the midfield for the next eight or nine years. Whilst I like hearing that, I am also a realist, and a couple of times, I have asked those supporters if they’ve heard of Sam Berry.
One time, one of the people I was speaking to asked “the guy at Brisbane?”
I shook my head.
As mentioned above, the work ethic of the Adelaide midfield is first-class. To make it in that group, you have to be willing to put the team above the individual, and if there was one young player that appears willing to do that above all others, the 20-year-old Sam Berry would be close to being that player.
After a modest nine touches per game in 2021, Berry was unleashed into the midfield in 2022 and repaid the faith immediately, establishing himself as the most consistent tackler in the game. And unlike many in the “best tacklers” category (which should really be named “most tackles” as too many of them cuddle without being rewarded), Berry actually made his efforts count, leading the players on that list with tackles resulting in holding the ball free kicks.
At 9.5 tackles per game, when Sam Berry tackles you, you damn well stay tackled!
He was +8.6 disposals per game on his 2021 numbers last season and with another preseason under his belt, could become one of the more damaging two-way mids in the competition, and that is saying plenty when you have a bloke like Rory Laird playing alongside you.
The Adelaide midfield mix may lack a little bit of polish (I do wonder if we see Rankine float through at times to give them a little class), but it does not lack for pure, unadulterated grunt, and Berry brings this attribute in spades.
So, whilst my Hawthorn brethren speak about Jai Newcombe and what he could be, my mind gravitates quickly t the Crows and what they have in their possession. Sam Berry – the tackling machine – will continue to add to his game, and by clocking over 20 touches per game in 2023, he could give a pretty special statistical club a nudge. Averaging 20+ disposals and 10+ tackles per game has never been achieved, but you get the feeling it could be within reach for this bloke.
And I would love to see him register it this season.
This ends the free component of the article. The next five or so thousand words are for our members. Want to join us?