Story of the Summer

Adelaide finished 10th in 2014, but only four points outside the top eight. For the second year in a row it suffered costly losses to lower ranked teams, this time Melbourne, the price of which was missing the finals. At the season’s conclusion, under rumoured pressure from an under-performing player group, Brenton Sanderson was shown the door, despite having the greatest win-loss ratio of any Crows coach.

This morale sapping manoeuvre also impacted the Crows’ bottom line, with new CEO Andrew Fagan forced to announce an operating loss for an expensive mistake that occurred under the watch of his predecessor Stephen Trigg. Taylor Walker was also announced as captain for the 2015 season, replacing Nathan van Berlo.

Costly off-field errors have hurt Adelaide since its preliminary final berth in 2012, and many fans will be hoping that a new CEO, a new captain and a new coach, midfield strategist poached from the Power in Phil Walsh, will usher in a new era of club-wide success.

Where They Excel

Goals. Adelaide were ranked third for points scored in the AFL in 2014, behind only Hawthorn and Port Adelaide. The Crows headhunted Eddie Betts with the specific intention of increasing their firepower in front of goal and the former Carlton player delivered.

Betts kicked 51 goals in his debut season at Adelaide, and was ranked third in total goal assists, first in goal assists per game and finished ninth in league goal-scoring for 2014 – not a shabby achievement for a small forward. Expect Betts’ output to continue to grow this season as at times his brilliance was hampered by the midfield’s propensity to kick the ball on top of his head.

Former All-Australian Ben Rutten is a big loss for any team to cover, but 2014 All-Australian defenders in the rarely beaten, miserly club champion and Rising Star Daniel Talia and rebounding defender Brodie Smith, who averaged 22.6 disposals per match and was ranked fourth in rebound 50s per game. These two give the Crows a strong framework to rebuild a defence that was once the best in the competition.

Where They Struggle

A breezy look over supposedly important statistics show that Adelaide’s tackle count remains one of the lowest in the league – they sit a poor 17th with only 62.1 per game. But the truth is rampaging premiers Hawthorn were only 16th in the same statistic (62.3) and both teams shared a differential of conceding an average of 3.4 tackles more to their opponents.

What is far more telling is Adelaide’s performance against teams within the eight – of the 10 games Adelaide played against a top eight team, it only managed two victories – one against Port Adelaide, the other against North Melbourne. The losses against top eight teams were by an average of 32 points.

Adelaide struggled with culture and consistency – the margin between their best free-flowing, attacking football, and defensively inept, lacking in teamwork execution was massive. Too often too much was left to too few, and often those few would be left trying to win the game from their own boot and fall short.

The Year Ahead

In an effort to overcome the taint that has marked the club since the Tippett scandal, the Crows, under the guidance of Fagan have launched the new branding for the club leading into 2015. Gone is the distasteful ‘Be the Unfair Advantage’, and instead the team has promised to ‘Unleash’ – fitting given the potential in the list that hasn’t been truly seen since 2012.

The new theme is ‘We Fly As One”, with an accompanying charter of ‘team first’, ‘courage’, ‘authenticity’ and ‘high performance’ – all of which seem to dovetail nicely with Phil Walsh’s team first ethos.

A best 22 can be difficult to nail down before the season begins, especially when a new coach has been signed and there have been significant injuries suffered by the club to key personnel. Scott Thompson and Sam Kerridge are under a cloud with hamstring injuries, but the club is hopeful they will line up for round one, while fellow midfielder Brad Crouch fractured his foot during the final NAB Challenge game and is expected to be out for at least two months.

Riley Knight was pushing his case for a round one berth, but will miss at least three months with an ankle injury, while fellow recruit Luke Lowden was aggravated an Achilles problem. Andy Otten is still recovering from a knee reconstruction and isn’t due back until September, and Rory Atkins has also injured his knee training and will suffer three months on the sidelines. There is also no timetable on Brent Reilly’s return after his horrific head injury at training.

Still, for the first time in quite a few years, Adelaide actually possesses depth in several areas. James Podsiadly, Matthew Wright, Brodie Martin, David Mackay and Jarryd Lyons should all provide competition for spots and coverage for injuries.

Adelaide has a favourable draw, due to finishing outside of the eight in 2014, with only nine matches against top eight sides. Two of those will be against cross-town rivals Port Adelaide, and despite the marked difference in the overall form of the two teams in the past two years, expect the Crows with Walsh’s intimate knowledge of the Power to win both Showdowns.

As it has in the past two seasons, Adelaide’s opportunity to play finals will come down to the fates of the teams who will surround them on the ladder (Gold Coast, Geelong, Richmond, Collingwood and Brisbane) with similar premiership point margins, but percentage will work in Adelaide’s favour and will likely be the difference between a first-year finals campaign for Walsh, or a quiet September.

Ladder range: 7-11

Best 22

B: Luke Brown, Kyle Hartigan, Kyle Cheney

HB: Brodie Smith, Daniel Talia, Matthew Jaensch

C: Cam Ellis-Yolmen, Nathan van Berlo, Rory Sloane

HF: Richard Douglas, Taylor Walker, Sam Kerridge

F: Eddie Betts, Josh Jenkins, Tom Lynch

Foll: Sam Jacobs, Scott Thompson, Patrick Dangerfield

Int: Charlie Cameron, Mitch Grigg, Ricky Henderson

Sub: Matt Crouch