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Previews with punch – The right stuff for the grand stage

Too many weapons: Eddie Betts and teammates toast another goal during Adelaide’s 76-point win over Richmond in round six. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Previews with punch – The right stuff for the grand stage

Rohan Connolly    

ADELAIDE v RICHMOND (MCG, Saturday 2.30pm local time)

The best team of the season doesn’t always end up winning the premiership. Indeed, in the modern era, it doesn’t often end up winning it.

Since 2000, only six teams who finished the regular season on top of the ladder ended up with a premiership cup in their keeping on the last day of the football year. Six premiers have done it from second, another four from third spot, and of course, last year, the Western Bulldogs, memorably, from seventh.

Saturday’s grand final is a battle between a team which finished on top (the Crows) and third (Tigers). But the gap this season is at best marginal, just two points separating them on the ladder, Adelaide’s 15-and-a-half wins the lowest tally to top the table since 1997. All of which points to this being anyone’s game.

The biggest difference between these two sides is in their scoring capacity. Adelaide was the only team this season to average more than 100 points per game, the next best team nearly two goals behind. Richmond ranked only eighth.

The Crows topped the 100-point mark in 15 games, and won all of them. Of the nine in which they scored less, they won only three. Which makes Richmond’s task pretty obvious.

How do the Tigers put the brakes on a team with a forward set-up containing the likes of Eddie Betts, Taylor Walker, Josh Jenkins, Tom Lynch and Charlie Cameron? By both depriving them of opportunity, and of making what opportunities do come their way as untidy as possible.

And that’s something Richmond does well, its finals victories over Geelong and Greater Western Sydney both shining examples. The Tigers will be after a scrap, Adelaide looking to get the ball on the outside.

A scrap certainly isn’t what happened last time they met. The round six clash at Adelaide Oval produced an 11-goal first quarter, the Tigers leading at quarter-time. From there, however, it was a deluge, 16 goals to just four, the Crows romping home by 76 points.

For Adelaide, assuming control was about winning the midfield clinches, which they did handsomely, Rory Sloane, Matt Crouch, Brad Crouch and Rory Atkins racking up just on 120 possessions between them.

They dominated the clearance and contested ball counts, forced turnovers and typically, also found plenty of drive from Rory Laird off half-back.

To prevent a repeat, Richmond needs almost every hand on deck playing his role. It means stopping Laird’s run out of defence. It means curbing the linking up of Lynch between defence and attack. It also means more than stopping just Sloane in the midfield.

That may have done the trick earlier in the season, when keeping the brakes on the gutsy and polished midfielder seemed to go halfway towards beating the Crows. But, like it has several times now under the coaching of Don Pyke, Adelaide got on top of a potential issue.

Hugh Greenwood came into the mix to add some more depth. Brad Crouch became as valuable a contributor as his brother Matt the longer the season went. Richard Douglas, Atkins, David Mackay and Riley Knight all upped the ante. Does Richmond have the same numbers where it counts?

While we’ve become used to almost weekly virtuoso performances from Brownlow medallist Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin, that on its own won’t be enough.

The Tigers need big games also from the less-heralded Dion Prestia and Kane Lambert. They’ll need the likes of Josh Caddy and Shane Edwards not just bobbing up forward of centre as goalkickers but doing their share of spade work further afield. Even running defenders like Brandon Ellis and Bachar Houli will have to pull their weight defensively.

Richmond will also have its hands full at either end. With a forward set-up of which Jack Riewoldt is the only legitimate key forward, the Tigers, to have small forwards Daniel Rioli, Dan Butler, Edwards and Jason Castagna weigh in on the scoreboard as well as with defensive pressure, will need to get the ball inside 50 quickly.

That starts at the other end, where Alex Rance needs to be allowed not only to curb the Crows’ key forwards, but to become a source of attacking rebound. Which sort of sums up what must be a Richmond mantra, not to become so reactive it can’t be pro-active.

A lot easier said than done against a team which seems to have all bases covered. Adelaide is not only the No.1 team offensively, it’s ranked No.4 for defence. Its midfield is consistent and deep. It also has a big ruck weapon in Sam Jacobs.

Richmond has a lot of romance attached to its push for a first premiership in 37 years. Adelaide has overcome the sort of human challenges over the last few years no club has ever faced before. But in addition to that, the Crows have a complete football team, one which sat on top of the ladder this season for 17 of 23 rounds for good reason.

Adelaide has built steadily towards this moment over three finals campaigns, that much better-equipped each time. It has both the motivation and the armoury to deliver now. And I think it will.

TIP: Adelaide by 18 points.

  1. Hi Rohan wonderful article and a thoughtful and well prosecuted case. However I think there’s a typo in your opening paragraph. Surely your second sentence meant to say “indeed It doesn’t often end up being i. It.” Otherwise it doesn’t make sense. Cheers SBS thanks for the great writing. Lana

  2. Meant to say “Indeed it doesn’t often end up being in it.” Typing on iPhone!

  3. Great piece Rohan – and objective too. Anyone can win on the day. I hope it’s Adelaide but won’t be shedding tears either way.

    It’s a game. The vote to end discrimination is more important.

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