2017 AFL Grand Final Preview: Adelaide Crows vs Richmond Tigers


Written by David Nash (@dkn17) on 29 September 2017   

As a long-suffering Hawthorn fan, I will be attending the Grand Final on Saturday as a neutral supporter. 

It will be my sixth One Day In September (Sometimes October) spectacle in a row. In that time, I have come up with three real keys to lifting the cup at the end. It's why I was nervous in 2012 and why I gave the Doggies a serious chance in 2016. As for the Hawthorn three-peat, it was never in doubt. 

You see, we as a football public love to get caught up in the season form or even the star talent. But Australian Rules Football is a team game, that rewards the last team standing at the right time. Not always the best. In fact, since 2010 the eventual Premier has finished below the Runner-Up on the ladder after the regular fixtures on 5 of the 7 occasions. In that same time, the team with more All-Australians has only won twice. 

So read into the fact that Adelaide finished on top after 23 Rounds or had one more All-Australian in 2017, at your peril. 

Don't read too much into the journey either. We love to wrap ourselves up in the history in Grand Final week but it just doesn't matter. So, while we fantasize over the Tigers winning it all for the first time in over 35 years or marvel in how much Adelaide have overcome in losing their head coach just two years ago. Let's not forget one thing.

When the ball is bounced at 2:30pm on Saturday, September 30th in the middle of the MCG; it all goes out the window. 

History matters but not how we generally like to think it does. Here is my guide to winning the 2017 AFL Grand Final. 

Continuity Over Ambiguity - The Backs

In order to make a Grand Final, you generally have to have a Top 3-5 backline when it comes to allowing the other team to score. The Hawthorn side of 2014, is the only team to prove this wrong since 2010 and it's certainly true for Richmond and Adelaide this season. 

However, for that to matter on the day your regular back six have to be there and you have to feel comfortable sticking with that unit. The Crows look potent up forward albeit predictable and the Tigers should be able to play their regular guys without too much hesitation. Alex Rance, David Astbury and Dylan Grimes should all find tall matchups, leaving the likes of Nick Vlaustin, Bachar Houli and Brandon Ellis to cover the dangerous smalls. 

Hawthorn thrived in the 2013-2015 period by mixing their forward line based on the opposition. They stretched Fremantle and Sydney in '13 and '14, while going small in '15 and forcing the Eagles to move Jeremy McGovern forward. The Bulldogs played similar games to the Swans last year. While the '12 Hawks team that lost were never a settled back six, playing Ryan Schoenmakers at CHB in the Grand Final. The Saints of '10 were just shot in the replay and an early injury to James Podsiadly in '11 shook the Pies backline up too. 

While the Adelaide defensive unit is also strong this year, the recent omission of Brodie Smith has to be noted. The Crows have done well to cover for him so far but Richmond could prey on a weak link in the chain. The Tigers could go super small and place one of Daniel Talia, Jake Lever or Kyle Hartigan without a suitable matchup. That would put them under real pressure when the ball hits the deck and a far more unpredictable Richmond forward group, could create a recipe for disaster for an unfamiliar Crows back six. 

Advantage Richmond.

Quantity Over Quality - The Mids 

Grand Finals are won and lost in the middle of the ground, it's really no secret. While Premiers rely on their engine room to win enough of the football to kick a winning score, it has to be by committee rather than falling too heavily on too few. 

The Adelaide midfield sans Dangerfield optimises this ethos. The Crouch's, The Rory's, David McKay, Richard Douglas, Riley Knight plus Sam Jacobs make up a formidable midfield group. When you have so many weapons, it becomes increasingly hard to chop off the supply or stop them from kicking goals themselves. So while they may not have the top-end star power of the Tigers, their best players aren't far off and there might be more of them.

Therefore, Martin's Brownlow win on Monday night cannot be overlooked but not for the reason you may believe. Martin will have to become the first player since Dane Swan in 2010 to do the Brownlow/Premiership double. Further to that point, the losing team almost always has the higher finishing player in the Brownlow count. Again, only Swan going against the grain in the last seven contests. Even more staggering is Martin's 45% of total Richmond Brownlow votes in 2017, compared to Sloane's (Adelaide's highest vote getter) 22% of the Crows. Eventual Premiers in the last six Grand Finals, have had the lower percentage of Top Vote Getter versus Overall Team Votes on all but one occasion and generally by a significant margin. However, Richmond and Martin's is by far the biggest. 

Richmond was very lucky to have Trent Cotchin and Ellis cleared by the MRP after the Prelim against Geelong, as without them it may have been downright impossible. Still, the task will be very tough. The Tigers will be lead by Dustin Martin and the aforementioned Cotchin, backed up by Shaun Grigg, Josh Caddy, Dion Prestia and Kane Lambert in the middle. They did the job beautifully against the Cats and Giants but can they back it up again? Richmond might be a little easier to stop in their tracks than the Crows. 

Advantage Adelaide.

Spread Over Figurehead - The Forwards

Five goals is the biggest haul in a Grand Final since 2010 and it was only achieved once, by Jarryd Roughead in 2014. Not often shoot-outs, generally the path to winning a Grand Final is multiple goal kicking avenues that disrupt the opposition structure. As mentioned above. 

While Josh Jenkins, Tex Walker, Eddie Betts, Charlie Cameron and Tom Lynch are a predictable forward group, with all unlikely to play elsewhere. They are also very potent and balanced. Throw in the likes of Andy Otten, Paul Seedsman and their goal kicking midfielders and the Crows have plenty of ways to kick a winning score. 

If the Grand Final teams since 2010 have taught us anything, it's that you need a spread of goalkickers to make it. Every team in that period of time has had at least 10 players with 10 goals or more for the season. On average, it's more like 12. But to win it on the last day, it's a little more specific. Every Premier has had more 20+ goal kickers in their side than their opponent, on all but one occasion since 2010. That one time was Lance Franklin in 2016 and brings up the next point. A large margin between the top goalkicker for the season and the next best means bad things for your team on Grand Final day. Franklin, Josh Kennedy, and Travis Cloke have all fallen into this category on losing sides in recent history. In the '17 Grand Final, Richmond and Adelaide both have 6 20+ goalkickers taking the field so it appears pretty tight. However, 4 of the Crows have managed 30+ compared to Richmond's 2 and the Tigers have a borderline heavy reliance on Jack Riewoldt and his 52 goals. 

As the stats suggest, Richmond is very flexible up forward too. However, Jack Riewoldt, Daniel Rioli, Sam Butler, Jason Castagna and Jacob Townsend don't quite have the same potency to them. Just as the mids have been able to this finals series, they have stood up. The Grand Final might be just one step too far though, especially if the Crows can get on top in the middle or curb Martin's influence in that half of the ground.

Advantage Adelaide. 

Predictions

Expect a close encounter this Saturday, with very little between the two teams. Just as it did last Saturday evening, the Tiger Army could certainly play a part in helping Richmond get on top early. However, Grand Finals always settle in the second half and I expect the breadth of talent across the Crows team to will them to the Holy Grail in the last quarter. Predicting margins is almost impossible, particularly in a winner takes all battle. But if it has to be done, why not go with a bit of an omen? The Crows and Tigers have both played the Cats and Giants on their way to the big dance. In those four games, they both defeated the Giants by 36 points, while Adelaide managed to thump Geelong by 61 points compared to Richmond's 51. The consensus on My Top Sportsbooks is that Adelaide will walk away with the victory.

The net result; Crows by 10. 

For the punters out there, recent history suggests the Norm Smith Medal is an award for the X-Factor players. After Pendlebury and Bartel took it out in '10 and '11, recent winners became O'Keefe, Lake, Hodge, Rioli, and Johannisen. Look for guys who catch the eye but also prove to be the difference in a tight game. Tom Lynch's work up the ground, possession gathering and score involvements could be the difference. As for most goals, as mentioned previously don't expect any bags. Betts collecting 4 might be as good as it gets. 

And for a total stab in the dark, let's even things up a little on the Crows love-fest and go with a couple of Tigers for the first goal and most possessions. Again, recent history suggests the eventual Runner-up just shades the Premiers when it comes to kicking the first goal and also has the most possessions (or equal) on the ground 6 of the last 7 times since 2010. Hard to top Townsend and Cotchin on recent form. 

Premiers: Adelaide by 10 points

Norm Smith: Tom Lynch

Most Goals: Eddie Betts (4)

First Goal: Jacob Townsend

Most Possessions: Trent Cotchin



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