Adelaide will take on AFL cellar dwellers North Melbourne this Sunday in Hobart. The game looms as a huge test for Adelaide, as much psychologically as anything else. After a less than popular appearance by captain Rory Sloane on FiveAA this week, and a win-loss record that most fans are finding it hard to stomach, this game looms as a possible tripping hazard for the club.
A Must Win
At the risk of encouraging the traditional avalanche of threats to throw out memberships and calls to sack the coach from the fans, I do feel this match is measurably important for Adelaide. Not because if they lose it means we’ll all be getting a second visit from Christ soon, but because one of the only KPIs for a rebuilding team is the performances they put in against teams of a similar ability.
This year, Adelaide has played teams below them on the ladder four times this year for a record of 2-2. Logically, in the third year of a rebuild, this is the only win loss record that really matters. Assuming the ladder doesn’t change too dramatically in the second half of the year, they’ll likely play three more games against teams below them. Two against North Melbourne and one against West Coast.
The fact that rebuilds are not linear notwithstanding, beating those teams is a non-negotiable. Being beaten up by older and wiser teams is still excusable at this point. But North Melbourne aren’t that.
Mitch Hinge and Harry Schoenberg come into the side at the expense of Matt Crouch, Lachlan Murphy and Riley Thilthorpe (injured). Whilst that will please fans, and satisfies my requests from earlier this week, it’s worth noting that that’s 204 games of experience being replaced by 50.
It’s been mentioned by a few sources this week that at times last week, Adelaide looked scared with ball in hand. Fear may not be the issue though. More likely, it’s confidence. Because one of football’s oldest maxims – at all levels – is that a lack of confidence creates bad decision making. Tom Doedee and Brodie Smith combined for four turnovers that directly resulted in Gold Coast goals. That’s uncharacteristic of those kinds of players. Especially Smith, who for many years has been arguably Adelaide’s best user by foot. And despite the fans’ belief that everything is Matt Crouch’s fault, it seems that a level of hesitancy has crept into the entire Adelaide team.
Even a brief review of other teams’ rebuilds will clearly show that at this stage, this kind of thing is perfectly normal. Which is not to say that it can’t become an issue long term. Hopefully, the injection of some youthful exuberance will be the answer to breaking the jittery shackles.
Darcy Fogarty has found some true form in the past month. After three games with multiple goals and score involvements, his promise as a dominant key forward looks as though it might just be fulfilled. This week presents an opportunity for him to cash in. North Melbourne welcome back Ben McKay, and as their only true key back, you’d imagine he’ll go to Taylor Walker. Which will leave Fogarty to deal with either Aidan Corr or Josh Walker for the most part. Given his newfound turn of heel and brute strength, I can’t see either of them presenting him much of a problem. May my words not come back to haunt me…
Of more concern is how Adelaide’s midfield will handle Aaron Hall. His pace presents a big problem with no obvious choice for a run-with role. Nicks preaches regularly from the bible of team defence and to stop Hall, who has recently enjoyed playing Adelaide, it will need to be in full swing.
I’m not one of the group of fans that believes that a loss this week is the final straw. That said, if it can’t be achieved, another week of ‘steady as she goes’ messaging from the club won’t work. Up until this point, the anger about the progress of the rebuild has come almost exclusively from the fans. A loss to North Melbourne in Hobart will alert the sleeping giant that is the AFL media. And when that rat-infested den of iniquity gets a sniff of Adelaide blood in their noses, watch out.