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‘Wake up call’ as Crows can’t handle favourites tag

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The Crows are 3-5 in those games, the latest being Saturday’s 59-point hammering at home by GWS.External expectations have been low during Adelaide’s three-season rebuild but its improvement this year has heightened them.Stream every match of every round of the 2022 Toyota AFL Premiership Season Live & Ad-Break Free In-Play on Kayo. New to Kayo? Try 14-Days Free Now >Nicks knows his team has to be able to handle that for the next stage of its development.That means coming into games with the right attitude, being in what he calls “the fight” from the opening bounce, coping with pressure and not just expecting things to happen, or the momentum to keep rolling from winning three of the past four matches.Adelaide leadership group member Ben Keays told News Corp the reason for the team’s performance against the Giants was largely above the shoulders.And he said Saturday’s result “was definitely a wake-up call”.“It’s the stuff you can control, your attitude and what sort of mindset you come into the game with,” Keays said.“This is the AFL, you can’t drop that concentration for one week, two weeks, ever.“You can’t take anyone lightly and unfortunately it just felt like we came in too light upstairs and paid the price.”Asked if the players just thought things were just going to happen on the field or might have got ahead of themselves after last week’s gritty, one-point away win over the Western Bulldogs, Keays said “potentially”.“It’s a number of things,” he said.“We thought off the back of last week we could build momentum – we certainly weren’t resting on our laurels.“But you can’t play anyone one or two per cent off.”This was the fifth time Adelaide had been beaten by 59 points or more under Nicks and the first since a 63-point hammering from Essendon at Marvel Stadium last July.Saturday felt different to those other heavy defeats.Adelaide is no longer the wooden-spooner from two years ago.It has also shown in the opening month of this season that it has improved from 2021.At 3-3 against a 1-5 Giants, pundits expected the hosts to prevail.Instead, the Crows were never in the game, down 27 points by the first break and 59 the next.“The start just set the tone,” Keays said.“We just let them do what they liked and they capitalised.”For the record, the other seven times Adelaide has been favourites during Nicks’s senior coaching tenure have been:■ His first match – against Sydney at home – in the opening round of 2020 (loss);■ Gold Coast at home in Round 3, 2021 (win);■ North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium in Round 4 last year (win);■ Fremantle at home in Round 5, 2021 (loss);■ Collingwood at home in Round 12 last year (loss);■ The Kangaroos at home in the final round of 2021 (win);■ Fremantle at home in Round 1 this year (loss)Put simply, Adelaide’s only wins as favourite under Nicks have been against teams that finished the season as wooden spooner and 16th.Nicks said his side did not feel like it was the front runner coming into Saturday’s game, other than being confident in its own form.He said the Crows hugely respected the Giants, who were semi-finalists last season.“There was a lot of noise around us being favourites and that comes when you’ve been playing good footy,” Nicks said.“We have got to deal with some expectations, which we weren’t able to do today.“We felt like we were trending in the right direction and still do.“You hope we go away and learn more from it rather than sit around, and wallow in it.”Adelaide may not be favourites again for a while.Possibly not until June 4’s home clash with bottom-placed West Coast.The Crows’ next four games are tricky: Carlton (away), Brisbane (home), St Kilda (home) and Geelong (Cattery).“It’s going to be a good test, they’re all in good touch but we felt like we were in good touch coming into this week, so it’s unpredictable,” Keays said.“We’re not looking too far ahead, we’re just going to focus on this week.“Then when we’ve got those games at Adelaide Oval, it’s almost like we’ve got to make it up to the fans a bit.”Keays felt compelled to apologise to the home supporters when he was interviewed over the PA system post-game by ground announcer and ex-Crow Sam Jacobs.“Our fans are loyal and they come watch us no matter what,” the 25-year-old midfielder said.“We’ve had games where the fans sort of get us over the line with how loud they are and how passionate they are, so to not give them even a sniff to sort of get into the game, it’s on us as players and apologies to them.”Adelaide had also been 3-3 when it met the Giants at home in Round 7 last year.The Giants inflicted a similarly stunning defeat that day, which proved the Crows’ biggest of the season, 67 points.Nicks’s side then went 4-11 to end the campaign, including six defeats by at least 40 points.He was hopeful Saturday’s performance would be an anomaly this year and was really confident the squad was much better than 12 months ago.Keays agreed.“You can look at it positively and use it as a kick up the backside and say ‘we cannot let this happen again. We cannot be one or two per cent off for the rest of the year because this is what’s going to happen’,” he said.“It’s gonna be how we bring it (performance) this week and our attitude, and we’ve got to be 100 per cent coming into the game.“Credit to GWS, they’re a very good side … but we think we’re good as well and we should’ve brought way more than that and just didn’t.”Big questions but no answers after Crows’ ‘disturbing’ lossAdelaide thought it had learnt lessons, improved and matured since its 67-point home loss to GWS last year, which sent the Crows’ campaign into a tailspin.Saturday’s deja vu defeat to the Giants shows there is much work to be done.It also begs the question: can Adelaide stop it happening again this season?Like last year, the Crows entered Saturday’s Round 7 match with a 3-3 record and GWS was under pressure.And just like 12 months ago, 364 days to be exact, the Giants stormed to victory.The Crows’ loss last year was their biggest for 2021 and after it they went 4-11, including four defeats of at least eight goals.Coming into the game, Adelaide coach Matthew Nicks was wary of the under-fire opponent but adamant his side was better placed to prevent a repeat.A day later, he was frustrated that the game went to a similar script – this time a 58-point defeat.“I would be lying if I said that it didn’t (feel like deja vu),” Nicks said post-match“We sat around post-game and asked ‘Why?’“It’s a home game, we’re in good form, our members and supporters are here and we want to make them proud.“We’ve been able to do that recently so why the drop away? That’s the one that we’re going to have to look into closely.”On Friday, Nicks said he was confident his side would get structural aspects of its game right after being hurt by that issue last year.Then it would be about matching the Giants in the fight.Yet at half-time on Saturday, Nicks said one of the things he would implore his team to do in the last two terms was compete.Things evened from there – the margin stayed the same, while GWS still won contested possessions by 28 – but the damage was done.“It’s not one thing although we know that to play at this level you must bring contest and we didn’t bring that until the start of the last quarter,” Nicks said.But what will give Nicks confidence the season will not fall away from here again is Adelaide’s opening month.Apart from its Round 2 loss to Collingwood, the Crows showed they had become very difficult to beat.Two of their losses had been by under a goal.They have shown they have more depth, as evidenced by the form of their second-placed SANFL team, and have the best road win of the Nicks era under their belt.“We’re a long way ahead of where we were this time last year,” he said.“Today mirrored the last time we played them unfortunately, so that’s disturbing, but I still believe in our group.“We’ve done a lot of work and I’m confident our guys will bounce back from this.”Adelaide next has a tough four-game run that starts with improving Carlton away, but stand-in skipper Brodie Smith will not face the Blues after he suffered a concussion when his head hit the ground following a high-leaping mark in the third quarter.“He’s up and about in the rooms, but he’ll go into concussion protocols,” the coach said.“He wasn’t able to pass the test but he’s up and feeling well with a slight headache.”The Crows defender flew on the shoulders of Harry Perryman to take a brilliant grab but knocked himself out coming down when his head lashed into the turf.Play stopped for about five minutes before Smith left the field on a medical cab.The 30-year-old was substituted off immediately and replaced by Harry Schoenberg.“Spectacular and sickening all in one motion,” Kelli Underwood said on Fox Footy.Fox Footy’s Dermott Brereton said Smith was brave in the air because he did not release the ball on the way down from marking it.Smith has suffered several other concussions during his 211-game career.Last year he entered the AFL’s 12-day protocols after a heavy collision in Round 21 against Port Adelaide.In 2015, Smith was knocked out in Round 2 against Collingwood after hitting an opponent’s knee when he was flung in a tackle.Five weeks later, Smith sustained another concussion against St Kilda.Small forward Ned McHenry also did not return to the field after running into Giants midfielder Tom Green later in the third term.But the small forward didn’t suffer a concussion and is still a chance to play in Round 8.Match report: Greene inspires hungry Giants- Jason PhelanHistory has repeated at Adelaide Oval where a Toby Greene-inspired Greater Western Sydney handed the Crows a 59-point reality check on Saturday.In the corresponding round seven fixture last season, the struggling Giants handed Adelaide a 67-point belting that sent its season into freefall and Leon Cameron’s men repeated the dose with a surprise 17.11 (113) to 8.6 (54) thumping.The surging Crows took the momentum of three wins from their past four games into the clash but were completely outclassed by a GWS side that had been roundly criticised after a 1-5 start to the season.Greene was quiet in his first game back from a lengthy suspension last week, but the talismanic forward was the inspiration for the visitors.The 28-year-old set the tone with a superb pack mark and goal inside the first two minutes of the contest and had four by half-time as the switched-on Giants romped to a 59-point lead.Greene wasn’t as influential in the second half, but Josh Kelly, Lachie Whitfield, Tom Green and Isaac Cumming kept up the pace in a dominant display.“I thought our boys’ pressure was really good and we capitalised on that, which was really pleasing,” Cameron said.“We haven’t been doing that.“It was a good, really strong, all-around performance.”Hungry GiantsCameron described some of his players as “off their tucker a little bit” after a poor start to the season, but they feasted at a smorgasbord of Crows errors early.To be fair the rampant Giants caused most of the many miscues by the out-of-sorts home side.Listless Adelaide managed just one inside 50 in the first 10 minutes of the match to the Giants’ eight, with the dominant visitors leading that count 21-6 at the first break and 33-19 at half-time.The Crows struggled to get out of their back half and when they did the Giants intercepted and pumped the ball back into an attack where Greene and Jesse Hogan (three goals) prowled with intent.The Giants led by 27 points at quarter-time with Greene adding two more and Hogan his second in a four-goal run after the restart.The GWS orange tsunami was back in such emphatic fashion that a rare intercept mark by Jordan Dawson in the second quarter was greeted by Bronx cheers from the frustrated home fans.Fight or flight?The Crows, often lauded for their maturity this season, had questions to answer about their character with their response in the second half.Rory Laird and Ben Keays had toiled hard but they were part of a midfield that got smashed in the first half and continued to get shown up after the break.GWS added another three goals to blow the margin out to 79 points, with Greene spurning what would’ve been his fifth major to set up Tim Taranto.ScoreboardCROWS 1.1 2.3 3.4 8.6 (54)GIANTS 5.4 11.8 14.10 17.11 (113)JASON PHELAN’S BESTCROWS: Keays, Laird, Dawson, Doedee, Walker. GIANTS: Kelly, Greene, Whitfield, Preuss, Green, Hogan, Coniglio, Cumming.GOALS CROWS: Walker 2, Keays, Cook, McHenry, Schoenberg, Murphy, Hately. GIANTS: Greene 4, Coniglio 3, Hogan 3, Whitfield 3, Himmelberg 2, Taranto, Hill.INJURIES CROWS: Smith (head knock), McHenry (head knock). GIANTS: Nil.UMPIRES Hosking, Fleer, Pell.ADELAIDE OVALPLAYER OF THE YEARJASON PHELAN’S VOTES3 Kelly (GWS)2 Greene (GWS)1 Whitfield (GWS)THE CHAT THAT IGNITED MALIGNED CROW – Simeon Thomas-Wilson Chayce Jones, Matthew Nicks and Scott Burns sat down in April last year and looked for solutions. The young Crow was out of the AFL side, down on confidence, and trying to find his best position. In the Crows’ third SANFL game of the season, against Woodville-West Torrens, Jones touched the ball just five times playing as a midfielder. This followed a tough 2020 campaign for the Tasmanian, despite playing 15 out of 17 games for the senior side.While his counterparts from the 2018 Draft were taking the league by storm, the No. 9 pick – an All-Australian in his under 18 year – wasn’t having the same impact and coming on as many expected. A by-product of this was constant debate about whether the Crows had made the right call in selecting Jones at No. 9. “As a young kid it can take a bit of a toll,” Jones told The Advertiser. “But it is about using it to your advantage, it can be something that can drive you.“It is about using it the best you can and not taking it too much to heart.” So Jones, Nicks and Burns – the 22-year-old also spoke with Adelaide’s head of development Marco Bello – sat down to figure out how to work out how best to use the young gun at AFL level. “It was just some thoughts and ideas to try and get me back to playing some good footy again,” Jones said. “Confidence is such a big part of it, sometimes in the AFL industry you can lose a little bit of confidence.“And I was a bit down on it. I was really focusing on what I can do and what I could do to make myself better.“It was just really a change of perspective … sometimes things just aren’t working and sometimes you need a change.” So it was decided that Jones would be trialled as a halfback, so he could see the ball and come onto the footy. In his next three SANFL games, he had 14, 20 and 27 disposals, earning him back his spot in the Crows senior side. He’s been there since. “I had a bit of a trial in the SANFL and was able to get back in the AFL side,” Jones said. “I think the ability to have the ball in front of you most of the time has suited me, in the midfield it is more of a 360 degree game where as a defender you can sort of be attacking and run at the game a bit more.“It was a great thing for me to do and I just really want to play AFL footy so I was prepared to do anything I could.” After coming into the Crows team as a small forward, winning the Mark Bickley Award for Adelaide’s best young player in his debut season, Jones was earmarked for a move in to the midfield in 2020. But the Crows were smashed around the ball for most of the year and Nicks conceded post-season that Jones was “thrown into the deep end”.“A little bit but you aren’t going to learn if you don’t try different things,” Jones said. “So it was a great learning period for me because I was able to take out a lot from the year.“Yes I might have been thrown into the deep end but the amount of learning and different game scenarios that I got through that year it has only helped me in better stead for now.” That isn’t to say that Jones still isn’t being handed big tasks. His last two games have arguably been his best for the Crows in his new position. Last weekend in Ballarat, Nicks sent him to the red-hot Bailey Smith after his fellow 2018 Draftee started the game with 13 disposals in the first quarter. Smith had nine disposals for the next two quarters as Adelaide took a huge scalp with a one-point win. A week prior, Jones earned praise from Nicks for the defensive job he did on Richmond star Shai Bolton. “I’m learning different ways of how to combat different opponents but it has always felt like a bit of a strong suit (being able to defend one-on-one),” Jones said. Against the Tigers, Jones also caught the eye when he came off the better in a contact with Noah Balta during the win, despite giving up more than 13cm and 20kg to the Richmond tall.Nicks said he had been impressed with Jones’ recent games. “I’m really pleased with his development,” Nicks said on Friday. “I’m really pleased with the back seven actually at the moment, there is so much pressure underneath with Wayne Milera, we’ve got Josh Worrell playing some good footy at SANFL level and there’s Will Hamill knocking on the door as well.“Those seven who played on the weekend were really good with the way they worked together. “Chayce was one of those and his form has been really solid so that has been quite pleasing for us.” Now with 43 games under his belt, Jones has eyes on becoming an emerging leader within the Crows defence. “Definitely hoping to be one I’m trying to build on my skills and leadership is one of those skills,” he said. “So if I can help in that aspect I’m stoked to but I’m also prepared to help behind the scenes and do what I have to.” But the main focus that Jones has is improving his composure when he has the ball in hand, with the goal of becoming a playmaker who can launch attacks for the Crows. “Yeah it’s something that will take my game from being a good solid game to one that will have a bit more of an impact on games and the result and that sort of thing,” he said. “So if I can have a bit more composure, it is only going to make us better.” Comfortable in defence, and with his role in the Crows team, is this where Jones will stay or is another crack at the Adelaide midfield on the cards?He said he is just focused on what he can do for the team and continue his development into the player he knows he can be. “It might take me a couple more years to get to the level that I want to be at,” he said. “But people develop at different rates and hopefully I can prove there was something in that.“But definitely at the moment it is all about my teammates and coaching staff and making sure that I’m doing what I need to for the team.”



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