With a top-2 spot sewn up, Adelaide's biggest test is yet to come...
With two rounds remaining in the home-and-away season Adelaide has consolidated and locked away a top-2 position on the AFL ladder and are on track to become minor premiers for the first time since 2005, but while they've avenged all losses this season and put to rest most doubts on their way to sitting 6 points clear atop the table, it is this Friday night's matchup that could see them jump the last hurdle standing in their way.
Few Crows fans will have forgotten the ending to last season, when a shock last-round loss in the regular season to West Coast saw the Crows lose a top-4 spot and second chance come finals. While they comprehensively beat a North Melbourne side that hadn't done much since going 10-1 over the first 11 rounds and finishing 8th with a 2-9 record in their last 11 games, it was their semi final matchup against a Swans team at the SCG that proved just how costly that Round 23 slip up was. It was a game that was played on Sydney's terms from the very beginning, as they opened up a 25-point lead by quarter time and increased it to 37 at the main break, a margin that was never narrowed as the crows ended up going down by 36 to the eventual grand finalists.
After having forgotten how to play the football that saw them being a genuine threat for the last decade over the first six weeks of the season, Sydney have gone on an unprecedented run since the beginning of Round 7. They've won 12 of their last 14 and have all but sewn up a finals spot, becoming the first team in AFL history to contend in September after beginning a season 0-6. Their form has seen them become recognised alongside the Crows as one of the two in-form teams in the competition, while numerous outlets in the media have labelled this weekend's game as a potential grand final preview.
Although the Crows are more than a game clear at the top, they're the ones that have the pressure on their shoulders this Friday night. A win would see them claim top spot with no possibility of being caught on the off chance that they suffer a shock loss to the Eagles in the last round for the second consecutive year, but it's also their chance to silence the doubters as to who the premiership favourite is this season, and put the bad memories of last year's exit behind them as they march towards the finals.
It isn't inconceivable that Sydney could make the top 4 with a win over the Crows on Friday if the cards around them fall their way. If they do, and if Adelaide does manage to beat West Coast next weekend and finish top, then 3 weeks from now will see another Adelaide v Sydney matchup at Adelaide Oval in a qualifying final. While some don't like to look back on such painful losses, the Crows have made it clear that the game in Sydney last September is still fresh in their minds as they aim to exact revenge on the Swans.
WHAT THEY'VE SAID
Brodie Smith: "We feel like we owe Sydney one from the final last year and that they touched us up so we're pretty keen to have a crack this Friday night."
Don Pyke: "That was a disappointing way to end our season last year, and we get a chance on Friday night against the same opposition to see how far we've come"
"I think where we're sitting reflects that we have learnt from our mistakes last season to be honest, some of our performances during the year and our numbers would reflect that we've tightened up on our defensive and contested ball has been a really high standard for pretty much the whole season so I've got no doubt we've improved."
Friday night's blockbuster is shaping up as the defining game of Adelaide's season - hard to believe in a season that has already defined so much, but one thing is for sure, should the Crows reign supreme tomorrow night, it will be difficult for fans not to hold the hope that their team may reign supreme come that last Saturday in September.