KEY BACK CONUNDRUM CRITICAL FOR CROWS
(July 20, 2017 - Source: Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images AsiaPac) With only two rounds of home-and-away footy remaining in 2017, most supporters will have a pretty firm grasp of their club's best 22 for September looks like. Injuries or a last-minute push from Paul Seedsman aside, there is still one major selection decision to be sorted at West Lakes, and it's crucial that they nail it.
What looked like a formality a few months ago is no longer so simple. An injury to the seemingly safe Kyle Hartigan has given ex-cricketer Alex Keath an opportunity to burst off the rookie list and show everyone what he can do.
THE OPTIONS The favourite - Kyle Hartigan 25 years old, 65 games 195cm, 98kg Pros: Experience, strength, reliability Cons: Attacking game, injury cloud
The challenger - Alex Keath 25 years old, 4 games 198cm, 97kg Pros: Form, marking, creativity Cons: Experience, unproven
Wildcard - Andy Otten 28 years old, 96 games 194cm, 92kg Pros: Experience, marking, swingman ability Cons: Pace, injury cloud, size
(June 30, 2017 - Source: Michael Dodge/Getty Images AsiaPac)
In Hartigan, you get a rock-solid defender, but only a defender, and one who's never displayed a spectacular rebounding game. As it stands though, this is the one you hold the most confidence in when he stands next to a genuine key forward, and while he isn't versatile in the sense that he can swing forward like Andy Otten, he has shown adeptness with smaller matchups as well. Experience is on his side too. Hartigan has been a member of this defensive group for 65 matches now, including four finals.
Alex Keath is perhaps the most exciting option here, but also the one that carries the most risk. Four games in, we've already seen the potent combination pace, athleticism, competitiveness and guts that made Adelaide so eager to catch him should he fall out of the professional cricket world. His 18-disposal, 11-mark performance in last week's win over the Bombers was enormously important. However, Essendon's key forwards were far too active, with their three big targets combining for 20 marks and 9 goals, and while it was surprisingly more the fault of defensive partners Daniel Talia and Jake Lever, Crows fans could be forgiven for watching that and craving the return of a second monster defender like Hartigan for safety.
Otten, the least likely of the three options, has already played an important part in the Crows' 2017 success, breaking a 960-day absence from AFL football to plug holes at both ends of the ground and take part in every Adelaide contest to Round 14. It was the Round 16 thrashing of the Western Bulldogs that had some fans suggesting that a more multi-dimensional look down back with Otten instead of Hartigan made the side better. The defence functioned magnificently on that night, with Otten sliding in for 21 touches at 95% and 10 marks. Possibly the most appealing facet of the nine-year battler as an option here is the proven ability to switch forward in case of a mid-game injury or momentum shift, as we saw him do effectively in the Crows' Round 19 thriller against Collingwood - coincidentally the last time he's featured at senior level. Defensively, however, he lacks the brute strength of Hartigan, and his lack of pace means he is no longer a viable option on smalls.
(July 29, 2017 - Source: Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images AsiaPac) The forgotten man in this equation is a man who was firmly entrenched in Adelaide’s best side this time last season, Kyle Cheney. Unfortunately, an untimely suspension at SANFL level has followed a season chock full of injury troubles and likely rendered a return to AFL footy in 2017 near-impossible at this point. Nevertheless, he will make his state league return on Sunday and is worthy of a mention.
STATE OF PLAY So, while Alex Keath will attempt to build on his impressive form against the imposing front half of the Swans on Friday night, Kyle Hartigan is expected to join Cheney and return from his hamstring injury through the SANFL on Sunday afternoon, and Otten will sit out the week with an ankle complaint.
Given how unwilling sides can be to make unforced changes once finals are underway, this weekend is huge in determining how the Adelaide back six shapes up in September. Choose wisely.