Are young Crows ready to challenge for finals?

    ADELAIDECoach: Matthew Nicks Captain: Rory Sloane (TBC) What happened in 2022?The Crows lost their opening two games, bounced back with a post-siren Jordan Dawson-inspired Showdown win, then got to 3-2 with one of the best victories in the Matthew Nicks era – a gritty, one-point triumph over the Western Bulldogs in Ballarat.From there, Adelaide prevailed in just five of its last 17 games.There was a five-match losing streak between rounds 7 and 11, when the narrowest margin of defeat was 21 points.That slump kicked off with a 59-point smashing at Adelaide Oval by fellow bottom-five side GWS, in what was arguably the Crows’ worst performance of the season.The run home was a bit of a mixed bag, beating lowly West Coast and North Melbourne twice each, as well as finals contender Carlton, and pushing eventual preliminary finalist Collingwood, but losing heavily to Port Adelaide, Sydney and Hawthorn.Ultimately, the Crows missed the finals for the fifth consecutive year, finishing 14th with an 8-14 record – one more win than in 2021.Adelaide was a big player during the October trade period, luring out-of-contract South Australian goalsneak Izak Rankine back home from Gold Coast.Rory Laird won his second consecutive Crows’ best-and-fairest.Where do they finish in 2023?It would take a significant improvement for Adelaide to make the finals next season.That is not to say the Crows cannot challenge for their first top eight berth since 2017.First, Adelaide needs to address a host of things, including its kicking, scoring power, beating finals contenders, avoiding losing streaks of several games and reducing its margins in defeat.The Crows finished four wins and 22.2 per cent behind the eighth-placed Western Bulldogs in 2022.For the positives of the Bulldogs and Showdown wins, as well a handful of narrow losses, they faded away in too many matches, some margins blew out, and four of their eight victories were against the competition’s pair of two-win cellar-dwellers.Few would question the Crows’ effort and thirst for the contest.They turn up and have a crack.Their skill level lets them down badly.Adelaide should climb the ladder from 14th and win more games simply due to the natural evolution of its young list.Jake Soligo and Josh Rachele should take another step, Darcy Fogarty would have grown immensely in confidence after his stunning turnaround last season, Sam Berry would now know his capabilities as a midfielder and Riley Thilthorpe could be next to emerge.Making the finals will probably require 13 or 14 wins, given the season has extended by one match, and that seems a bridge too far for Adelaide.But a 10 or 11-win season to be in the ninth to 12th range feels about right.Crows 2023 ladder finishBiggest improver in 2022Fogarty had kicked two goals for the season after round 10.He was dropped during the fourth week of the campaign.In September, the 23-year-old finished sixth in the Crows’ best-and-fairest.Fogarty not only made a big leap from 2021 to 2022, he took huge strides during the season, almost from week to week.Over the last 12 rounds, he booted 31 goals, including three hauls of four majors.In the season-ending Showdown, despite Adelaide falling to the Power by 56 points, the Lucindale product slotted 3.2, torching Port Adelaide skipper Tom Jonas on several occasions.Fogarty has struggled at times with his fitness, consistency and attack on the football, but he is now on his way to becoming a star.Going into that Showdown, he had kicked 80 goals from 57 games – more than champion forwards Tom Hawkins (77) and Jonathon Brown (57) after the same number of matches.Expect the Fogarty we saw in the back half of the 2022 season to play at a similar level from the start of 2023.X-factorRankine has the potential to make a big difference to the Crows’ forward line and ball movement. Fresh off a career-best campaign, during which he kicked 29 majors from 18 games, Rankine adds much-needed speed, class and matchwinning capabilities to an emerging Adelaide squad.He is on a three-year deal, understood to be worth between $800,000 and $850,000 per season, spread evenly over the duration of the contract.Rankine will likely play close to goals in his first season, but also have stints through the midfield, where his quickness and creativity will be assets.Adelaide’s on-ball unit has been a little one-paced under Nicks.Playing more through the middle was one of the factors that lured Rankine to the Crows.Throwing him in there would make Adelaide far more dynamic and unpredictable.Coach statusNicks has two more seasons left on a contract that runs until the end of 2024. Adelaide re-signed him in December last year, praising him for driving the team’s culture and taking the club in the right direction.Brought in as the Crows embarked on their rebuild in 2020, Nicks has an 18-42 overall win-loss record (30 per cent).Their best finish under him was 14th this year. A lack of obvious improvement and a similar ladder finish in 2023 would test the Crows’ patience.Only four coaches in the AFL era, since 1991, have completed four seasons without making the finals and kept their jobs: Gold Coast’s Stuart Dew (heading into his fifth year), St Kilda’s Alan Richardson (sacked midway through his sixth), Carlton’s Denis Pagan (dumped during his fifth) and Brisbane’s Robert Walls (left after fifth).Nicks would be in the same boat if Adelaide missed the top eight next season and he stayed in the role.Adelaide best 23 Who is in last year of contract?Tom Doedee, Rory Sloane, Taylor Walker, Matt Crouch, Paul Seedsman, Chayce Jones, Fischer McAsey, Harry Schoenberg, Shane McAdam, Jackson Hately, Jordon Butts, Josh Worrell, Lachlan Murphy, Andrew McPherson, Luke Nankervis, Tariek Newchurch, Zac Taylor, James BorlaseOuts from 2022Luke Brown (retired), Billy Frampton (traded – Collingwood), James Rowe (delisted), Ben Davis (delisted), Brett Turner (delisted)Ins for 2023Izak Rankine (traded – Gold Coast), Max Michalanney (national draft, pick 17), Billy Dowling (national draft, pick 43), Hugh Bond (national draft, pick 50)Adelaide 2023 first six fixtureWatch every match of every round of the 2023 Toyota AFL Premiership Season LIVE on Kayo Sports. 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