Crows' season review: Impressive year, but rivals close gap

ADELAIDE was challenged in new ways this season, still breaking records and devastating some sides, but the gap between others and the three-time premier narrowed significantly. 

Ultimately finishing with four losses, the Crows were only beaten by two sides, grand finalists Brisbane and Melbourne, as they made their way deep into a fifth finals series.

womens.afl is looking at each of the 18 AFLW teams' seasons in reverse ladder order.

Ebony Marinoff celebrates a goal during Adelaide's clash against Greater Western Sydney in round five, S7, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

Head coach: Matthew Clarke 

Leadership group: Chelsea Randall (captain), Sarah Allan (vice-captain), Eloise Jones, Ebony Marinoff, Stevie-Lee Thompson 

Ladder position after home & away season: 3rd, eight wins and two losses, 177.6% 

Ladder position after finals: 3rd, nine wins and four losses, 143.9% 

Debutants: Keeley Kustermann, Kiera Mueller, Jess Waterhouse (AFLW debut), Niamh Kelly, Amber Ward (club debut) 

Milestones: Anne Hatchard, Eloise Jones, Marijana Rajcic (50 games), Chelsea Biddell, Teah Charlton, Caitlin Gould, Niamh Kelly, Rachelle Martin, Hannah Munyard, Madison Newman (25 games) 

Rising Star nominations: Abbie Ballard (round two)

Retirements: TBC 

Abbie Ballard kicks the ball under pressure during Adelaide's clash against Brisbane in round eight, S7, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

Best team performance

Adelaide's record-breaking victory over Greater Western Sydney in round five was far and above its most cohesive performance of the season. 

Winning by the largest margin in AFLW history, 96 points, the Crows piled on their highest score in history (97 points) as they broke the Giants down. Winning 78 more disposals than their opposition, the Crows also laid 15 more tackles, proving just how hard it was for GWS to win and then retain the ball. 

Five different Crows won 20 or more disposals for the day, led by strong performances from All-Australian midfield duo Anne Hatchard and Ebony Marinoff. 

AFLW S7 Highlights: Adelaide v GWS

05:57 Sep 25. 2022. 5:22 PM

The Crows and Giants clash in round five of the 2022 NAB AFL Women's Competition

Best individual performance 

Chelsea Randall's showing in the first ever AFLW Showdown was one of the all-time best games we have seen.  

Rightly awarded the first Showdown Medal, Randall offered great support to the midfield, winning seven clearances and 27 disposals, played as a link into the attacking 50, registering five inside 50s, and even presented as a forward target.  

She kicked a career-best three goals, including the first two of the game to get her Crows up and about, while also taking an impressive contested intercept mark where she flew across the face of a pack. 

Chelsea Randall kicks the ball during Adelaide's clash against Port Adelaide in round six, S7, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Most improved 

After being dropped for last season's Grand Final, which Adelaide went on to win, Madison Newman's development through the off-season saw her become a stalwart of the side this season. 

Averaging 13.7 disposals and 3.6 intercepts coming out of the back half, Newman's attacking drive was equally as important as her defence, also averaging 2.2 inside 50s and 248.4 metres gained across the season. 

Her best game came in Adelaide's chaotic semi-final win over Collingwood, in the midst of storms and game delays. Newman was incredibly clean despite the near monsoon they were playing in, using her 19 disposals at 78.9 per cent efficiency, and proving to be a key reason why the Crows progressed to yet another preliminary final. 

Anne Hatchard celebrates a goal with Madison Newman during the semi-final clash between Adelaide and Collingwood at Unley Oval on November 12, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Star recruit 

Taking on the number 13 guernsey that had just been vacated by Erin Phillips, Kiera Mueller went under the radar for her performances late in the season. 

After being selected with pick No.69, Mueller made her debut in round nine and played five games, including three finals. Not necessarily a big ball winner, Mueller didn't need a lot of the footy to have an impact. 

Her tackling pressure across half-back was important, putting her body on the line and willing to commit to repeat efforts, she played exactly the role Adelaide needed of her. 

Kiera Mueller is tackled by Abbi Moloney during the semi-final between Adelaide and Collingwood at Unley Oval on November 12, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Unsung hero 

Rarely mentioned in swirling discussions about the best rucks in the competition, Caitlin Gould put her hand up for a worthy mention this season. 

Gould is not only a skilful tap ruck, averaging 18.3 hitouts across the season, her positioning around the ground and presence up forward is not something many rucks can match. Averaging 3.2 marks, 3.1 tackles and 3.2 score involvements, she also kicked seven goals, often in key momentum-shifting moments for the Crows. 

Caitlin Gould in action in Adelaide's round eight, S7 clash with Brisbane at Metricon Stadium. Picture: Getty Images

What went well 

Even when not playing at their best, the Crows had a knack for often still finding a way to win, always maintaining the belief that they were still in games, which is generally half of the battle. This was regularly proven in their final-quarter surges to overrun Richmond, Collingwood, Fremantle, and St Kilda.  

Having that ability to switch gears and shift the rhythm of games is something only experienced, well-drilled teams can do consistently, and that is exactly what Adelaide is. 

Interestingly, after being one of the worst clearance teams in competition history last season, the Crows flipped that on its head to record the second-highest average clearance count since the AFLW began. Averaging 26.6 clearances, largely thanks to the efforts of Marinoff, Hatchard and Randall, Adelaide regularly enjoyed first possession and worked to control play after that. 

Ashleigh Woodland celebrates with teammates after kicking a goal in Adelaide's round 10, S7 clash with St Kilda at RSEA Park. Picture: Getty Images

What needs improvement 

The Crows weren't as tight defensively against good sides as they have been in recent seasons. Opponents have started to work through Adelaide's defensive structure more efficiently and, as a result, have been able to kick higher scores more often against them. 

Last season, Adelaide conceded a score of 30 or more points just once – 49 in its one-point loss against the Western Bulldogs. This season, however, the Crows conceded 30 or more points five times, twice against Melbourne (for two losses), twice against Brisbane (also for two losses), and once against Fremantle. 

At the other end of the ground, they desperately need someone to take charge in attack. Caitlin Gould has the potential to be that player but is still needed in the ruck for long periods of time. Ashleigh Woodland is a known goalkicker but doesn't play her best footy when needing to be the main target. Danielle Ponter is another who can play the role but has been used further up the field this season.  

Finding a reliable key target who doesn't need to be responsible for piling on the goals, but creating more structure and organisation ahead of the ball, is important for the Crows. 

Ponter breaks game open with back-to-back beauties

00:56 Oct 29. 2022. 4:15 PM

Danielle Ponter gives her side the lead with these two ripping finishes early in the third quarter

Off-season focus 

Finding that balance between defensive strength and scoring is the ever-present challenge in AFLW, and presents as the Crows' biggest area of improvement over the break. 

Consolidating such a significant shift in game style that Adelaide undertook between seasons six and seven is likely a focus for this off-season, so a marginally leakier defence can be better supported by a more potent attack.