No Phillips, no worries? How Crows have prepared for life after Erin

IN ITS successful pursuit of a third AFLW premiership, Adelaide implemented a different game style in season six, which has ultimately set the side up for life after Erin Phillips. 

The Crows have reached four of a possible five Grand Finals across AFLW history, missing only in 2018, and failing to make finals in 2020 where a premier was not awarded. Interestingly, those seasons were the two where Phillips battled injury and was in and out of the team. 

Adelaide's record with and without Phillips 

That reliance on Phillips – and to a similar extent, current captain Chelsea Randall – has been Adelaide's main weakness in the competition. They play, the Crows were more often than not going to register the win. They don't, things became less certain. 

With a shift of game style and slight shuffle of player responsibilities this year, however, the Crows look primed to continue their winning ways even without Phillips in the side. 

Sharing the load 

Star quintet Phillips, Randall, Sarah Allan, Ebony Marinoff and Anne Hatchard have been the pillars around whom Adelaide's success has been built, but the emergence of other reliable Crows has been vital. 

Eloise Jones moved inside the contest more regularly last season, helping to minimise the dependence on Phillips through the midfield. Best known for her relentless run on the wing and push into attack, Jones proved she could be that powerful presence when needed. Averaging career-high disposals (14.5) and inside 50s (2.6), Jones is now a readymade replacement through the middle. 

Eloise Jones and Zoe Savarirayan battle for the ball during a practice match between Adelaide and North Melbourne at Norwood Oval on August 13, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Niamh Kelly's addition to the side offers any outside run that might be lost through Jones' increasing time on the ball, and in addition to Jones, Danielle Ponter has also been trialled through the middle this pre-season, while Anne Hatchard is ever improving both on the inside and outside. 

Up forward, Ashleigh Woodland won the competition's leading goalkicker award with an unprecedented 21 goals thanks to her strong body, ability to contest in the air and quick thinking at ground level. Playing a similar way to how Phillips presents inside 50, Woodland looks set to pair well with fellow strong, leading forward Lisa Whiteley in season seven. 

With these players stepping up, coach Matthew Clarke was able to pare back his use of the star and in turn, the percentage of Adelaide's clearances, goals, inside 50s and disposals registered by Phillips in season six was the lowest of any Crows Grand Final year across the board. 

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The reliance on Erin 

A shift in style 

The other key factor in Adelaide's game in the past two years was a move away from generating the bulk of its play from the contest, and instead focusing on intercepts, pressure, and territory control. 

Adelaide's return in Grand Final seasons 

In its first two premiership seasons, the Crows lost a combined 29.4 per cent of its clearance counts – five of their 17 games across those two campaigns. In 2021 and 2022, however, they won just 34.8 per cent of clearance counts, yet still managed to control the ball in their forward half and suffocate opponents. 

And it was through their intercept game that they were able to execute this. In their 2017 and 2019 seasons, the Crows won 52.9 per cent of their intercept counts. This rocketed up to 87 per cent across 2021 and 2022. 

Although the side's scoring was at its lowest in a Grand Final year last season at 39.5 points per game, it wasn't through a lack of trying. The Crows averaged 34.8 inside 50s and 16.1 shots on goal, both the second-most in the competition for the season. Only their goal accuracy of 33.2 per cent – the lowest in club history – resulted in a lower return on the scoreboard. Phillips (47.1%) and Ponter (38.1%) had the lowest conversion of any player with five or more goals kicked. 

Now, thanks to these vital stylistic changes, Adelaide is better equipped than ever to cope without Phillips on the field.