A lot of ink has been spilt about how GWS saw their season nearly wiped out by a massive injury toll, but this match is more likely to be shaped by a singular Adelaide injury.
Due to injury and suspension absences, it has been difficult to get a grip on just how good GWS actually are this year, with their middle of the season run looking more like a team who missed the finals than sneaking into fourth. The HPN Team Ratings have them as being the 9th best for midfield movement, 8th best at converting opportunities into points up forward and 4th best at defending when the ball gets down back.
They are almost certainly better than this.
How much better? We don’t know yet, but if they revert to last years’ form where they had the 2nd best Offensive and Defensive ratings, and 6th in the middle, they would be in with a fair shot at winning the whole damn thing this year.
Adelaide by contrast took a solid 2016 performance and improved significantly this year, finishing the year with the best Offensive rating, second best Midfield rating while sitting “only” seventh down back. On paper, Adelaide should both get the ball inside their forward 50 more often AND score more effectively when they do so. When adjusted for the expected opposition defence this week (GWS have been relatively stable in defence this year), Adelaide would be expected to score an extra point every ten inside-50s for each side – which might cause a blowout if GWS can’t batten down the hatches or win the fight in the middle.
We’ve taken an experimental step in forecasting the finals using the HPN Team Ratings, and these are predicting a win for Adelaide by about 15 points. Using this system we expect Adelaide to get around six extra inside-50s and to convert them on the scoreboard at the better rate they’ve achieved all year.
The big opportunity for GWS is the absence of Rory Sloane, one of the league’s elite midfielders. According to PAV, our new player value system, Sloane had the third highest MidPAV per game of any player in the league this year – a massive hole to cover.
This statistical view is well supported by subjective perceptions. Whenever Sloane was tagged out of a game or otherwise ineffective, the Crows’ gameplan appeared to fall in a heap. Greenwood has been named to ostensibly replace Sloane, but effectively the entire midfield group will be asked carry the slack. Sloane is by far the most valuable player to the Crows. The Crouches are approaching his midfield output but the MidPAV per game difference between Sloane and a decent soldier like Richie Douglas is about 40% – enough of a window to give GWS a shot to win that battle. On a total PAV per game approach, the Crows have effectively selected their strongest possible team minus Sloane and Otten from their top 22 across the season. Structurally, however, Otten is the lowest rated of the taller Adelaide defenders, and Knight (who is effectively replacing Otten) has a higher DefPAV rating per game.
The one outlier from this bunch is Jake Kelly, a player considered by PAV to be the second least valuable to play at least 20 games this year. Kelly undoubtedly fills a critical role for the Crows, able to switch between smaller and taller defenders, and cover ground, but he struggles to hit the stat sheet with any impact unlike some others who fill that switch-defender role at other clubs. Adelaide haven’t found an upgrade for Kelly this year but we suspect they would like to do so.
GWS are also picking near full strength side aside from some calls on the fringes, based on 2017 performances according to PAV. Interestingly, Josh Kelly has already become the Giants’ most valuable player in PAV terms.
18 of the selected GWS 22 fell within their top 22 according to PAV per game, with all of their top 15 selected. The absences are all likely explained by structural factors other than the loss of Devon Smith.
Dawson Simpson rated at 16th for GWS per game this year, on account of his “75% of Shane Mumford” routine, with Devon Smith (17th), Johnson (21th) and Taranto (22nd) the others from the top 22 to miss. Adam Tomlinson sits 23rd, but he plays a crucial structural role for the Giants as a tall and mobile defender able to slide to almost any mid-to-tall forward – expect to see him for spells on Tom Lynch this week. Johnson has had a well-documented difficult end to the season and his absence is understandable.
PAV-based selection (probably a while off being a thing anyone does) would have opted for Tim Taranto (22nd) over either Himmelberg (27th) or de Boer (32nd) to replace one of Smith or Johnson, but it is worth noting that both de Boer and Himmelberg are probably more versatile than the forward-oriented output Taranto has produced this season. With the six most forward-productive Giants already selected, that versatility may have swayed the selection table.
Overall, in spite of the selection of more players outside top-22 in PAV per games terms, it looks as though the Giants are running closer to their preferred strongest side with only some marginal calls at the fringes. The reason for this is simply that the Crows face a big question mark over how they will perform without Sloane, who is by a wide margin their most valuable player.