Adelaide has lost five in a row and it’s about to get even tougher but star Rory Laird says the young Crows relish the challenge.
Adelaide might be in the midst of a five-game losing streak and staring down the barrel of top 8 teams Melbourne then Richmond in the next fortnight, but Crows midfielder Rory Laird says his side is relishing the learnings that come from taking on the league’s best teams.
After a bright 3-1 start, the Crows haven’t won a game since Round 4, and are now languishing at 3-6 and sitting 15th on the ladder.
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“Obviously we’re in a tough period at the moment, but we’re in a good space in terms of adapting our game and learning how to fine tune it so we can be competitive, and hopefully beat a couple of these higher teams,” Laird said after the Crows 30-point loss to West Coast in Perth on Sunday.
“We are such a young team and playing especially against these really strong premiership-contending teams it’s really good for our growth.
“We’re in a bit of a tough patch of opponents, but we relish that.”
The Crows’ early wins came against Geelong (+12 points), Gold Coast (+10 points) and North Melbourne (+41 points).
But their past three games have been substantial losses at the hands of West Coast (-30 points), Port Adelaide (-49 points) and Greater Western Sydney (-67 points).
According to Champion Data, the major change in the Crows game has come about in their ability to score when going inside their forward 50: for the first four rounds of the season, Adelaide ranked #1 in the league for score per inside-50 (51.8 per cent). But from Rounds 5-9, they’ve slumped to worst (33.8 per cent).
That inability to maintain offence pressure meant that on Sunday from their 56 inside-50s against West Coast, the Crows managed a score of 11.10.
But positives are still there for Adelaide and chief among them is how well Laird has adjusted to his new role as an inside mid.
So far this season, Laird is rated by Champion Data as elite for disposals (30.4), ground ball-gets (10.4) and clearances (6.9). He’s rated above average for uncontested possessions (16.1), score involvements (6.1) and tackles (5.6).
On Saturday, he had his second-straight game of 36 touches, and kicked his first goal for the season.
Laird said he’d been working closely with new assistant coach, and former teammate, Nathan van Berlo on his transition from a defensive role in the middle.
“He’s putting me in a position around stoppages to be able to go and find the football and he’s giving me a lot of confidence in what I’m doing,” he said.
“And I’m still learning the position.
“I’ve only played it for about 15 or 16 games (starting late last season), so I’m still learning the ins and outs of it but when you’re around the ball that much, it’s nice to be involved in the game and I will keep trying to adapt my game.
“(But) I’m really enjoying my role and hopefully I can keep building on it.”
Laird is also enjoying working in tandem with his captain, Rory Sloane, and emerging talent Ben Keays.
“When we started the season with Keaysy and Sloaney and I in the middle, we had a bit of a thing going and unfortunately Sloaney had that horrible injury to his eye … (but in his second game on return), he’s a contested beast and around stoppages his leadership and his talk is really strong for us, crucial part of our midfield.
“Keaysy’s taken his game to another level, it’s a credit to him and his fitness and the way he covers the ground.”
Keays is now in his second season at Adelaide after being delisted by Brisbane and has enjoyed a rebirth in the middle and it shows on the stats sheet.
In his first season with the Lions in 2016, Keays played 16 games and gathered a total 182 touches for the entire season.
In 2020, he played 16 games for the Crows, for 265 disposals.
In 2021, he’s played nine games and has already amassed 243 touches to his season tally, so far. Keays had a career-best 32 touches against the Eagles, 11 of those contested, 10 inside-50s and six clearances.
“He’s super strong through his core and his hips, very diligent in his role and he’s been able to use that workrate to find the football and he works up and down the ground really strongly,” Laird said of his fellow midfielder.
“We work really well together.”
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