The Crows have shown faith – now Matthew Nicks must repay them with bolder, braver coaching


Matthew Nicks simply must move away from conservative selections and be more adventurous with his tactics to truly repay the faith shown in him with Adelaide’s two-year contract extension.

Coming out of 2023, the Crows were almost the consensus dark horse of the league.

They’d missed finals in controversial circumstances and had shown a powerful offensive style of play that put some mammoth totals on the board.

The fanfare died off a little during the preseason, but by and large, the pass mark for Adelaide this season is a first finals appearance since that infamous 2017 Grand Final, given the steady improvement this group has shown under Nicks’ tutelage.

Yet the timing of the re-signing is naturally weird and brings up more questions than it does in relieving the pressure valve.

Now, whether or not Nicks is the right man remains to be seen and overall, that isn’t really the main point.

Being in contract until the end of 2026 really means that the Crows’ board expect at least one finals win before the end of 2025 – the final season can be seen as negligible in footy club land, when dumping a coach a year early.

Why didn’t the Crows announce the extension before the start of the season? Why wait until after a disappointing performance that was masked by 15 minutes of good footy, where the team simply didn’t show up in the one game of the season that they should be fired up for?

Maybe it was reactionary to the Dockers’ extension of Justin Longmuir, perhaps they believed Nicks was next in the pressure firing line and they wanted him to skip on by that level of attention.

The Crows definitely showed great signs in 2023, with some stunning Showdown performances as well as losses by less than a goal against Collingwood (twice), Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.

Their percentage was extraordinarily high for a team that missed finals and that certainly backed up the fact they’d be pushing for a nice September run this season, but often overlooked is the inflation of the numbers against the worst sides in the competition.

Adelaide Crows coach Matthew Nicks. (Photo by James Elsby/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

They scored 297 points in two games against West Coast and put up 138 in their game against North Melbourne, winning by a combined margin of 233 points.

Competitive against the best teams and a team that can demolish the bottom sides, as the lowest possession-winning team in the entire league, indicates some level of exciting ball movement.

But Adelaide still haven’t been convincing under Nicks, and that’s a problem.

In particular, the coach can appear to be a bit guilty of selecting players on reputation and past performance, over current output and the prioritisation of talented youth.

There’s certainly been a hesitancy to drop some of his favourite soldiers, like Brodie Smith, who has been a wonderful figure for the Crows and a consistent performer over the years.

However, defensive accountability has never been his strong suit and in the last 18 months in particular, has made some key errors with his ball use that have been costly for the Crows.

There are others too, who have perhaps been given what can be perceived as free rides in the team, particularly across the half-forward line, where a sub or depth role may be better suited.

Sam Berry fell out of favour last season and looks to have fought his way back into the best team, or maybe that’s due to Rory Sloane’s unavailability more than anything else.

Luke Nankervis has shifted positions and is a player with real upside, but is finding it difficult to get past reputational players.

Luke Pedlar needs some more midfield time where possible, Brayden Cook needs to find some consistency on the outside but is worth another go.

Selections like having Lachie Gollant leave the team after a bad game but retaining star state league players in the team, it’s just all seems a bit uninspiring.

Nicksy is locked in for another two years ????


— Adelaide Crows (@Adelaide_FC) March 20, 2024

Defensively too, there are good young pieces, but the development of Daniel Curtin will be vital to any success Nicks has, as the established key defensive group isn’t quite at that upper echelon level.

It can be difficult for coaches to juggle the concept of a rebuild with the dangling carrot that is immediate success, but for a fanbase that had its hopes dashed so quickly after a dominant season, and whose hopes haven’t been reignited, the indecision seems like an acceptance of mediocrity. That doesn’t fly with them.

That’s why the timing of this re-signing is questionable, because those who are most confused and want decisive answers, are the Adelaide fans themselves.

Maybe even the board themselves aren’t fully convinced – CEO Tim Silvers interestingly said: “when you invest in a strategy, you have to hold, you have to stick fat.”

That’s hardly awe-inspiring confidence, it feels like they felt obligated to re-sign Nicks.

The strategy itself needs to have become clear in the coming weeks for it to make sense. The Crows face a tough run overall and if they sit with more losses than wins in a month’s time, this extension will be seen as the laughing stock of the AFL.

We know the upside of this group is tantalising, just as we know the downside is poor. Kids have received an opportunity and the likes of Soligo, Pedlar, Rachele and Worrell have helped elevate the floor of what this team is capable of.

But a rebuild is a rebuild and to properly complete one means making the hard decisions.

Nicks has to show he’s capable of doing so in 2024 to give hope to a fanbase that is split on his future.

More speed out of the middle, continuing the direct ball movement in transition and getting the ball in the hands of exciting young talent, rather than veterans on the decline is the minimum that should be expected of the Crows.

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It doesn’t matter if they win the least ball of any team in the league, if they increase their inside 50 numbers and continue to be the hardest team to take marks against inside 50, they’ll meet their expectations.

Nicks has received an extension as a show of faith, to try and finish what he started. Many coaches in the final year of their contracts face the unknown and remain conservative in job-saving efforts.

This is Nicks’ and his coaching staff’s chance to be bold, take risks and be more adventurous.

They simply have to, otherwise the Crows will just have more dead money to pay out as a result of another ill-advised extension.

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