Adelaide Crows coach and his players talk tactics during an AFL game.
Adelaide Crows coach and his players talk tactics during an AFL game. Getty Images

Crows reach new heights

BRENTON Sanderson has the look of a man who practices what he preaches.

At 38, and seven years out of the game, Sanderson still appears in great shape - the legacy of a disciplined work ethic in the gym - something he has passed on to his players at Adelaide.

Put it this way, he's no Mark Williams, the man who guided Port Adelaide to its first AFL premiership and is now GWS Giants senior coach-in-waiting, who, ah, let's be honest, has let himself go a little since his playing days.

Sanderson's modus operandi when taking on the coaching reins at the Crows from Neil Craig at the end of 2011 was putting some muscle on his boys.

Pre-season training at West Lakes involved up to five weights sessions a week under the watchful eye new strength and conditioning man Nick Poulos, and included both players and coaches.

Almost everyone recorded personal bests in the various tests of the strength, with Jason Porplyzia proving to be No.1 in the bench press and squat - an amazing result. He's built like the proverbial brick outhouse, but dislocated his shoulder in round one of 2011 and missed the rest of the season.

Taylor Walker lived up to his billing as a power forward by ranking first for deadlift, bench pull, and the clean and jerk.

The added bulk has played no small part in Adelaide suddenly jumping out as a premiership threat in 2012, when most thought it would struggle to rate as a finals contender after finishing 14th in 2011.

The Crows are ranked No.1 for contested possessions, with an average 152 a game - up from 137 in 2011 when ranked 14th. They are also No.1 for clearances with an average 41 - rising from 36 in 2011 when they ranked 15th.

Sanderson has also introduced a more attacking game style which has better utilised forwards like Walker, Porplyzia and Kurt Tippett and has resulted in the side being equal second for scoring, averaging 109 points a game - up from 79 last season under a more defence-orientated Craig.

Adelaide's goalkicking numbers are at an all-time high, eclipsing the mark of 106 points per match achieved in 1993, when glamour full-forward Tony Modra was at his peak.

Second on the ladder with a 13-3 win-loss record, Adelaide looks set to win just its second ever minor premiership, the first coming in 2005.

Its run home includes Geelong (away), Essendon (home), Fremantle (home), Brisbane (away), Melbourne (away) and Gold Coast (home) - marginally better than that facing ladder-leader Sydney which has Gold Coast (away), Carlton (away), Collingwood (home), Western Bulldogs (away), Hawthorn (home), and Geelong (away).

It would be a remarkable achievement when considering the calibre of players that have departed in the last couple of years - Andrew McLeod, Brett Burton, Tyson Edwards and Simon Goodwin have all retired, while Nathan Bock and promising youngsters Phil Davis and Jack Gunston left.

Sanderson may experience some headaches about what to do with Tippett, whose immediate future has been questioned after suffering three concussions in five weeks, but whether he misses one week or the rest of the season - that decision should be left up to the doctors - the Crows have depth to cover for him.

The Crows' major hurdle will be facing the Cats at home tomorrow in a type of 'homecoming' for Sanderson. He played 199 games for Geelong (after six with Adelaide and four with Collingwood) and was assistant coach during its three premierships, in 2007 and 2009 under Mark Thompson and in 2011 under Chris Scott.

If Thompson had have had his way, Sanderson would've been coaching the Cats, anointing him his successor when he dropped the bombshell at the end of the 2010 season that he was walking away.

He was overlooked by the club for Scott, and the rest is history.

Ironically, both Sanderson and Scott were in the running for the top job at Port in 2009, but the Power opted for former skipper Matthew Primus.

Sanderson currently has an 81.2 percent winning strike-rate, marginally ahead of Scott's 78.0 (41 games - 32 wins). Primus' is 28.9 (45 games, 13 wins.



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