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Finals equation gets tougher as Crows accept Sloane ban

Football

Adelaide gamebreaker Rory Sloane is out of Brownlow contention and out of Friday night’s finals-shaping clash with West Coast.

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The Crows opted not to contest a match review panel ban of two weeks – reduced to one week with an early plea – for a clumsy spoil that left Port Adelaide midfielder Brad Ebert with a bloodied cheek in Saturday night’s bruising Showdown.

The punishment has prompted outrage from Crows supporters and divided opinions among commentators.

But Adelaide evidently determined the risk of losing its most valuable midfielder for the first week of the finals was an unacceptable gamble.

The suspension means the tough-tackling midfielder, who’s been a key part of the Crows’ surge to the top two, will also miss out on the chance to claim a Brownlow Medal.

As recently as last week, Sloane was on the third line of betting for the prize, behind former teammate Patrick Dangerfield and Richmond’s Dustin Martin.

Adelaide will sit on top of the ladder with a victory on Friday night, and is likely to claim the minor premiership if Sydney lose to Richmond on Saturday.

But a Crows loss could drop the club out of the top four, making a premiership tilt much less likely.

Meanwhile, West Coast coach Adam Simpson will consider using forward Jack Darling as a mobile ruckman as the Eagles attempt to fill the massive void left by star big man Nic Naitanui when they take on the Crows.

Naitanui will miss up to 12 months of AFL action after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Friday’s 25-point win over Hawthorn.

Jack Darling could be a roughie to help fill in for the injured Nic Naitanui. Photo: Dean Lewins / AAP

Jack Darling could be a roughie to help fill in for the injured Nic Naitanui. Photo: Dean Lewins / AAP

Scott Lycett will take over the lead ruck role in Naitanui’s absence, but Simpson is yet to decide who to use as back-up.

Jonathan Giles, Mitch Brown, and Fraser McInnes all struggled in the back-up role when Naitanui was sidelined with Achilles tendon soreness earlier this year.

One curve -ball option available to Simpson is the 191cm Darling, who has pinch-hit through the midfield before and could prove to be a valuable mobile ruckman.

Darling has booted 40.17 this year, and moving him away from the forward line would rob West Coast of one of their best attacking threats.

His inexperience in the ruck also presents risks.

But Simpson says it’s an option he will consider.

“His strength would be – what can we get from him around the ground. That’s the appealing part,” Simpson told Perth radio station 6PR.

“But you’ve also got to think what you lose as a forward.

“It’s very hard to play that forward-ruck position, having never done it for a start.

“Also giving us something in both areas – it’s asking a fair bit. But you never know, it could be something we look to do.”

West Coast need to beat the Crows if they are to guarantee themselves a home final.

A loss would likely see them slip to seventh – consigning them to an away elimination final.

West Coast’s belief has soared on the back of wins over premiership fancies GWS and Hawthorn.

The triumph over the Hawks was particularly impressive, with West Coast’s frenetic pressure and aerial supremacy reminiscent of the way they played during last year’s run to the grand final.

West Coast’s form resurgence coincided with Naitanui’s return from injury.

But Simpson has challenged his team to continue their hot run without Naitanui.

“I’d hate to think we can’t do it without him,” Simpson said.

“All our hearts were bleeding for Nic.

“But we’ve got a job to do. Our industry doesn’t give you much time to reflect, and we’ve moved on pretty quick.

“As much as we’re hurting, Nic wouldn’t want it any other way.”

 

-with AAP

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