McKernan, Jenkins jostle for key role

Written By Unknown on Minggu, 20 Januari 2013 | 14.43

Adelaide Crows big man Shaun McKernan struggling with the heat at pre-season training. Picture: Sarah Reed Source: Sunday Mail (SA)

IT'S the biggest question mark hanging over the Adelaide Crows line-up.

Will it be basketball convert Josh Jenkins or the unproven Shaun McKernan who steps into the space left by departed key forward Kurt Tippett?

After a season where Adelaide's forward line efficiency was a major reason behind its surprise run to the preliminary final, the ability of the Crows to cover Tippett's absence and replicate the high-octane offence we saw a year ago, could decide their success.

"Kurt obviously played a pivotal role last year," Crows forward coach Mark Bickley said.

"But we've got a couple of guys who played a bit last year who can step into that role."

The Crows will continue to send the message - at least until the season starts - that Lewis, Johnston and Tom Lynch are in a four-man race with Jenkins and McKernan for the berth.

But the truth is, at 193cm and 190cm respectively, neither Johnston nor Lynch is tall enough to fill the pack-crashing, ruck-relieving role Tippett did last season.

So unless the Crows decide to play Angus Graham in the same line-up as Sam Jacobs, which would be a surprise, either Jenkins or McKernan is going to play. So who is best placed to become Tippett 2.0?

We're dealing with relatively small samples but there are still conclusions to be drawn from what we have seen of the pair at AFL level.

Jenkins finds more of the ball (averaging 10.6 disposals to McKernan's 8.4), is more physically imposing (averaging 2.2 tackles to McKernan's 1.3) and is a better shot for goal (he has kicked 11.3 in 11 games compared with McKernan's 13.13 from 23).

He also finished the season as the Crows first option if Tippett was not available after McKernan was sidelined with a broken jaw. So on the surface he looks to have his nose in front.

But McKernan also has his real strengths.

He is a better pack mark and a better ruckman - averaging 7.7 hitouts to Jenkins' 5.5 - so if the Crows are confident Taylor Walker and Co can kick a winning score and they're more concerned about having someone to ease the load on Sam Jacobs, McKernan might just be the answer.

The key for McKernan will be to stop giving away so many free kicks - his career count is 18 for, 42 against - and to improve his consistency.

That not only applies to AFL level, but also if his season begins in the SANFL with South Adelaide, where his performances have ranged from outstanding to head scratching in recent seasons.

"That's one of the things we're continuing to work on with Shaun," Bickley said. "He's been a bit guilty of (it) when he hasn't played well, the contribution has been quite small. We want to narrow the gap between his best and his worst.

"If you look back at where Taylor Walker was a year or two ago, his form line was similar. Outstanding when he was great but when he wasn't ... "

Whether it's Jenkins or McKernan who steps up, there's reason to believe the Crows can survive life post-Tippett.

They averaged 118 points in the seven games Tippett missed, or when he left the field early, because of concussions last year.

That average was helped by the score of 27.16 Adelaide kicked against GWS in round 16, but there were also healthy totals tallied against West Coast, Fremantle and Essendon.

"It wasn't like we had the same players in, week in, week out," Bickley said.

"We had to use quite a few numbers through there and, at different stages, improvise.

"Both of those guys have had a taste ... and had some credible performances.

"It will be interesting to see how they go, you just never know who is going to jump up and grab the opportunity."

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