MATT Crouch's focus on improving his outside game paid off on Sunday, with the Adelaide midfielder looking a more balanced player against West Coast than he did last year.
The 20-year-old has been a contested king at SANFL level for the past two years and in his 17 AFL games last season, he translated his dominance in the state league to solid senior form.
He averaged 21 possessions a game but the bulk of those possessions were won on the inside – he ranked fourth in his Rising Star crop for contested disposals and second for handballs.
But on Sunday in Adelaide's NAB Challenge opener, 12 of his 23 disposals were uncontested.
There remains work to do, but Crouch told AFL.com.au he was pleased with his improvement.
"It's been a focus for me and the group really, just sort of work on our outside balance because the last few years we've relied heavily on our inside play," Crouch said.
"For me as well [the focus has been] my running capabilities to help that out.
"I felt pretty good, my fitness has improved a lot since last year… while the main area of my game is the inside, I need to keep working on the outside."
Crouch was positive about the club debuts of Dean Gore and Wayne Milera, who both influenced play at various stages throughout Sunday.
Milera's poise and skill was exceptional leading to two goal assists, while Gore kicked two of his own.
"He played really well, he's a pretty good kick and he finished well with a couple of goals ... he's a good fella, Gorey, works hard on and off the field so he's fitted in really well," Crouch said.
"[Milera's] skills have been great throughout the pre-season – his outside speed and skills will help us a lot this year."
Matt's older brother Brad was on the cusp of selection for Sunday's clash but was kept out of the side after pulling up sore from the club's internal trial nine days earlier.
Coach Don Pyke insisted his omission had nothing to do with the stress fracture in his foot that sidelined him for the entire 2015 season and said that – all going to plan – Brad would line up to take on Fremantle next week.
"Hopefully he gets up for next week and we can play together again," Matt said.
"He's pretty positive about the year, just loving being out there again and have his body right.
"Hopefully he can get back on to the park and play some good footy for us."