After six seasons without finals - including a heart-breaking close to 2023 - Adelaide's players understand the full extent of external expectations that have formed this pre-season.

And while belief is high, nobody is placing greater expectations on the club than the players themselves.

The Crows have improved on their preceding ladder position each year under coach Matthew Nicks, with 2024 looming as a likely window for the club to return to the top eight for the first time since their infamous 2017 exit.

Had it not been for some costly controversy to conclude their campaign last year, Adelaide would've broken their finals drought in 2023 instead.

Back to the drawing board over the pre-season, the Crows have looked to "embrace" newfound pressure and expectations, with the greatest degree of demand coming internally.

"We've probably got a bit more expectation on us than what we had this time last year, but we really do embrace it," Crows captain Jordan Dawson told Zero Hanger. 

"As a group, we set the bar of where we expect to be. So anyone that's on the outside of the four walls, no matter how much expectation they put on us it's probably not gonna be as much as we've got on ourselves.

"We create our own destiny, and we're in charge of it. So for us, we've acknowledged it but then we're ready to embrace it and really show the competition what we can do.

Adelaide, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 5: Jordan Dawson of the Crows celebrates a goal during the 2023 AFL Round 21 match between the Adelaide Crows and the Gold Coast SUNS at Adelaide Oval on August 5, 2023 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Sarah Reed/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

"I'm excited about about about a year and where we are, where we are right now as a group. It's it's a good time to be at the club."

The club has come a long way since Nicks' first year at the helm when the Crows lost the opening 13 games of a 17-game COVID-interrupted season to take out their maiden AFL wooden spoon.

While Nicks has remained as Adelaide's leading man, the Crows have experienced change on almost every level to now be pressing their case for a September call-up.

The acquisition of Dawson has emerged as a catalyst in their premiership pursuit, with the current club-wide "stability" buoying the all-Australian's hopes of leading his side to the post-season for the first time since his arrival.

"You look back on it, during the COVID time, it was all just a bit of chaos really. Just to think how far we've come," Dawson said on the club's growth.

"Obviously we haven't played finals, but as a group with the changeover in the playing list and then also the people with brought in, both players and above in Tim Silvers and Adam Kelly, it feels like that there's a real stability within the organization.

"That's probably why we're able to transfer it into games and it feels like we have a set game plan where guys know their roles and when we can actually start playing some finals footy pretty soon, hopefully."

Across the Crows' coaching group, that new stability is having a noticeable impact on standards, resulting in greater attention being placed on growing game styles and plans this pre-season in particular.

LAUNCESTON, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 23: Matthew Nicks, Senior Coach of the Crows and Jordan Dawson of the Crows celebrate during the 2023 AFL Round 06 match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Adelaide Crows at UTAS Stadium on April 23, 2023 in Launceston, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Having lost a number of assistants in years gone by, Nicks has seemingly found a groove with his 2024 cohort that has begun to pay dividends at West Lakes.

"He's only four years in and even the group he's got hasn't been consistent over the last few years," the skipper said of his coach.

"To have a couple of key pillars in the coaching roles and be in those positions now for a couple of years together, you can see them really starting to gel.

"The focuses that we've had in the pre-season, we've been able to streamline them and really focus on our scenarios and the game state stuff. Previously we were kind of looking at a holistic game plan, whereas now we can really sharpen different areas, which is exciting."

Adelaide's 2024 season gets underway in Round 1 against Gold Coast on Saturday, March 16.