Brace yourself, Jake: Fiery reception awaits prized recruit
NO bad blood. Jake Lever was quick to emphasise that ahead of his first meeting with the Adelaide Crows as an opposition player.
But based on recent history, you could easily believe there's plenty of skin in Sunday's clash in Alice Springs.
After all, the young defender left the Crows in acrimonious circumstances during last year's trade period.
Days after the Crows lost the grand final to Richmond, Lever requested a trade to Melbourne, with the Demons quickly paying up their 2017 and 2018 first-round draft picks for the talented tall.
But the entire process was marred by the bitter conversations circulating around Lever's departure.
Crows skipper Taylor Walker was understood to be "furious" about Lever's decision to leave, while there were also reports some players wanted the young defender left out of Adelaide's team during the finals unless he recommitted to the club.
"I think it's him choosing money over success," Walker said in October 2017.
"For Jake, I think the difference in money was a lot.
"So if you're driven by money or if you're driven by success, that's a decision you need to make."
It all came to a head when Lever's manager said the then-21-year-old had been advised not to attend the club's best and fairest.
Now, more than six months on, Lever and the Crows will face each other on the field.
Here's what we can expect.
To say Lever had a rough introduction to life at Melbourne would be an understatement.
From the opening minutes of his first game in red and blue, opposition sides targeted the 22-year-old.
Geelong made a point of going through Lever's man in Round 1, targeting Esava Ratugolea and keeping the Melbourne recruit accountable.
It worked, with Lever struggling to win the ball, finishing with just three marks and three disposals to his name.
It was a similar story against Brisbane the next week, with Lever collecting just 13 disposals and four marks.
But the Demons stood firmly by their high-profile recruit, backing him to come good.
It was worth remembering Lever was well-sheltered at Adelaide, with backline stalwarts Daniel Talia and Kyle Hartigan providing him the surety to be able to zone off.
Since those early teething problems, as Melbourne's defence has settled, so too has Lever.
And with Oscar McDonald slowly establishing himself as one of the league's in-form key defenders, Lever has benefited.
While the Demons faded against Richmond on Anzac Day Eve, Lever found some of the marking and rebounding form that had him so highly rated.
Since then, he's only improved.
On Sunday afternoon, he registered a season-high 27 disposals, season-high eight marks, five rebound 50s and four inside 50s. He's now averaging 8.2 intercept possessions per game, too.
It means Lever heads into this much-anticipated clash close to peak form.
And he'll be keen to make his mark.
The Crows have almost been at pains to say they haven't missed Lever this season.
After just four weeks, Talia took a cheeky dig at his ex-teammate, saying replacement Tom Doedee had been "better" than Lever.
"I think Tom has been great these first four or five weeks and has fitted in and I think he's done better than Lever," Talia said.
"We're not feeling the loss of Jake at the moment and Tom is putting his hand up and has played some awesome footy in the first five weeks so it's been a credit to him.
"He's intercepting everything back there and fitting that role and really dominating."
To be fair, they have filled the gap admirably.
Doedee has relished the opportunity opened up by Lever's departure, playing the role of Adelaide's new intercept king.
The 21-year-old has averaged 5.4 marks, 7.0 intercept possessions, 17.8 disposals and 3.3 rebound 50s per game.
Ruckman Sam Jacobs said he was "comfortable" with how Doedee had replaced Lever.
"It's just the landscape that footy is, all sports are like it now, so for me, it's his decision and I'm sure he's probably happy with it," Jacobs said on Monday.
"I'm comfortable with him going. I'm comfortable the players, like Tom Doedee, we had were going to step up, we were happy we were going to cover him and that's the way it's panned out.
"From that point of view, it's fantastic that the spot he left has created opportunities to see those guys come in and play some really strong footy."
With Walker out injured for the immediate future, fans won't get to see how Lever and his outspoken former captain interact.
When push comes to shove, it seems likely Lever could play a role on Tom Lynch or Josh Jenkins, depending on who McDonald matches up on.
While Lever dodges the parochial Adelaide crowd until Round 19, he could yet be up for an interesting reception from some old teammates.
"It will be different and different for him playing against his former side,'' Jacobs said.
"Jake is one of my good mates but (how players treat him) is an individual thing. Some blokes might (have a crack at him) but I'll be worrying about my battle with Maxy (Gawn).''
As for Lever's thoughts, the Dees big man said the clash had been "circled in the calendar for a while now," - and expected some former teammates to send "a cheeky couple of texts" in the lead-up.
"Before the game today I had a little bit of a think about after this game. It is finally the week that I get to play Adelaide," he said.
"Some of my best mates still play for Adelaide. For me it was never going to ruin any friendships or anything like that.
"I'm sure there'll be a cheeky couple of texts this week. I'm just excited to go up to Alice Springs and play well hopefully and hopefully we get the four points."
It's hard to know who will win out in this clash of club versus player.
No matter the result, though, it should be an enthralling encounter.