They are all but gone -“they” being the finals chances of the Collingwood football club for season 2015.
AFL statistics service Champion Data ranks Collingwood's chances of playing finals at only 2%. This has all come about after an extraordinary run that has seen the Magpies lose seven of their last eight games. Somehow the Pies managed to turn an 8-3 win/loss record into a 9-10 record. Some have compared this season to last year when the Pies had the same downfall after the first half of the season. Whether that's fair or not this Collingwood side has to get better if it's going to play finals and contend inn the future.
Onto round 21, and this Saturday the Magpies come up against a side that will almost certainly play finals, Richmond. The Tigers have been able to do what the Pies haven't, winning consistently enough to maintain their position in the top eight. They've had some losses along the way, in fact they've swapped wins and losses the last five weeks but barring a disaster Richmond will play finals for the second season in a row.
The two sides met earlier on in the season and it was one of the games of the year as the Tigers came from behind to win by five points. Since that game the Tigers have risen up the ladder after a tough start while the Pies have been in free fall. The Tigers still need one win to lock up a finals spot and they'd love to notch up that win against the Pies this Saturday.
In terms of effort and resilience Collingwood's efforts in the last eight weeks have actually been quite good, barring maybe the loss to the Demons. Last week's loss to Sydney summed up the second half of the year for the Pies really, leading at times in the last quarter yet unable to secure the win when it mattered. The same occurred when the Pies faced other top teams like Hawthorn, Fremantle and the Western Bulldogs. Some have put it down to a lack of experience under extreme pressure and while Collingwood has fielded one of the youngest sides this season, losing seven out of eight games is inexcusable. The positives have been the form of the ever reliable Dane Swan and a group of youngsters that have shown there is future hope for the Pies.
Richmond's form has been a lot better then the Pies, that's for sure. Although they've alternated wins and losses for the last five weeks (due for a loss this week if that pattern continues) the win over Hawthorn just two weeks ago shows how good they can be. In fact since these two sides faced off in round seven the Tigers have only lost three games, and those three losses all came against probable finalists. After one of their biggest losses of the week over in Adelaide the Tigers came home to the MCG last week and disposed of the struggling Gold Coast Suns by 83 in a dominance performance. There were some worrying signs thought with only nine tackles laid by the entire Richmond side in the first half. Their second half was much better though and they go into this game as clear favourites.
What do we make of Collingwood's 2015 season? It started so well with eight wins in the first eleven games but just like last season it has fallen apart after the mid season bye. The difference between last season and 2015 is the manner in which the Pies have been losing though. Captain Scott Pendlebury stated that he believed the club had improved simply because they were no longer consistently losing games by big margins. The Magpies percentage shows that too, with the Pies currently having a top eight ranked defence and attack. It does bode well for the future but at the moment this season will be a second consecutive failure for Collingwood. Of course there have been positives though and leading into this game versus the Tigers may of those positives will be on display. Dane Swan has returned to his All Australian form of years past and the youngsters are starting to come through also. The likes of Marsh, Langdon, De Goey, Moore, Maynard, Scharenberg, Broomhead, Ramsay, Frost, Adams and Crisp have all got extra games under their belt. That's where the improvement will come from for the Pies next season and beyond but they will also have to be active in the draft and trade periods.
There's still three games to be played for the Magpies in season 2015 though and it starts against the Tigers on Saturday. The Pies almost defeated Richmond the first time around and if anything Collingwood has a stronger team in comparison now. At selection Nathan Brown unfortunately won't be available after being suspended for one game for a rather clumsy hit on Luke Parker in last weeks' loss. His replacement will come from the VFL who themselves had a tough loss last weekend. Among those pushing for selection out of the VFL Pies team are Goldsack, Scharenberg, Young, Witts, Karnezis and Kennedy. There is likely to be two or three changes with several of those VFL performances warranting selection. Something has to improve up forward though for Collingwood to win a game like this as they've only managed to kick 40 goals and 77 behinds in their previous few losses. That's a disastrous accuracy rate and one that will see them lose again if they don't remedy it fast.
After starting the season slower then what was to be expected Richmond has developed into one of the most dangerous teams to play in the competition, outside of the premiership contenders of course. At one stage there it looked as if the Tigers were going to challenge for a top four spot but recent losses to Fremantle and Adelaide have put paid to that. The club would be impressed with the way their team has managed to dispose of the lesser teams this year and with a few wins over top sides the signs for the future are good. It's all about now though for this Richmond side and to maintain even the slightest hope of finishing in the top four they have to win their final three home and away games.
The Richmond midfield based on statistics looks like one of the weaker central cores in the AFL. They rank in the bottom six for clearances and hitouts and not much higher for contested possessions. Yet somehow they seem to lift when they have to and have a huge influence on games in small periods. The first game against the Pies is a good example with Richmond dominating the contests in the final quarter to come from behind and win. Of course there's some big names in the middle with Deledio, Martin and Cotchin leading the way. Ivan Maric is a reliable ruckman who tries his hardest all week but he should dominate against a young Magpies rucking core. Richmond had a clear advantage in the clearances versus the young and weakened Suns last week and will be looking to do with same up against a Pies midfield that lacks depth.
Richmond's backline is almost certainly their area of strength which is a huge improvement on where it was a few years back. The Tigers rank fourth for least points conceded with only the Hawks, Eagles and Dockers ahead of them, arguably the three best teams in the competition. It's been through a mixture of experience (Chaplin, Newman, Houli, Rance) and youth (Ellis, Vlastuin, Batchelor) that the Tigers have improved their backline. Rance is likely to be in the All-Australian team and he now has a very solid defensive grouping around him. Of course it's helped by a midfield and forward line that has a defensive approach to the game, one that coach Damien Hardwick has no doubt instilled in them. On paper they should have one of their biggest tests of the season against the Collingwood forward line but there's something wrong up forward for the Pies. It would shock many if the Pies were able to dominate this strong Richmond backline.
As has been the way for a few seasons now the Tigers forward line revolves around one play, that being the enigmatic Jack Riewoldt. The Coleman medalist of years past has had another strong year and is on target to kick over 60 goals if you include probable finals games. The problem for Richmond is who is next in the order? Tyrone Vickery, Liam McBean and Shaun Hampson have all been tried in that secondary tall forward position yet they keep coming back to the unreliable Vickery. After Jack's 46 goals the next best goal kicker at the club is Deledio with 20, with only Vickery and Llyod averaging more then a goal a game outside of the top two. Of course Richmond then place a large reliance on its midfield to chip in with goals and for the most part it has worked, especially against the weaker teams. If this Tigers outfit wants to be a genuine contender though this is the area of the ground that needs the most improvement. Luckily for them the Pies have a weakened and inexperienced backline this week. Nathan Brown's absence will be greatly missed and with a number of youngsters being trialed down back the Tigers should be able to put a score on the board here.
This game is mightily important for Richmond. Despite those two recent losses their top four hopes aren't dead even if they are now unlikely to earn a double chance. They will be hoping Shane Edwards recovers from a recent injury in time for Saturday although he missed the first game between these two and they still won. Others to be considered will be McBean, Dea and Hampson in an attempt to strengthen that forward line. The Tigers should be winning this game if they are to be any threat in the finals, as they have more to play for and are in better form then the Magpies at the moment.
Richmond head into this game as favourites and rightfully so. They have the better form since the two last met for sure. If there's a light at the end of the tunnel for Collingwood it's that the Tigers haven't managed to win two games in a row for 5 weeks now. If that pattern continues obviously the Magpies come out winners here.
I think this game will be a lot like the first clash, high scoring (100 points needed to win) and hard fought right to the very end. The Tigers are a good football side but have showed they are just below the absolute best which isn't too dissimilar to the Magpies. The loss of Nathan Brown does hurt the Pies and so if they are to steal a victory here they will need to start well. If they can though, I believe the Magpies forward line can be the difference in this game.
MAGPIES BY 7 POINTS.