Thursday night, 6pm, on a piece of land that has seen some of Australia's greatest athletic performances, the 2016 season of the biggest sporting club in the country will start, publicly at least. At Olympic Park, now known as the Holden Centre, the Collingwood Football Club will hold an intra-club match. To the uninitiated, an intra-club match is the traditional start to the serious on field business of an AFLs' clubs season. It consists of a match solely between members of that clubs list, and is designed to get the players in tune for the upcoming pre season games, currently known as the NAB Challenge. The Pies first game in that competition is next Friday night so there's no time to muck around now, it's all serious from now on.
Going into the 2016 season the hopes have to be high for the Magpie army for the first time in several seasons. The additions of several recruits, with the standout being young midfielder Adam Treloar, will no doubt help their young list reach a top level even sooner. Treloar, traded to the Pies in a mega deal from the GWS Giants, is already rated an above average midfielder after just 5 seasons. His use of the ball going inside 50 is ranked as elite (top few % in the AFL) and he led the Giants in score involvements last season. All of this was while he was dealing with several niggling injuries. He has the potential to be an elite player in the AFL and joins a Magpies midfield who itself is improving.
The Pies also added ex Brisbane midfielder James Aish and Melbourne's Jeremy Howe to the list during the trade period and while both have had interrupted pre seasons they will help the Magpies make that move up the ladder.
Apart from those 3, there's plenty more to see on Thursday night at Olympic Park. The Pies list is relatively healthy for this time of year with maybe as few as 4 players being unavailable for this first hit out. Jeremy Howe (finger), Tyson Goldsack (knee), Jamie Elliott (back) and Matthew Scharenberg (knee) are those 4 but the good news is only Scharenberg off that list is considered to be a long term injury. So with a strong and healthy list we will get to see most of the Magpies senior and rookie lists in action first up.
One aspect that is always exciting to see is the kids, the first to third year players, their natural improvement and the potential they have. Let's start with the second year players, with Darcy Moore, Jordan De Goey and Brayden Maynard the three standouts there. Moore, remarkably at 19 years old is still growing, and now measures up at 201cm, a real ruckman's height. No doubt he will be considered for the secondary ruck role assisting one of the best young rucks in the league, Brodie Grundy. De Goey, who managed 16 games in his first AFL season impressed with his pressure and ability to win the hard ball. Comparisons with the likes of Michael Voss shows how highly the youngster is rated.
The first year Magpies will also be out in force to make their presence felt in front of the Magpie army. Draftees Tom Phillips, Ben Crocker, Brayden Sier and Rupert Wills are likely all to see playing time and have impressed track watchers in training. Wills is a remarkable story, he was on the Magpies VFL list last year but only managed 6 games due to injury. He was impressive in those few games though and the club saw enough in the 22 year old to take him in the national draft. Crocker, taken with pick 65 by the Pies in the draft has been considered somewhat of a steal by champion data (the leading statistical organization in the AFL world). They ranked the Oakleigh youngster as the 22nd best player drafted, which is a massive risen from 65 obviously. He was in the elite categories as a forward in both the TAC Cup under 18 competition and the national championships. He just may be one of the smartest draft picks by the Pies in several seasons.
Then there's the rookies, those who aren't on the senior list but if they impress enough will get their chance at some point of the season. Of the rookie listed players the two have impressed most so far this pre season have been Mason Cox and Josh Smith. Cox, the American born ruckman who impressed so much in the VFL last season has taken yet another step forward this pre season and I'm willing to say he will make his senior debut at some point this season. Smith, another mature aged draftee (21 years old) has shown pace and skill at training and in the match simulations that have taken place so far. Both of those are attributes that the Pies need desperately to improve.
And of course there's he big names at the club who will really determine just how far the Pies go in season 2016. Names like Swan, Pendlebury, Sidebottom, Cloke, Greenwood, Williams, Macaffer, Varcoe, Brown, Frost, Reid, Crisp, Fasolo, Blair and Adams will play some game time and will set the standard for the younger players. Track watchers have noticed that Travis Cloke looks leaner and quicker then he has in previous years, and in a contract year he will be out to impress early on for sure. Swan, who extended his contract through to the end of 2017 is a fan favourite and seems to always be one of the better players in these games. He is well known for his dislike of training but come any sort of contested situation his immense talent and determination comes out in droves. The absolute best news story may well be Brent Macaffer though. The 2010 premiership player hasn't played a senior game since 2014 due to injuries but he seems to be raring to go. He is likely to start up forward.
So what should you really watch out for if you're attending on Thursday night? Apart from the above mentioned players it is always interesting to see if there have been any changes in the game plan. The Pies were once again number 1 for moving the ball around the boundary and 18th for using the corridor, a strategy left over from the Mick Malthouse years. It will be worth watching to see if any tweaks have been made in that area.
It may only an intra-club match but it is always exciting to see your club in action for the first time and with the NAB Challenge opening game being on the same night (Hawthorn vs Carlton) footy is back and don't we all love that.