\203 days, that's how long Collingwood supporters had waited to see their team play a game for premiership points. The wait had been long, but leading into round 1 of the 2016 AFL season the hopes were high for the Magpie army as they headed to Sydney to play the Swans. Just minutes into the game though and it was clear that something wasn't right, as the Swans ran rampant over the lethargic looking Magpie team. By half time the margin had blown out to 62 points and all those pre season hopes and dreams had been shattered in 60 minutes of football. Something had to be wrong, surely? There was no way that this talented young Collingwood team would simply perform this poorly in the first game of a home and away season. There were off field distractions leading into the game, including a damaging illicit drugs story published on Thursday, but to see the Magpies perform at such a low level was a shock to all.
Luckily though for Collingwood, there is a second chance. In fact they'll get plenty of other chances to make up for that mess in Sydney. It starts on Friday night, at the Pies home ground, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (M.C.G.), when a huge crowd will be in attendance to see Collingwood host Richmond in what is more than just your normal round 2 matchup. The Tigers came into the season hoping to improve on a decent 2015 where they finished fifth on the ladder but were then beaten by North Melbourne in the first elimination final. They started the season on a bright enough note with a 9 point win over Carlton but they too will believe they can improve significantly.
The two sides met twice last season, with Richmond coming away winners on both occasions. In round seven the Tigers won a thriller by 5 points, and in the second meeting later in the season the Tigers ended any faint Magpies hopes of playing finals with a 91 point thrashing at the M.C.G.
The only way is up from here, surely that's the approach that Collingwood has to take leading into this game. They have to write off round 1 and start again because there were oh so few positives out of that performance. One positive was Adam Treloar though, with the Pies star recruit showing why they went after him so hard with a club best effort that resulted in 34 possessions and a goal. That was about it though, in fact things would only get worse for the Pies as the night went on. First aging superstar Dane Swan went down with a major leg injury in the first quarter, one that he requires surgery and it's unlikely we will see the tattooed star again in 2016, if ever. Then in the third term vice captain and up to then the Pies best player, Steele Sidebottom, laid a heavy bump to the head of Sydney's Dan Hanneberry, that has resulted in a 2 week suspension for the Pies midfielder. Also in doubt out of the Swans game are Jarrod Witts (hand), Nathan Brown (hamstring) and Marley Williams (knee).
That means there will be changes to the 22 that faced off against Sydney, even if coach Nathan Buckley said he would like to back the players in for this game. The good news is there's some depth at Collingwood for a change. In a VFL practice match on Saturday at Olympic Park several Pies players put their hand up for selection. James Aish was the standout, with a strong performance from the middle which included several classy goals. Also impressive were Ben Reid, Brodie Grundy, Jonathan Marsh and Jeremy Howe. It would make no sense not to include at least 4 of those mentioned players in the side to face Richmond.
Howe and Aish are the interesting ones here, new recruits to the club who had injury setbacks in the off season but look raring to go now. Howe would provide cover for the missing Elliott and Swan while Aish is almost a spitting image of the suspended Steele Sidebottom, at least in the way he plays his football. Add in All Australian centre half back Ben Reid and the most perplexing omission from round 1, Brodie Grundy and this Magpies team doesn't look so bad after all.
The effort has to improve though or else it won't matter how much talent the Magpies have out on the field on Friday night. That effort in Sydney simply wasn't good enough, and despite any off field issues that may be effecting the player group it's time to put up or shut up as they say.
The Richmond Football Club are always one of the more intriguing stories during an AFL season and this version is no different. After finishing 5th at the end of the home and away rounds last season, the Tigers were expected to win their first final with many even talking about a premiership tilt. Alas they fell at the first hurdle against North Melbourne and the rest is history. The Tigers started season 2016 with high expectations with reaching a top four spot a realistic aim. The opening round win over Carlton wasn't pretty but eventually they got the job done, and with that 9 point win Richmond will look to improve upon that against the Pies.
Richmond's defense is one of the most under rated in the AFL. In season 2015 it was in that group at the top of the ladder that conceded less than 1600 total points for the season. Only 5 sides managed that and coincidentally they were the top 5 on the ladder leading into the finals. The Tigers backline is led by Alex Rance who is ably assisted in the key position defender roles by David Astbury and Dylan Grimes. Rance is undoubtedly one of the best rebounding key defenders in the AFL although he has had trouble with Pies key forward Travis Cloke over the years. Richmond also have the ability to create scoring opportunities out of their defense with Houli, Vlastuin and Rance creating drive that can turn defense into attack very quickly.
The Richmond midfield is full of big names yet at times doesn't perform to a level that it should. Last season they only ranked middle of the road for clearances and pressure differential, two of the more important statistical categories for midfields. With names like Martin, Cotchin, Deledio, Edwards, Ellis, Miles and Lambert they really should be better than that. The ruck area has been one they have struggled in over recent seasons. They were down in the bottom third of the competition in terms of total hitouts in 2015, although of course the Magpies were down there too. You can see why the Tigers wanted Adam Treloar so badly, but for now they will have to do with the addition of Connor Menadue who was impressive versus the Blues and looks to have taken that next step.
The Tigers forward line has had a heavy reliance on one man for a number of years now, that man being Jack Riewoldt. While Jack has held up his end of the bargain only Tyrone Vickery is really starting to give him solid support. No one else at the club managed to break the 30 goal barrier in season 2015. Richmond will try different players up forward as the season goes on but this week are likely to give Lloyd, Rioli and Griffiths the role of assisting Riewoldt and Vickery. The Magpies backline actually held up okay against a barrage of inside 50's last week so they will be confident of restricting Richmond if they do dominate through the middle.
The Tigers list isn't much healthier than the Pies really going into this round 2 matchup. They will go in without Deledio, Edwards, Conca and Yarran who all would be playing if they were fit. Edwards is one who can't take a trick, looking on his game early versus the Blues before suffering a hand injury that may keep him out for a few weeks. The Tigers though will expect to win this game against a weakened and under pressure Magpies outfit.
Richmond will start this game as favourites but with the injuries (and suspensions) to both teams this game is by no means a forgone conclusion. I expect it to be similar to the first time these two met in 2015 when the Tigers came away with a narrow 5 point win. Surely this talented young Magpies team won't lay down and die like they did against the Swans once again.
From a Richmond perspective they will believe they have significant improvement in them after a less than impressive win over Carlton in round 1. Most will tip the Tigers to win this game based on the probable selected 22's but I've got a feeling, and that's about there is at the moment, that Collingwood will bounce back and produce a fighting win over one of their biggest rivals. Either way I expect it to be a thriller.
MAGPIES BY 4 POINTS.