Four seconds, that's all that separated Collingwood from a disappointing start to the 2016 AFL premiership season. Last Friday night at the M.C.G. Brodie Grundy snapped the winning goal to put the Magpies in front with only four seconds left on the clock. If he had missed, dropped the ball or any other eventuality had ensued Collingwood would be near the bottom of the AFL ladder with an 0-2 win/loss record. As it is, the goal went through, the Magpie army went off it's collective nut (that may be an understatement) and Collingwood have a 1-1 record after playing two of the top five placed teams from last season.
That goal, and that win, places the Magpies in a decent position moving forward. This Saturday, the Pies will return to the M.C.G. for a rare Saturday afternoon game against St Kilda. The Saints have started the season on a poor note, losing two games to Port Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs by considerable margins. They sit on the bottom of the AFL ladder and need a win to give their fans some hope for the rest of the year. St Kilda is using this home game at the M.C.G, another rarity, to celebrate their one and only AFL/VFL premiership, the 1966 triumph by one point, over Collingwood of course. They are well within their rights to do that but it really shouldn't have a bearing on the final result.
The stunning come from behind win over Richmond really has made a huge difference to this Collingwood outfit going forward. What was really impressive though was the performance of four players in particular. Ben Reid returned for only his 10th game in the last 3 seasons and he was immense across half back. The all Australian defender looked back to his best, taking intercept marks and delivering the ball with amazing accuracy over long distances. Helping him out down back was Jackson Ramsay, a player who most outside of Collingwood probably see as a surprise. But early last year, before Ramsay went down with injury, he was one of the reasons why the Pies had started the 2015 season so well. His courage, ability to defend well against his opponent and accurate ball use is something this Magpies team desperately needs.
Further up the ground and Adam Treloar performed remarkably well considering the pressure that was on him pre game. He chose Collingwood over Richmond during the trade period and he backed it up, with a 32 possession game that included a game high 8 inside 50 deliveries. Treloar was vital in the last few minutes delivering the final inside 50 that eventually led to the Grundy match winning goal. But of course the man that stood out was Alex Fasolo, in a career best performance where the live wire forward booted 6 goals straight, including 2 of the final 3 goals, and 3 goal assists. For Fasolo it was vindication of his request to stay forward more rather than being used as part of the midfield rotation.
The Magpies have endured through a tough opening two games of the season and now the draw opens up for them. Over the next 6 weeks the Magpies play what will probably turn out to be the bottom five sides in the competition (with a trip to Perth to play the Eagles also). It starts on Saturday against the bottom placed side. The Magpies came out of that win over the Tigers in a relatively healthy state, there were no new injuries in either the seniors or the VFL on the weekend. Talking of the VFL there are numerous players pushing their case for selection in the seniors with strong recent performances in what have been practice matches for the Magpies reserves team. Matthew Goodyear, Jesse White, Jeremy Howe, Alan Toovey, Tyson Goldsack, Jonathan Marsh and Rupert Wills will all consider themselves a chance of playing on Saturday in the seniors. Also in contention to return is ruckman Jarrod Witts who missed the game last week due to split webbing in his hand. That depth allows coach Nathan Buckley to select a 22 that matches up well based on the opposition. This is a game Collingwood will expect to win but they will have to perform better than they have over the first two rounds to be assured of a victory here.
ST KILDA PREVIEW
St Kilda are a team in transition, trying to climb their way back up the ladder after four seasons of failing to make the finals. Before that recent period the Saints had enjoyed their best finals appearance run in the club's history, as they made it to September 7 out of 8 years leading up to 2011. Two years ago they bottomed out (literally) and last season they finished 14th which may be a sign that the only way is up from here. Their first two games of this new season have been hard to judge. They started the season with what seemed like a decent effort against the highly touted Port Adelaide, and were able to score 100 points in that game despite losing by 33 points. The Saints would have been less enthusiastic about their most recent game though, the 57 point loss on Saturday night to the Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium. It was a disappointing night for the Saints despite Nick Riewoldt celebrating his 300th game milestone. The Saints were never in the game as the rampaging Dogs dominated in all areas. They will have to improve upon that performance or face a third loss in a row to start the season.
If there's one area of the ground that this St Kilda team can match it with most it has to be their midfield. In 2015 the statistical output of the Saints midfield wasn't that impressive with a ranking of 14th for clearances. Straight away though, in only two games, there's been a remarkable difference in this area. The Saints after two rounds have won more clearances than any other team, and while the sample size is small it's a great sign. This central core should be a good clearance team too with the likes of Montagna, Newnes, Savage, Armitage, Steven and Weller all able to win the hard ball. One area that has also improved so far this year is the ruck. Last season the Saints were down in the bottom few for average hitouts (along with the Pies). Tom Hickey has had an impressive start to 2016 though and with 56 hitouts in round 1 versus Port Adelaide he showed he can dominate the less than elite ruckman of the AFL.
It's hard to distinguish which area of the ground is worse for the Saints, their defense or their forward line. Both has a massive reliance on one experienced key position player, with the indomitable Nick Riewoldt in the forward line and the ever reliable Sam Fisher down back. To be fair the backline probably has more experience and talent than the forward line does at the moment, with Dempster, Gilbert, Geary and Roberton at least having plenty of games under their belt. They do struggle to stop the opposition from scoring though with St Kilda rated the worst one on one defensive side in 2015 and allowing scores of 133 and 93 in the first two rounds of 2016. Of course being able to score 100 points in round one was a very positive sign with Lonie, Bruce and Weller joining Riewoldt as those who managed to kick multiple goals. That didn't eventuate in the second game though so it will be interesting to see how both defense and attack works for St Kilda on Saturday.
Pressure is what the Saints do well though, and senior coach Alan Richardson has made no secret of that since he arrived at the club. Last season St Kilda were in the top four in the league for pressure deferential and it's fair to say it had a hand in each of their 6 (and a half) wins in season 2015. That pressure probably hasn't been as good in the first two games although it did show signs at times versus both the Dogs and Port of returning to the levels of last season. To improve though, this St Kilda team needs it's youngsters to start having an impact on games, something that hasn't happened too often recently. But if they can pressure the Collingwood players they may be able to force enough turnovers to be in with a chance late in the game.
This matchup seems like an easy one to decipher, with Collingwood the likely winners. However, St Kilda have more quarters than the Pies in the first two games (3 against 1) so the Saints aren't without a hope. The other thing in St Kilda's favour is the health of their list, they aren't missing 4-5 of their best 22 like the Magpies are, which evens it out once again. The location though is to Collingwood's advantage, with the Saints losing 4 of their last 5 games at the M.C.G.
Coincidentally the two teams met in round 3 last season, also at the M.C.G. and it was Collingwood who ran away with a commanding 74 point win. I expect this game to be a lot closer than that, especially with the Pies not hitting top form yet and with the players they are missing. Ultimately though the Magpies should be too good for the Saints on Saturday and extend their unbeaten streak over St Kilda to 10 games.
MAGPIES BY 16 POINTS