There is trouble a foot at Collingwood. On Saturday afternoon at the M.C.G. the biggest sporting club in the land performed terribly, there's no way of sugar coating it. Matching up against a team they were expected to defeat, St Kilda, Collingwood lacked the level of intensity and execution that is needed to perform at the top level. The Magpies third quarter in particular was bordering on pathetic, allowing the Saints to absolutely dominate for the first 20 minutes after half time. That was the game gone, no chance of coming back when you're playing with as little effort and skill as this Magpies outfit is at the moment. Ultimately the Saints won by 29 points and relegated Collingwood to the bottom 5 of the ladder after 3 rounds, with a 1-2 win/loss record and a lowly percentage of 68.05.
The silver lining, if there is one, is that it's still early in the season and that means there's plenty of chances coming up to rectify the performances of the first three weeks. I say the first three weeks because even the win over Richmond in round 2 isn't looking all that good, after the Tigers were pushed aside by the Crows around the same time the Pies were laying down against St Kilda. This weekend brings the first opportunity of redemption, a matchup versus one of the Pies oldest foes, Melbourne at the M.C.G. The Demons have plenty of problems of their own, with only win one out of their first 3 games. On form though Melbourne should start favourite for this game.
First to the positives, the very few positives out of the loss to St Kilda. Taylor Adams endured and gathered 28 disposals and a goal, leading the Magpies midfield brigade. Brodie Grundy showed why he is the clear number one ruckman at the club gathering 16 possessions and matching Tom Hickey in hitouts. Across half back Tom Langdon, Adam Oxley and Brayden Maynard used the ball well and gave the Pies some drive that led to a total of 90 points on the scoreboard. After that there wasn't much to write home about really.
There were more negatives than positives of course, but the major ones included Collingwood's inability to defend at both ends. Collingwood could neither hold the ball inside their offensive zone or repel the ball once it entered the Saints forward line. The Magpies are last, dead last for time allowed in the defensive area of the ground, showing that quite simply they are allowing their opposition to move the ball far too easily. It's harsh to single out individuals but Ben Sinclair, Tyson Goldsack and Jarryd Blair had 5 tackles between them, FIVE. Come on now, these are three of the more defensively minded players at the club yet they couldn't average 2 tackles each over 120 minutes, something stinks there. One of the major issues is ball use also, with more than half of the 22 who played on Saturday failing to achieve a 70% disposal efficiency rate. That is highlighted by the Magpies defensive half turning the ball over more then any other team except for the struggling Fremantle Dockers are three rounds.
Coming into the game versus the Demons the Pies have has lost another key player, with Marley Williams going down with a foot injury that will keep him out for up to a month. Thankfully there's a few players returning, with Steele Sidebottom available after serving his two match suspension, Travis Varcoe fully recovered from a hamstring injury and Alan Toovey dominated in the VFL game on Sunday. Those 3 players alone bring experience and a guaranteed effort, something this Magpies team was missing on Saturday. There are other options for coach Nathan Buckley and his assistants to consider too. In that VFL game, a strong win over Port Melbourne to start the regular season, Jesse White, Jack Frost, Brent Macaffer, Rupert Wills and Mason Cox all impressed. Cox is the interesting one there, the American behemoth could well come in and assist Brodie Grundy given the matchup against Max Gawn, one of, of not the most in form ruckman in the AFL. Cox has shown more propensity to play forward than any other ruckman on the Collingwood list, and could well make his senior debut this Saturday.
It may well be what Collingwood needs too, a few new names in the senior side to kick start what has been a woeful start to the 2016 season. Varcoe, Sidebottom, Toovey, Cox and maybe Wills would add a freshness to a side that has looked stale of late. This is still a very winnable game for Collingwood, on talent they should win really but they will have to bring a proper four quarter effort or risk losing to another up and coming team.
Coming into season 2016 Melbourne were looking to continue their push up the ladder after an encouraging 2015 campaign. After finishing in the bottom four in three consecutive years the Demons climbed to 13th at the end of last season, only one spot behind their opponents this weekend. So far this year, after three rounds the Dees may well be described as the Jekyll and Hyde of the AFL. They started with an encouraging come from behind win over the GWS Giants, before a dismal performance saw them lose to a weakened Essendon outfit. Then last week they played their best game of the season, at least offensively, when they pushed North Melbourne to the limit, only to go down by 5 points. In that game Melbourne came from 7 goals down early on score 20.11.131, but their lack of a defensive structure saw them unable to hold the Roos out late. It was a better display than the week before though, that's for sure.
Did Melbourne turn a corner last week against North Melbourne? For the past few seasons under Paul Roos the Dees have been the lowest scoring side in the AFL. Yet last week they went bang, maybe because it was the only way to get back from 7 goals down against a good side in North Melbourne, but still they may have unlocked something. You get the feeling they won't hold back against a struggling Collingwood side either, so their forward line's ability to convert their inside 50's will be interesting to watch. Last season the Demons were in the bottom half for scores per insider 50, but against North they scored nearly 50% of the time, a big improvement. That improvement might just come from their small forwards too with Garlett, Kennedy and Kent all capable of scoring. The Magpies defense is depleted also which should make it easier for the Dees to score once inside forward 50.
The Melbourne midfield took a blow after the North loss with Bernie Vince suspended for one game for an elbow to the neck of an opposition player. It's an even bigger blow given the 30 possession, 3 goal, best on ground performance Vince had versus the Pies late last season. The Demons won that game quite easily (by 37 points) and ended a losing streak to the Magpies that went back to 2007. There's still plenty of talent in the middle with Angus Brayhsaw the likely replacement for Vince. The likes of Jones (times 2), Tyson, Oliver, Viney and Brayshaw show you why the Dees have been impressive in the clearances so far in 2016. The Magpies midfield, is still performing at a decent level, more so than it's defense anyway, so that central grouping will have to be on their game to get first hands on the ball.
The Demons backline might be their weakest part of the ground but is well protected most weeks by a defensive mindset from the whole team. Tom McDonald, Lynden Dunn and ex Pie Heritier Lumumba lead the way down back and do a creditable job. What Melbourne seems to lack though is real drive out of defense with the likes of Jetta, Salem, Bugg and Lumumba having the potential to drive them forward but not being effective most weeks. The good news is Collingwod's retention rate inside their forward 50 has been woeful so far this season, which means the Dees should be able to clear it out of the backline easily. The matchups that may worry this defense are clear, with Travis Cloke and Alex Fasolo being the only two Magpie forwards you really have to worry about at the moment. McDonald should get Cloke while the rest will rotate through Fasolo with Dunn maybe getting first crack.
Melbourne can win this game, that's pretty clear to see given their form and relatively small injury list. They way they played against North Melbourne last week would be enough to push this measly Collingwood outfit aside if the Magpies don't improve on their recent output. At selection the Melbourne coaching staff have some choices with their VFL side having a massive win to open the regular season. Petracca, Brayshaw, Neal-Bullen, Weideman, McDonald and Garlett are all pushing for inclusion in this game and should be able to cover the absence of Bernie Vince for this week. It's a game Melbourne will believe they can win and back home at the MCG (all be it a Collingwood home game) the Dees will be looking to repeat the effort of last year and defeat their old foes once again.
B: Ben Sinclair, Nathan Brown, Tom Langdon
HB: Tyson Goldsack, Ben Reid, Alan Toovey
C: Adam Oxley, Adam Treloar, Steele Sidebottom
HF: Travis Varcoe, Darcy Moore, Jordan De Goey
F: Alex Fasolo, Travis Cloke, Jeremy Howe
Foll: Brodie Grundy, Scott Pendlebury, Taylor Adams
Int (from): Brent Macaffer, Jarryd Blair, James Aish, Levi Greenwood, Jack Crisp, Matthew Goodyear, Mason Cox
IN: Mason Cox, Brent Macaffer, Steele Sidebottom, Alan Toovey, Travis Varcoe
OUT: Brayden Maynard (hamstring), Marley Williams (foot)
NEW: Mason Cox (25, Oklahoma State University)
Round four: Melbourne team
B: Neville Jetta, Tom McDonald, Tomas Bugg
HB: Lynden Dunn, Heritier Lumumba, Christian Salem
C: James Harmes, Dom Tyson, Clayton Oliver
HF: Jack Watts, Sam Frost, Matt Jones
F: Dean Kent, Jesse Hogan, Ben Kennedy
Foll: Max Gawn, Nathan Jones, Jack Viney
I/C (from): Angus Brayshaw, Billy Stretch, Cameron Pedersen, Jayden Hunt, Alex Neal-Bullen, Jeff Garlett, Josh Wagner
In: Garlett, Pedersen, Neal-Bullen, Brayshaw, Hunt
Out: Bernie Vince (suspension), Aaron vandenBerg (ankle)
If you're assessing this game on form, injury lists and matchups Melbourne win, sorry but they do. Collingwood's form over the first three weeks wouldn't beat anyone at the moment, well except for Richmond, and how ludicrous does that make them look. There is a potential there though for this Magpies team to simply out perform the Demons if they, for lack of a better term, turn up. Melbourne are still a developing team, they don't win too many out of turn and aren't a finals threat, that much is clear. The Pies should win this game, but I have little confidence in either team really.
MAGPIES BY 3 POINTS.