It's the most storied domestic rivalry in Australian sport, it's Collingwood versus Carlton. The relationship between two of the biggest clubs in the VFL/AFL started well enough when the Magpies joined the VFL for it's inaugural year (1897), but by 1910 it was on. After a brawl broke out in the 1910 Grand Final the aftermath saw the teams accuse each other of lying and being deceitful. The respectful hate, strange combination I know, between the two grew from there and when the two faced off in several Grand Finals in the 70's and early 80's the rivalry was entrenched. Carlton got the better of the Pies in those Grand Finals, and for a long time held a big gap in the overall win/loss ratio. But if the Collingwood can win when the two face off on Saturday, the Blues advantage over the Magpies will only be two wins, stretched over an amazing 251 games in total.
Of course these two teams aren't what they used to be. Carlton have been a mess for the best part of 15 years now, while the Magpies seem to be going backwards every season since being dominant in 2010-11. They both sit in the lower half of the table with a 2-4 record. Carlton though seems to be getting better under new coach Brendan Bolton. After starting the season with four straight losses the Blues have won their last two games, to give their fans some hope for the future. Collingwood however are inconsistent and not performing up to their potential. A heavy loss to the Eagles in Perth on Sunday made things even worse, and the Pies now sit in 13th position, just one spot ahead of the old enemy.
Collingwood are struggling, that's pretty clear to see. They started slowly against the Eagles in Perth on Sunday and trailed by 33 points at quarter time. The Magpies did fight back in the second and third terms, playing some of the best football they have this season to close the margin to 10 points just before three quarter time. Then they fell away, again, as the home town Eagles kicked the next 9 goals and ran away with a 62 point victory. Nathan Buckley lamented the start and criticised the performance in the final term, but it's become all too much a familiar story for Collingwood in 2016. Play well for patches but get absolutely smashed outside of that.
There were some positives out of the heavy loss, with Josh Smith and Mason Cox impressing in their second senior games. Smith gathered 29 disposals while Cox managed 2 of the Pies 9 goals and helped Brodie Grundy out in the ruck. After that though there wasn't much to write home about. Pendlebury, Treloar and Sidebottom got plenty of the ball, Jack Crisp played his best game this season but it wasn't a pretty performance at all. If the Eagles had kicked straight at goal it may well have been an even bigger loss.
There are excuses for the Pies who are missing plenty of top caliber talent due to injury. When you have Elliott, Scharenberg, Ramsay, Varcoe, Adams, Swan, Williams and Langdon unavailable for selection it's hard to beat anyone, let alone a premiership contending team on their home ground. Replacing that amount of ability is hard, but the good news is several of those should return this week against the Blues. Varcoe, Adams and Langdon will all be tested at training with at least two likely to take their spot in the side on Saturday. Then there's Travis Cloke, the power forward has spent the past two weeks in the VFL after starting the season poorly. Cloke gathered 22 possessions in a win on the weekend, and with Carlton's defense weakened through injury, it may be time to recall the premiership star.
The problem with leaving Cloke out is it has placed undue pressure on the inexperienced duo of Cox and Moore. Both have fought manfully but it's time to add Cloke back into the mix. Also in that VFL game where Cloke performed well was a few others who will push their case for selection. Ben Crocker and Tom Phillips are two first year players who have impressed in the first four VFL games. Both are highly skilled players and with the Magpies lacking good ball users, they may debut sooner rather than later.
For Collingwood though winning this game is an absolute must. There's pressure around the club regarding effort and output already, and that pressure would multiply after a loss to Carlton of all teams. Collingwood should win this game though, they have the superior midfield, a defense that has held it's own under extreme pressure and a forward line that looks dangerous, especially if Cloke returns.
The external expectations for Carlton were low this season, with most predicting them and the suspension riddled Essendon to battle for the wooden spoon. The Blues finished 18th last season and collected only their 4th wooden spoon in club history. They didn't start season 2016 so well either, with 4 losses. However, the last two weeks have showed that Brendan Bolton has given some life to the Blues for the first time since before Mick Malthouse arrived at the club. The win over the struggling Dockers followed up by last week's win over the Bombers leaves Carlton with a 2-4 win/loss record, exactly the same as the hyped Pies. Slowly, Bolton and his staff are trying to build a team from the ground up, and the early signs are promising.
If Carlton have an area of strength at the moment it has to be their midfield. Even without looking at statistical rankings you can see there's enough talent in this area to be competitive. With names like Murphy, Gibbs, Thomas, Cripps (likely to come in this week) and Kerridge it is the most dangerous are of the ground when playing the Blues. Dale Thomas, who left the Magpies a few seasons back, played maybe his best game for the Blues last week, and he'll want to follow that up this week against his old side. They run into a Magpies midfield that is struggling, especially when it comes to winning the ruck duels. The Pies rank last for hitouts, while Carlton ranks third. Phillips and Kreuzer have formed a nice partnership and will look to dominate the inexperienced pair of Grundy and Cox. If they can get first use to their midfielders it may go a long way to giving the Blues a chance of winning.
Carlton's forward line has gone through more changes that any other area, maybe in the entire AFL in the last few seasons. With plenty of experienced talent heading to other clubs, they've tried to put together a makeshift group while their youngsters develop. Liam Jones and Levi Casboult are the current two who are being asked to hold down the fort, and while both are flawed in many areas, they are capable on their day. Jones stepped up as the match winner in Perth against the Dockers for example. But when Matthew Wright, a medium forward is you leading goal kicker with 7 goals after 6 games, it says a lot about the attack. The Blues rank second last for total score, although they will look to exploit Collingwood's obvious weakness, their transition defense. That may be the only way the Blues can create scoring opportunities this Saturday.
Carlton's defense has performed above expectations so far this season. Number one draft pack Jacob Weitering has been mightily impressive, although the youngster will miss 2-3 weeks after injuring his shoulder in the win over the Bombers on Sunday. The Blues under Bolton are using a team defense that is working, they rank in the top 6 for least points conceded, and although at times the game style may be ugly, it's getting the job done defensively. Rowe, White, Plowman and Docherty will be asked to defend this week while Touhy and Simpson will give them some drive out of the back half. The Magpies forward line is a mess at the moment too, whether or not Travis Cloke plays. They have a group that is inexperienced or just not hitting the scoreboard, so this disjointed Carlton defense may be able to hang in there.
It's not looking too bad for Carlton after 6 rounds. Back to back wins have given their fans, and their players some hope going forward. A win against the old enemy would make their season though, and with the Magpies struggling with a long injury list it's not out of the realm of possibilities. If Cripps returns and the Blues can strangle the Magpies for the first few quarters, they may be able to steal yet another win on Sunday.
On Saturday the 13th and 14th placed teams on the AFL ladder will get together. That says it all, these two teams are struggling, and although Carlton haven't beaten Collingwood since 2012, this game is by no means a foregone conclusion. The Blues will try and keep the scores down, and with windy and possibly wet weather forecast they may well be able to do that. The Magpies are struggling, that much is clear, due to an extended injury list and some under performing senior players. However they did dispose of Essendon a lot easier than Carlton did, and that's probably the best reference point for this game.
The Pies destroyed Essendon in the first half, and if not for some injuries around half time, they would have continued that demolition. Meanwhile the Blues struggled against the Bombers last week, and at one point in the final term Essendon looked like winning. So based on that reference point, and on little else, I'll go with Collingwood to defeat the old enemy for the 7th time in a row.
MAGPIES BY 18 POINTS
In somewhat of a reverse double header, the Collingwood VFL side will play it's round 5 fixture after the Collingwood vs Carlton match on Saturday. The game versus Sandringham, to be played at the Holden Centre, is set down for a 4.50pm start, which should be about 30 minutes after the seniors finish at the MCG.