Collingwood needed a win, and they got one. Last Saturday night the Magpies made the trip north to Brisbane to face another struggling team, the Lions, at the GABBA. The game was over by quarter time as a contest as the Magpies had the only 13 scoring shots in that first term. The Pies eventually ran out 78 point winners and yet we probably didn't learn too much about where they are at. After losses to Carlton and West Coast that left them with a 2-5 record, the win against Brisbane was needed, but still doesn't answer a lot of questions.
This weekend we might get some answers when Collingwood come up against one of the in form teams in the AFL, the Geelong Cats. The Cats couldn't have started this season much better, they've won 7 out of their 8 games and most of those have been by big margins. The day before the Pies won in Brisbane, Geelong themselves were impressing during an interstate trip, as they defeated the Adelaide Crows by 26 points on Friday night football. It was perhaps the most impressive performance yet from this Geelong outfit and leaves them as premiership favourites in some markets.
Of course these two clubs have some recent history, as between 2007 and 2011 they faced off in no less than three preliminary finals, and ultimately the 2011 season decider where the Cats won their third premiership in 5 seasons. Since that grand final, the two teams have met 6 times with Collingwood winning 4 of those, including the round 22 meeting last season by a margin of 48 points.
The Cats will go into this game as heavy favourites though and on form that's completely justified.
The win over the Lions took some pressure off Collingwood but they still only have the 3 wins after 8 games. Coming into the season the clear message coming out of the club was that finals was the realistic aim. Now that seems unlikely unless the Magpies can get on a roll and gain ground on the teams fighting for a spot in the finals. That starts this Saturday at the M.C.G. and it doesn't get much harder than this. The Cats are on fire and their key position players will worry the Pies to no end. The hope is though that Collingwood can win the midfield battle and stay in the game long enough to have a shot at winning it late on. To do that a lot will have to go right. The ruckman (most likely Grundy and Cox) will have to continue on from their good output against the Lions. The Pies midfield is undoubtedly their strength at the moment and the addition of Adam Treloar is just starting to pay dividends. Many said the Pies over paid for Treloar in the trade period yet after 8 game the ex Giant has only 3 players ahead of him in the entire AFL with more possessions. That's an impressive return for a player coming off surgery in the pre season and learning how to play with an entirely new group of team mates. Add in Pendlebury, Adams, Sidebottom, De Goey, Varcoe, Greenwood and Crisp and this Pies midfield is finally running on all cylinders.
To beat Geelong though it's going to take more than just winning the clearances. The Pies will have to use the ball well when going forward to give their attackers a chance to score freely. Geelong's backline is rated as the best defense in the AFL this season and with a mix of experience and youth if the Pies can't use the ball properly going inside forward 50, they can't win. The positive is that Mason Cox, Darcy Moore, Alex Fasolo and Jesse White are starting to figure out how to play together. The absence of Cloke and Elliott is hurting but last week the Pies were ably to score freely, all be it against lesser opposition. The Pies backline may be the biggest worry coming into this one though. With Nathan Brown certain to miss, and Ben Reid in doubt, Jack Frost is left as the only recognisable key defender. Jeremy Howe has looked impressive down back the past two weeks though so maybe he can form a partnership with Frost, with or without Reid this week.
At selection for once the Pies may not lose anyone to injury. Ben Reid seems certain to return after missing the trip to Brisbane while Tyson Goldsack and Marley Williams are likely to return via the VFL. In the VFL James Aish, Jarrod Witts, Jonathan Marsh and Matthew Goodyear all played well in a win over Geelong, but it's hard to see any of those being promoted to the seniors this week. That should leave the Magpies with a very settled and more confident team going into this vital game on Saturday.
Geelong are a remarkable football club. They've finished in the top 4 (at the end of the home and away season) in 7 of the last 9 seasons, and have played off in no less than 4 grand finals in that time, with 3 premierships. The most remarkable thing though is they never seem to go away. After having an “off” season last year, where they finished outside the top 8 for the first time in 9 seasons, they have rejuvenated their list with a mixture of smart drafting and being aggressive through trades and free agency. Of course the biggest addition in the off season was Patrick Dangerfield but they've also picked up the likes of Stanley, Smith, Clark, Selwood (Scott), Henderson and Caddy in recent years. They now sit second on the AFL ladder and in some markets are premiership favourites after 8 rounds.
The Geelong forward line is one of the best going around at the moment, if only they could kick straighter. It's amazing to think that the second best attack in the AFL is ranked in the bottom 6 for goal kicking accuracy, just imagine if they could kick straight. The Cats forward line is built around 3 main goal scorers at the moment, and all are different types of players. Tom Hawkins is the obvious key target, and while his form over the past few weeks hasn't been great, he's still capable of kicking a bag on his day. The other 2 are Shane Kersten and Steven Motlop who have both started the season really well and are challenging Hawkins for the club's goal kicking leader. The Pies backline has been decimated by injuries really, as their preferred starting six were all missing last weekend. The return of Reid will help but it's still an area of the ground that can be exploited for sure.
Geelong had a serious problem in season 2015 and that was it's midfield. They ranked dead last for clearances last season and 13th for all contested possessions. That was a huge drop off for a team who from 2007-2013 were consistently in the top 4 in both areas. Captain Joel Selwood was left to fend for himself in the middle, with little support around the contested ball situations. Of course all that has changed with the addition of Patrick Dangerfield. Straight away the Cats are ranked in the top 3 for both clearances and contested possessions and it's made a huge difference to the whole team. Of course there's others that are helping the two superstars, with Bartel, Blicavs, Guthrie, Duncan and Caddy all averaging multiple clearances a game. That's the effect a strong double pairing can have in the middle. The ruck work is also better though, with Blicavs, Stanley and Smith providing one of the more unique yet effective ruck setups in the AFL. They come up against a Pies midfield that is struggling in both key areas, although the return of Taylor Adams and Travis Varcoe last week helped a lot.
The Cats defense has conceded the least total points so far this season. That's no shock at all when you see their setup. With Lonergan, Henderson and Taylor as the key position defenders, and with help from Enright, Mackie and Bartel, you can already see that it's a formidable lineup. There is some doubt about Lonergan this week due to concussion, but even without him they should be able to restrict the Magpies inexperienced and injury hit forward line. If the Pies were looking at a weakness down back it would be the Cats inability to rebound the ball out of their defensive zone. They only rank 16th for rebounds from the back 50, and with the likes of Blair, Varcoe and Fasolo putting pressure on, maybe the Pies can keep the ball inside their forward zone if they can get it in their enough. That's a big if though, and this Geelong defense is that good that it's hard to see Collingwood putting up a big score against them.
Geelong couldn't be go much better really, apart from that goal kicking accuracy of course. Sitting second with only one loss after 8 rounds is a dream start and gives them a strong base to build off. Their injury list is small when compared to most others, especially Collingwood's, and this has allowed a stable side for coach Chris Scott to work with early in the season. At selection there may be 2-3 changes due to injury and form though with Tom Lonergan and Rhys Stanley in doubt. Those hoping to be recalled included Horlin-Smith, McCarthy, Gardner and Cowan. The Cats will go in with a really strong and fit lineup and will expect to win this game.
This game sees the 2nd and 12th placed sides go head to head so obviously the 2nd place side, the Cats, will go in as favourites and be expected to win. The Cats defense has been magnificent so far this season and their midfield has improved it's ability to win the contested ball. The recent history between the two suggests Collingwood matches up pretty well against Geelong and if the Pies bring their intensity and effort of last week they could steal this game.
For that to happen Ben Reid has to come in and play like the old Ben Reid, Travis Varcoe needs to be fit and rediscover his early season form and the Pies midfield needs to at least break even at the clearances. If all those things happen and Geelong kick inaccurately at goal once again, Collingwood can cause a massive upset on Saturday.
MAGPIES BY 5 POINTS.