It seemed like Collingwood were back on track. Halfway through the third term of a season defining game versus the Western Bulldogs at the MCG the Pies led by 15 points after a goal from first year player Ben Crocker. But there was trouble a brewing, and that trouble was a case of bad luck due to injury. First Alan Toovey was concussed in a bizarre, yet to be explained manner. Then Taylor Adams limped off the field with a severe hamstring injury, yet it would get worse. Forwards Alex Fasolo and Darcy Moore, the pies two leading goal kickers this season, both went down with broken bones in their shoulder regions. The Magpies were unable to use their interchange for the entire final term and the Dogs over ran them effectively stealing a 21 point win. It was a bitter blow for coach Nathan Buckley and his team after the fight the Pies have shown in the last 3 weeks.
It's not over yet though, there's still a long way to go this season. This Sunday the Magpies get maybe their last chance to keep their faint finals hopes alive against Port Adelaide at the MCG. The Power only sit one game ahead of Collingwood with a 5-5 win/loss record after 10 games. It''s been a strange season for Port so far this season. At their best, they have been very impressive, but at times they have look disinterested and unable to execute the simplest of skills. Last week was a good one for them though, as they traveled to Alice Springs and easily dispatched of Melbourne to the tune of 45 points. It is arguably the best overall game from the Power so far this season and leaves them sitting just outside the top 8.
Of course these two sides have some history, mainly dating back to the 2002 and 2003 seasons when they faced off in two key finals. The Pies won both the 02 Qualifying final and the 03 Preliminary final but Port did get some revenge back by beating Collingwood at the MCG in the 2013 Elimination final. They don't like each other, that's been clear for a long time and this game is sure to have plenty of feeling in it.
Collingwood have some headaches going into this game, that's for sure. The four likely outs (assuming Toovey misses too) create a gap in the Pies side that can't be filled naturally. The loss of Fasolo and Moore is the biggest concern. They have combined for 36 goals so far this season and many more if you count goal assists and scoring chains they've been involved in. Travis Cloke is the obvious inclusion and most will hope the enigmatic key forward does return this week. The good news for Collingwood though is there are things that are working well for the first time this season. The Pies midfield is firing and the backline has held up well the past 3 weeks. Jeremy Howe has been one of the revelations of the season since moving down back. He has been in the Pies best players the last 3 weeks and his mix of pace, skill and aerial ability has seen him assist the likes of Reid and Frost immensely. Levi Greenwood is another one who has found form too. The ex Kangaroo was really struggling a few weeks back but since being switched into the middle as the Pies number one defensive midfielder (tagger) he's performed really well. He is likely to be asked to take one of Wines, Boak or Gray this week and if he is effective in his role once again it will give the Pies a chance to dominate in the middle.
And they may need that help, as although the Pies ability to win the clearances has improved in the last 3 weeks, it's still an area of concern. Collingwood also sit last for hitouts won, a stat that can't help their midfield out much at all. It's not surprising when you have a young ruckman like Brodie Grundy supported by another inexperienced player in Mason Cox, but it is a concern. The loss of Taylor Adams won't help things either and they come up against a Port side ranked in the top 5 for clearances, which is somewhat surprising as Port only rank one spot above the Pies for hitouts. Most games seem to be won or lost in the midfields and this game may be another one. Collingwood will consider some assistance with the likes of Macaffer, Aish and Goodyear all performing well before the VFL bye last weekend. The Pies forward line will be the place to be fixed first though, and that will be the focus of selection this week.
Apart from the obvious choice in Cloke, others who may be considered to bolster the Pies forward structure include Witts, Aish, Goldsack, Macaffer, Marsh and Brown. Those last two would come in as defenders and maybe allow Oxley, Reid or Howe to move forward. Marsh and Goldsack deserve a shot for sure based on VFL form but the senior backline is going that well that Nathan Buckley may be hesitant to make significant changes to it. The effort and intensity has been there from the Pies in recent weeks though and if that is there again on Sunday they will believe they can get a win here.
PORT ADELAIDE PREVIEW
Port Adelaide are somewhat of an enigma in the AFL world. There's this myth that when they play “Port Adelaide football” they are unbeatable, yet since the end of season 2014 they've been very beatable indeed. Halfway through that season (2014) the Power were on top of the ladder and many were thinking they would be a premiership chance. They fell away a little towards the end of that home and away season but redeemed themselves in the finals winning 2 games and then losing an epic preliminary final to Hawthorn by 3 points. Since then though Port haven't looked like make the top eight but maybe their performance in recent weeks gives some promise that they are coming back. They certainly have plenty of talent on their list even with the suspension of ex Essendon players Angus Monfries and Patrick Ryder affecting them this season.
Missing Monfires and Ryder from that forward line has placed plenty of pressure on others to perform and the results have been inconsistent to say the least. Their forward line now basically revolves around 4 players in Wingard, Dixon, Young and Westhoff. Aaron Young is the one that most don't know too much about. He's had a great start to season 2016 and already has notched up 21 goals in 9 matches. Young has made the job easier for Dixon and Wingard and last week it showed as Dixon was able to break free and kick 5 goals in the win over Melbourne. They will come face to face with an improving Collingwood defense. Reid, Frost, Oxley, Maynard and Howe are starting to form a partnership down back that is working well and will test out the dangerous Power forward line on Sunday.
Port's midfield should be their strength and recently it has been. Port rank in the top 5 in the league for clearances and contested possessions and all of this is despite being ranked 2nd worst for hitouts. The Power midfield is star studded too with Boak, Wines, Stewart, Impey, Hartlett and Gray all capable of tearing the game apart if allowed too much free reign. The ruck is an area of concern with Matthew Lobbe really struggling to the degree that Jackson Trengove is now being asked to do most of the ruck work solo. They face off against a Collingwood midfield that seems talented enough but the loss of Taylor Adams and Dane Swan has effected it's output for sure now. Finally too Port come up against an AFL senior side that is worse in the ruck then they are and this should lead to them winning the midfield battle.
The Power's backline is the area of greatest concern for coach Ken Hinkley you'd assume. Jack Hombsch, Cameron O'Shea and Paul Stewart are likely to be given the chance as key defenders against a Magpies forward line that has now been decimated by injury. Stalwart Alapite Carlile seems to have lost all form and is resigned to the SANFL for now. Where Port do seem to excel down back is rebounding the ball out of defensive 50 and against a Magpies team that has allowed plenty of end to end scores Port should be able to clear the ball out of defense quite easily. The likes of Pittard, Byrne-Jones and Polec will help with that of course. The will he or won't he play debate surrounding Travis Cloke will decide a lot of the final matchups in this area of the ground. Whether Cloke plays or not may well decide just how easy the Port defense has it on Sunday.
This is a massive opportunity for the Power to kick start their season and get right back in the fight for a spot in the final 8. They should see coming to the MCG as a big moment in their season and a game they should win. It won't be easy though against a now competitive Collingwood team so Port will have to bring a four quarter effort, something that has been missing most weeks in 2016. The return of Broadbent will help and as long as there's no ill effects from playing in the warmer conditions of Alice Springs the Power will be confident of winning this game.
Despite the loss against the Dogs last Sunday and the subsequent loss of several players to injury Collingwood surprisingly are betting favourites to win this game. I say surprisingly because Port seem to be in the better form, at least based on last week's performances. The area that Port will seek to dominate here is their forward line. If they can get it forward quickly and cleanly they will be confident of putting a score on the board that will be hard to beat.
But the Pies defense has improved dramatically in recent weeks, restricting the Lions, Cats and Dogs to low scores. That's where the Pies will look to win this game, they will strangle Port around the stoppages and try and make it a low scoring, four quarter slog. If Nathan Buckley's men can achieve that I can see them coming away with a win as they over run a tiring Port Adelaide side late.
MAGPIES BY 13 POINTS
After a bye for the annual state game last weekend the Collingwood VFL side returns to action on Saturday. The VFL Magpies will travel out to Werrribee to play the North Melbourne aligned Tigers in a crucial round 9 fixture. Start time is 2pm.