Tonight’s NAB Cup game sees Collingwood and Melbourne doing battle under the roof at Etihad Stadium, and a clash between two of Michael Malthouse’s coaching proteges – Nathan Buckley and Mark Neeld. Join us for live scores and blog from 7:40pm AEDT.
Collingwood were far from impressive in their opening matches up in Blacktown, defeating GWS and the Western Bulldogs by meagre margins, but considering that their realistic aim is to be holding the premiership cup aloft in seven months’ time, they can be forgiven for taking it easy against inferior opposition in two ‘fairy floss’ affairs.
With an ever-lengthening injury list at the Lexus Centre, all is not perfectly in order for a tilt at the flag, but the best way to dispel any doubts, both internal and external, is victory, which is what they’ll be chasing tonight.
Melbourne had the misfortune of playing in the midst of a tropical storm against the Queensland-based sides, so not much can be read into their performance of splitting their matches into a win and a loss against two teams that resided in the bottom three throughout 2011.
Rookie coach Mark Neeld has demanded competitiveness above all else from his team this year, and was happy with what he saw.
Even so, he’ll be expecting a cleaner brand of football under the dry conditions that Etihad alone can guarantee, and we will all learn if the Melbourne ‘talk’ of recent years will finally be put into action.
As much interest in the Nab Cup resides in who is missing as opposed to playing, so let’s examine which players will be watching from the grandstand.
The Pies are going in reasonably strong, missing seven of their predicted best team, which includes the likes of Alan Didak and Jarryd Blair, neither of whom are necessarily guaranteed a spot, although recent knee injuries to Andrew Krakouer and Brent Macaffer certainly help their claims.
Backmen Chris Tarrant, Harry O’Brien and Ben Johnson are also absent, along with utility Tyson Goldsack, and mid-forward Dayne Beams.
A change of coach can often make it hard to settle on a best 22, especially if that team experienced the turmoil that Melbourne did towards the end of 2011.
Not many will forget the 186-point drubbing the Demons copped at the hands of Geelong last year, and it was hard to make a case for any player to be in the side after that performance.
With several spots up for grabs in the Melbourne line-up, I can only identify six players missing that are probably guaranteed selection, and they are co-captains Jack Grimes and Jack Trengove, forward recruit Mitch Clark, along with Jared Rivers, Brent Moloney and tackle-machine Jordie McKenzie.
With both Neeld and Buckley cutting their teeth under the Malthouse regime at Collingwood, we can rightly anticipate some similarities in game plan this year, so much of tonight’s interest centres on the style of play of the respective teams.
The Pies have been renowned in recent seasons for their boundary-line play, so we may see them attack through the corridor more often, and while Melbourne were looking to get the ball in long and quick to the physicality of Mitch Clark in round one, was it purely driven by the conditions? And what impact will his absence have?
With the Demon players fighting for spots and still trying to impress a new coach, their intensity will be high, and even if Collingwood doesn’t match them in this regard, they still have many elite, premiership players to call on.
I believe the Magpie class will prevail, but intensity can cover all manner of sins, so this will be closer than many may predict, and an upset will not surprise.
Mark Neeld will be expecting no favours from his former colleague Nathan Buckley, but can he get one-up on his old club with a win tonight? It’s an intriguing preseason matchup and we’ll cover it from siren-to-siren from the first bounce at 7.40pm AEDT. If you’re following along don’t hesitate to leave your thoughts in the space below.