It’s amazing how things have changed in a month. On June 9, at the end of Round 12, the AFL ladder had Port Adelaide on top.
Not just on top, but two games clear of Hawthorn. They looked to have a top-two spot there for the taking. A top-four spot, at least, seemed a formality.
At the same time Collingwood were in fourth spot, having won seven of their previous eight games. Some considered the Pies to be one of only a handful of clubs capable of winning the premiership.
Now, at the end of Round 17, both teams have lost four of their last five and fallen four spots on the ladder. Port are a game outside the top four and Collingwood sit inside the eight by virtue of percentage only.
So, what has gone wrong in the past month to bring about such a fall?
Part of the reason is that the cream has risen to the top. The unanimous predictions for the top three – Sydney, Fremantle and Hawthorn – have claimed their rightful spots at the top, with perennial flag-chances Geelong in fourth.
That doesn’t fully explain Port’s plight, though. They have beaten three of those teams this year, and pushed Sydney to the final siren.
Port’s fall from grace can partly be put down to injuries. When they won 10 out of 11 to start the year they were mostly untroubled by injuries. Since then they have lost their two key defenders in Alipate Carlile and Jackson Trengove for extended periods.
The absence of those two players was most telling in Sunday’s game against Richmond. This was a match against a side whose biggest scalp this season was Carlton. A side whose only other three wins were against the bottom three teams. Yet the Power allowed them to kick their second highest score of the year.
For some, the Port bubble simply had to burst at some stage, it was just a matter of when. There is no question now that it has. While they may still register enough wins to finish in the top four, they are now playing catch up and a first week home final seems out of reach.
Injuries can partly explain Collingwood’s season, too. They have missed their two key defenders, Nathan Brown and Ben Reid, for the whole year. In their absence Nick Maxwell was called on to hold the fort, with youngsters Lachie Keeffe and Nick Frost filling the key spots.
Keeffe was admirable early, but has been out of his depth more recently, especially with Maxwell injured. Frost, on the other hand, has been a find for the Pies. He has played every game and held down his spot with aplomb.
The most worrying aspect of Collingwood’s season has been form. Put simply, too much has been left to too few.
Scott Pendlebury has played his usual brand of champagne football, Steele Sidebottom and Jamie Elliott have taken their games to the next level and Dayne Beams started the year like a house on fire.
Then there is the other end of the scale. Travis Cloke is continuing his pattern of a solid year followed by an average one. Dane Swan seems a shadow of his former self. Luke Ball hasn’t made anywhere near the impact to which we’ve become accustomed. Jesse White hasn’t been the gun recruit the Pies had hoped for.
Of that group the hardest to cover has been Cloke and White. Collingwood have essentially played the year without their first choice key backs and forwards. Cloke and White have kicked 46 goals between them. To put that in perspective, Hawthorn have three players that have kicked more than 40 goals each.
With Cloke and White out of form it has left Elliott to shoulder the load and he has now missed the last few games with a hamstring injury.
The Pies’ last two losses have been particularly damaging. The worst teams to lose to are those similarly placed on the ladder.
The loss to Gold Coast last week put them on equal points with the Suns, while the loss to Essendon this week let the Bombers into the eight and left their own spot hanging by a thread. If they lose to Adelaide next round they could be as low as 10th.
The season for Collingwood and Port Adelaide has been derailed in just over a month. It could take another month to get it back on the tracks. When we get to the first week of August, though, it might already be too late.