There is a lot of bullishness around Collingwood coming into this season. A rise is inevitable according to most. Some have them contending for the flag.
A number of people, myself included, have felt that the Pies under Nathan Buckley are building a strong list that will have a great deal of depth to it when they are finally ready to contend.
Collingwood have gone backwards on the ladder every single year since their 2010 premiership. 2011 saw a grand final berth, followed by drops to fourth, sixth, 11th and then 12th last season.
It’s time for the drop to stop, and it surely will. Let’s look at the possible side the Pies will try to rebound with.
|B:||Marley Williams||Nathan Brown||Alan Toovey|
|HB:||Adam Oxley||Ben Reid||Tom Langdon|
|C:||Travis Varcoe||Scott Pendlebury||Steele Sidebottom|
|HF:||Alex Fasolo||Darcy Moore||Dane Swan|
|F:||Jeremy Howe||Travis Cloke||Jamie Elliott|
|Foll:||Brodie Grundy||Adam Treloar||Taylor Adams|
|Int:||Jesse White||Jordan De Goey||Jack Crisp||Levi Greenwood|
|Em:||Jarryd Blair||James Aish||Tyson Goldsack|
Collingwood’s best 22 is one of the hardest to assemble this season, but for the good reason of too much depth rather than too little.
Jarryd Blair, James Aish and Tyson Goldsack would all consider themselves in the Pies’ best side, and many supporters would too. But that means three others would have to come out, and they’re not easy to find.
Not in the 25 named above are key defender Jack Frost, who has played 42 games across the last two seasons, premiership player Brent Macaffer, ruckman Jarrod Witts, and talented youngsters like Tim Broomhead and Brayden Maynard who have impressed when given their chance.
Some people might have Adam Oxley out of the above team, or Alan Toovey, and certainly Jesse White’s position is up for grabs. It’s all a good sign for the overall strength of the Pies.
The backline does have a lot of options both within the side, and outside of it. Talls, smalls, in-betweeners, and players that can play different roles if required.
The one-dimensional Nathan Brown and Jack Frost shouldn’t be on the same park where it can be avoided, but a half-back line of Ben Reid, Tom Langdon and Adam Oxley should be hard to penetrate, with their reading of the play and intercept skills.
Marley Williams is coming off his best season as the key rebounder after finally getting some continuity into his football. Alan Toovey is Mr Reliable, but could come under pressure by the youth pushing through.
The backline still lacks some class, which may mean the likes of Travis Varcoe and Steele Sidebottom drift back there from the wings to add some run and skill, even though both will be required to push forward to score and set up goals themselves.
Scott Pendlebury has been in the best handful of players in the competition for at least half a decade now, and will continue to be. While some people always seem to run out of time with the footy in hand, Pendles has an abundance of it. An aim for him should be to kick more than a goal a game for the first time in his career.
Dane Swan has been a regular at hitting the scoreboard for years, and is great at popping up for one or two here and there. He’ll continue to attract the ball with his hard-running and as an ever-dangerous forward, which he’ll do more of as time goes on.
Collingwood have been able to pick up a number of players from other clubs to add depth and improvement to their midfield, many of them still young in football terms.
Adam Treloar was the marquee signing from last year’s trade period, coupled with picking up James Aish from Brisbane. Treloar is a good player that finds a lot of the ball but can prefer a safer option over a damaging one. Aish impressed people in year one before regressing last season.
Taylor Adams came across from Greater Western Sydney at the end of 2013, and Jack Crisp arrived from Brisbane a year later. Both players are tough and can win their own ball, but need to tidy up their use.
Ex-Roo Levi Greenwood is in a similar boat to the latter two, albeit more experienced. He has only put together one season of consistent football, which was his last at North, and still has a lot to prove. Adams, Crisp and Greenwood provide great blue-collar depth and ball-winning ability.
Jordan de Goey is a home grown product, in that the Pies actually drafted him, and based on his superb pre-season form he looks ready to establish himself. It was a strong year of NAB Rising Star nominees when de Goey could only attract the solitary vote.
Brodie Grundy took ownership of the ruck role in 2015, and might just be ready to explode now. His mobility, coverage, second-efforts and ground-ball gathering are clear strengths, and he can kick a goal too. If he can start taking more marks around the ground, we’re going to see a real player.
Collingwood still has Travis Cloke, and many will debate whether he is over-rated, harshly maligned, or perhaps just ‘is what he is’.
What’s less arguable is that he’s not the player he was, and is having far less impact that he once did. Once a top ten player in the comp, he can no longer be considered in the top 50.
What’s up for debate with Cloke is whether he can get back to his best. Is he covering the ground he once did? Is he easier to defend now, both up the ground and closer to goal? There’s something lugubrious about his play these days.
The Pies are weak in tall support for Cloke, with Darcy Moore still learning and Jesse White still a collection of good and really bad. Jarrod Witts and even Mason Cox will be tried. It’s not the most threatening collection of names.
Jeremy Howe has been recruited to play and offer Collingwood something of what they don’t have, but where will his inconsistency leave them if Cloke has another down year and they can’t get reliable returns from Moore or White?
Alex Fasolo is ready for his best season, and Jamie Elliott needs to elevate his game. They can form one of the most dangerous small forward duo’s in the league with their complementary skills.
But does this forward-line have enough pressure or speed in it? There are weaknesses there that will be exploited by good backlines. The midfield will send enough ball forward to kick some winning scores, but will it be precise enough often enough, especially against the best sides?
Collingwood are on the right track, and Buckley deserves the chance to see this through. A top six finish is a realistic aim, and finals should be the minimum expectation internally.
It’s too cut and dried to suggest that anything less is a failure, and the Pies still have a number of holes around the ground. They’ll improve this season, but there’ll be even more improvement the year after.
Predicted ladder spread: 7th-10th
Predicted finish: 9th
Best and fairest: Scott Pendlebury
Leading goalkicker: Jamie Elliott
All-Australian potential: Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom, Tom Langdon
Rising Star candidates: Nil
Collingwood – ninth
Adelaide – tenth
North Melbourne – 11th
Melbourne – 12th
Gold Coast – 13th
Port Adelaide – 14th
St Kilda – 15th
Brisbane – 16th
Carlton – 17th
Essendon – 18th