Two sides that disappointed to varying degrees in Round 1 do battle on Friday night, in the first of what promises to be a much more interesting and competitive series of openers this season.
Will the Pies rebound? Let’s find out.
Make no mistake, the Magpies of Collingwood were irredeemably terrible in Round 1 against the Swans. We discussed this earlier in the week, and The Roar‘s Jay Croucher, a man who wears black and white striped undies everywhere he goes, said his piece on the first episode of The Roar AFL Podcast and in his column from yesterday.
The Pies are nowhere near as comically horrific as the side that we saw on Saturday night. The midfield is stacked, the backline does its job, and the forward line, full of youngsters surrounded by a hulking veteran, is effective when the ball is coming in with any semblance of quality – more on this in a moment. We’ve all vented on the loss, so let’s look forward.
Richmond, on the other hand, almost got knocked off by a rejuvenated Carlton. Take off that adjective, and you’re left with Carlton. The Tigers, who supposedly switched-on football people had as the team most likely to break into the top four from outside of it this season, almost had their pants pulled down by Carlton.
There are some explanations: Carlton played in a manner resembling an elite Australian rules football team for the first time in more than a year, the Blues had more experience in their side than the Tigers, and related to that, Richmond were missing a number of their important players.
Brett Deledio was missing, as were Ivan Maric, Chris Yarran, Shaun Grigg, Troy Chaplin and Taylor Hunt. That’s a lot of important cogs in Richmond’s 15-win team from 2015, plus the cream on top in Yarran.
The Tiger’s biggest problem was defending Carlton’s midfield transition – supposedly the strength of this team. The Blues became a switch-heavy gambler over the off-season and managed to create an overlap runner on at least half a dozen occasions in the first three quarters of the game.
More often than not, that led to runs of uncontested possessions that allowed the Blues to get into dangerous areas of the ground, and it meant Alex Rance, card carrying member of the Jedi Order, was effectively the only thing standing between Richmond and defeat.
In the first half, Richmond lost the territory battle 40-60 by way of time in forward half, and in the end it took patches of individual brilliance in the fourth quarter to get them home.
Grigg and Hunt are back this week, but the remainder of their key contributors remain on the sidelines. It once again opens the Tigers up, except this week they’re playing a prospective finalist, not a prospective wooden spooner. Serve up that same performance, particularly the lax defensive work through the middle of the ground, and the Tigers will be shredded by the Collingwood meat grinder.
Another notable absentee for this game will be Shane Edwards, who could be the AFL’s most unknown good player (outside of Richmond). He gives the Tigers a forward half presence that allows the likes of Dustin Martin and Deledio to get off the leash on occasion – his absence will be felt.
For Collingwood, some big names are out but some equally big names are in. Steele Sidebottom’s inexplicable shirt front on Dan Hannebery sees him missing this game and the next, while Dane Swans’ leg explosion will see him miss most of the season.
Jarrod Witts has been replaced by Brodie Grundy, as Collingwood’s selectors realise that this is how they should have gone into Round 1 (also, Witts has a hand injury). Ben Reid is also in, and in net terms this gives Collingwood an extra tall player compared to what they rolled out last week.
In the recent past, these two teams have matched up well: the ledger sits at 3-2 the way of Collingwood, but the points for and against are nearly identical (464 to 467 the way of Richmond), while the Tigers have won the last two – the upshot being Collingwood won the three before that.
Collingwood’s midfield, on paper, looks the stronger of the two units – there is more depth, more grunt and more class. At the very top end, this should be a break even; the Pies with Scott Pendlebury, Adam Treloar and Steele Sidebottom; the Tigers with Trent Cotchin, Martin and Brett Deledio. The first player named in these groups had a mare last week, the middle played very well, and the latter is out.
The spotlight has been fixed firmly on Travis Cloke this week, and the cry of ‘he needs to kick more goals’ is growing louder and louder. Last weekend, Cloke had seven touches and took a solitary mark, and spent some time as the Pies’ primary ruckman once Witts went down. Those calls aren’t based on a single game – I hope – but are instead in response to a decline in his output over a number of years.
At his peak, Cloke was taking around five shots per game – last year he took three, as Collingwood’s forward line became more egalitarian than in his dominant years. It is a decline nonetheless.
It is hard to say whether this is more to do with his own abilities, or more about opposition tactics against him, without watching the tape. More often than not, Cloke still commands the number one defender, and because he’s the only consistent tall threat forward of the ball for the Pies, he will almost always invariably end up with a second defender rolling over onto him.
The other issue has been Collingwood’s awful quality of disposal in recent years, which limits the ability for Cloke to use his best skill: his contested marking.
The re-introduction of Reid into this line-up could be the missing ingredient for Cloke. But we won’t know this week, because Jedi Knight Rance will be force pushing the ball away from the Collingwood 50 all evening. It sets the stage for an interesting battle: the maligned Cloke against the conquering Rance.
Tonight, given it is so early in the season, I’ll default to my pre-season thoughts and will pick the Tigers to win this one in a tight contest. Both sides would expect to improve on their showing from last week, and in that sense the Tigers are closer to their peak than the Pies.
It should be a fun game – the game from Round 7 last season was a remarkably see-sawing affair – but Richmond will triumph, on the back of Rance shutting down Cloke and throwing up a brick wall around Collingwood’s forward half, by 18 points. Oh, just a heads up, Martin is paying $31 for the Brownlow. You heard it here first people.
But don’t rule out a Collingwood victory; after what this team served up last weekend, a rebound is certainly in play. This team is good, and its best players won’t play a game like they played last Saturday again. Bettor beware. That’s my Friday night forecast, what’s yours?