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Collingwood return for their second straight Friday night appearance, but they face a very different opponent this time around as they head to Adelaide Oval to face the Crows.
Unfortunately for the Magpies, they have again been hit with injuries.
Accumulator Taylor Adams tweaked a hamstring at training and gun forward Jamie Elliott suffered the same affliction as he was on the verge of a return. Darcy Moore was already sidelined with a torn hammy suffered in Round 2. Fellow smart forward Alex Fasolo is not yet ready for a senior return.
It makes a tough task that much tougher for Nathan Buckley’s side if they are to avoid a 1-3 start to the season.
Adams’ absence will test Buckley’s nerve. One of the coach’s winning moves over the past fortnight has been that of Adam Treloar to the forward line. Treloar hasn’t abandoned his midfield role entirely, but has made the Pies more dangerous in the chunks of time he’s spent in the attacking part of the ground.
Does Buckley back the recalled Jordan de Goey and others to pick up the slack in Adams’ absence or does Treloar return more permanently to the middle of the ground? Treloar chasing the footy appears the safer move, but the Pies won’t win this one by playing safe.
Then there’s the matter of the Collingwood skipper. Scott Pendlebury got the job on Blues brute Patrick Cripps in Round 3, quelling the Carlton gun’s influence while still causing damage when he won the footy. He could be tasked with a similar challenge tonight against Bryce Gibbs or Rory Sloane.
With the Brothers Crouch out injured, nullifying one of Sloane or Gibbs would be a blow to the Crows.
Gibbs has made a spectacular start in his new colours, averaging the best part of 30 disposals – including 14.7 contested possessions, well above his career-best mark over a season of 10.7 – to go with almost eight clearances and half a dozen tackles and inside-50s. He’s also booted four goals. Don Pyke could choose a pre-emptive strike against the Pies by sending Gibbs to do the job on Pendlebury, a role he is more than qualified for.
Sloane is coming off a poor game against St Kilda, perhaps due to a gimpy ankle he appeared to injured against the Tigers in Round 3. If he struggles again and the Pies can clamp Gibbs, it could be game on.
The territory battle will be crucial. Adelaide and Collingwood are ranked first and second, respectively, for scores from forward-half intercepts – the Crows have scored 120 points from front-half takeaways, the Pies 115.
The other Rory, in Laird – there’s also Atkins, the other, other Rory – will also need plenty of attention from Collingwood. The halfback god is currently the No.2 ranked player in the competition for intercept possessions with 31 through three matches. He’s also ranked fifth for metres gained and fourth for kicks at 20 a game.
The Crows are a brilliantly organised team and Laird is a big part of the reason they have conceded only 64 points from their own defensive-half turnovers in the first three weeks of the season – ranked fifth. Collingwood are 15th in this category, having conceded 107 points.
Laird’s running mate, Paul Seedsman, is in the form of his life. The Adelaide winger has grabbed the opportunity created by Brodie Smith’s unfortunate ACL injury with both hands, averaging career-best 26 disposals and six inside-50s a game. He’s No.2 in the league for metres gained.
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We know what the blueprint looks like to beat the Crows in Adelaide: win the clearances – centre clearances, especially – pressure the hell out of their defenders and squeeze up on them to take away their lethal transition game. And, most importantly, take your chances – Melbourne kicked 17.5 in their win at Adelaide Oval last season.
It’s not easy. But if you let Adelaide move the ball cleanly, there’s a good chance their nuclear-powered forward line will smash you to smithereens.
Brodie Grundy will again have a crucial role to play for the Pies. He’s got the better of Matthew Kreuzer, Rory Lobb and Ben McEvoy so far this season. For Magpies to stand a chance he’ll need to best Sam Jacobs as well, both at stoppages and around the ground.
Collingwood face an almighty task if they’re to pull this one off. Even without several key players, the Crows are a formidable team with premiership aspirations and a significant home-ground advantage.
Wet conditions are expected, which some people believe benefits the underdog. I am not one of those people. Even in the rain, the Crows will be too slick, with too many scoring options for the Magpies.
I’m tipping Adelaide to run out six-goal winners.
That’s my Friday night forecast. What’s yours?