Following my article last week on how the Pies could beat the reigning premiers, their unexpected upset over the apparent benchmark of the competition has catapulted them into a grand final.
Before tomorrow’s blockbuster, it’s time to preview what the Magpies must do to be holding that vaunted cup aloft.
1. Beat West Coast in the contested midfield clashes
The Eagles have developed a run-and-gun game style that relies on a certain few to grab the ball and distribute it to outside users who transition the ball all over the ground.
Directed to compensate for their seeming inadequacy on the wider MCG turf, the Eagles have formulated a plan that can stand up at the G.
If the likes of Luke Shuey, Jack Redden and Elliot Yeo can win the ball at the coalface and dish it out to Lewis Jetta, Shannon Hurn and co, the Eagles will be able to quickly enter their forward fifty with dangerous long balls to Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and Nathan Vardy. However, if any team is able to stem this flow, it’s the Pies.
As shown for the majority of the qualifying final, players such as Scott Pendlebury, Brayden Sier, Adam Treloar and Taylor Adams all applied fervent pressure in the midfield, resulting in them winning the clearances and nullifying the destructive nature of West Coast’s booming kicks.
For the Magpies to win the grand final they need to maintain this midfield pressure for all four quarters, allowing their smart ball-users to gain first possession from the clearances and also limiting the number of quick passes that Kennedy and Darling get in the forward line.
2. Use the conditions to their advantage
Tomorrow is predicted to be freezing and wet. This plays into Collingwood’s favour, as they can use these conditions to dampen the aerial dominance of Kennedy, Darling, Jeremy McGovern and Tom Barrass.
Stopping Kennedy’s aerial dominance will be a key part of Collingwood’s strategy (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)
With their small fleet of quick movers, the Pies can reach contests with speed and numbers, clogging up West Coast’s free-flowing game and then pouncing on the counter-attack via handballs and team running.
It also allows for more quick balls to be floated into their forward line, as Mason Cox must only bring the ball to ground to have an impact and allow the crumbers in Josh Thomas, Jaidyn Stephenson and Travis Varcoe to weave their magic.
3. Win the ruck battle, and make their second ruckman useless
Brodie Grundy, as he has been for much of the year, is pivotal. His ability to ruck for the majority of the game while also being an inside midfielder and classy ball user creates a massive opportunity for Collingwood.
Last weekend, Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn was exploited by the Eagles’ two big men. He was nullified all around the ground and wasn’t as dominant in ruck taps.
Grundy’s running power and athleticism may be harder to quell, as displayed in the qualifying final where he steadily extended his influence by out-running both Scott Lycett and Vardy.
If Grundy can get on top of both of them, and Cox can hold his own during his brief stints in the middle, then the Eagles’ second ruckman will be left languishing in the forward fifty.
Therefore, Grundy may be able to take down two West Coast players on Saturday, and by doing this he may rip open the game and aid his defence.
4. Stop McGovern, Barrass and Hurn from dictating terms from defence
When the Eagles have had periods of dominance over Collingwood this year, as seen in the Round 17 match-up and the beginning of the qualifying final, McGovern and Barrass have been nigh unstoppable in the air.
Only when the Pies reinstated their running game in attack did they manage to lead the game, as it prevented McGovern and Barrass from sliding in and cutting off opposition thrusts.
Collingwood will look to use De Goey to open up the West Coast defence (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
By using Jordan De Goey as they did against Richmond, McGovern and Barrass can be drawn out and separated. Additionally, if Brody Mihocek and Cox hit the scoreboard then the pressure of accountability may limit the impact that West Coast’s trusty defenders have on the grand final.
5. Stop Willie Rioli and Liam Ryan
What has set West Coast apart this year is their get out of jail free cards in Rioli and Ryan. Their magic on the ground has accounted for Kennedy, Darling and Vardy’s spills in the forward line, as they have had silver service when it comes to crumbing packs and slotting magical goals.
Brayden Maynard and Jack Crisp, as well as Tom Langdon, have hugely important roles in quelling their x-factor influence. If they can get on top of those two and limit their ability to get into dangerous positions or fly for quality marks, then they can cut off two large goal sources who usually contribute four to five goals per match.
They must stay goal-side of them, and ensure that they aren’t going to slip free of tackles and become elusively dangerous. By restricting that, the sting will be taken out of the Eagles’ forward line, and the tall timber will be relied upon solely to take contested marks and kick set shots in wet and sloppy conditions.