Round 9 started with an exciting game in Perth where a gallant Melbourne were eventually overrun by an Eagles unit that is beginning to look a very good chance to make back-to-back grand finals, if not premierships.
Friday night footy is back, and we should have a good one to kick things off.
These sides met just once in 2018, in Round 8, with the Cats winning by 21 points in an ugly, low-scoring slog at the MCG.
Sam Menegola claimed the three Brownlow votes that day thanks to a 24-disposal, three-goal performance.
Collingwood winger Tom Phillips was the game’s only other multiple goalscorer with two, but managed just 11 disposals, by far his lowest total of the season and one of just two occasions he had fewer than 20 touches.
Fingers crossed we get a better game of footy this time around. Star power certainly isn’t an issue. There are great players just about everywhere you look.
The Cats will face a conundrum all season when it comes to what to do with the biggest of those stars – Patrick Dangerfield – but it is especially difficult tonight.
Dangerfield is considered by some good judges the best player in the competition. He’s a pack-busting, line-breaking brute of an onballer, and the same combination of speed, strength and acceleration that makes him a superstar in the middle of the ground, makes him a nightmare match-up when he plays in attack.
The Cats have a top-notch power forward in Tom Hawkins, who booted 60 goals last season, but with their second-leading goalkicker of 2018, Dan Menzel, now in Sydney, they’ll need to find another reliable avenue to goal.
Against at least half the competition, Geelong will be able to play Dangerfield in attack without much fear of being overrun up the ground, but can they afford to do so against what might be the best and deepest midfield in the AFL?
With Joel Selwood, Mitch Duncan, Gary Ablett, Tim Kelly, Menegola and now Luke Dahlhaus in the mix, the Cats boast a midfield brigade that would be the envy of a lot of teams.
Not these Pies though.
Even without Taylor Adams and Daniel Wells (remember him?) Collingwood will roll out Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom, Dayne Beams, Adam Treloar and Phillips. They were the No.1 clearance team in the league last season.
And as impressive as that group is, the most dangerous midfielder the Cats will have to contend with is Brodie Grundy – the most complete ruckman since Dean Cox.
Rhys Stanley will need to be at the top of his game to take it up to Grundy. He’ll get a bit of a chop our from Esava Ratugolea, but most of the heavy lifting will need to be done by the former Saint.
The 28-year-old is one of the few big men in the AFL who can match Grundy for athleticism, and has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his 115 games but rarely been strung together quality games of football.
If he’s off his game tonight, Grundy will make him and his side pay a high price with his tap work and ground game – the 2018 All Australian is as comfortable and damaging when the ball is on the deck as he is when it’s in the air.
While the Cats search for attacking options, the Magpies are spoilt for choice. Will Hoskin-Elliott is out of action, but Jamie Elliott is a useful and welcome replacement to join reigning Rising Star winner Jaidyn Stephenson, Josh Thomas and Jordan de Goey in causing mid-sized mayhem.
There aren’t a lot of players in the competition built to take on De Goey. Lachie Henderson lacks the agility, Tom Stewart lacks the strength, Harry Taylor might lack both these days. Perhaps Jack Henry is the answer; not a very good answer, but an answer.
Geelong will field six new Cats. Dahlhaus and ex-Swan Gary Rohan will play their first real games in the hoops, and Tom Atkins, Jordan Clark, Charlie Constable and Gryan Miers will debut.
For the Pies, Dahlhaus’s former premiership-winning teammate Jordan Roughead is the only fresh face.
On their day, the Cats have the talent and experience to mix it with just about any team. Collingwood just look to have a bit more room for error.
I’m tipping the Magpies by two goals.
That’s my Friday night forecast. What’s yours?