After a dreadful start to the season, the Swans have climbed off the bottom of the ladder.
They’ve racked up back-to-back five-point wins. The finest of reinforcements have arrived tonight with Josh Kennedy and Lance Franklin back in the side.
For the Magpies, it was business as usual in Round 9. After being forced to sweat for three quarters, the Pies booted six goals to one in the final term to roll the Saints by the best part of seven goals for their sixth-straight win.
While the Swans get their star forward back, Collingwood will have to make do for another week without theirs – Jordan de Goey is set to miss his second straight match.
Tom Langdon (injured) and Travis Varcoe (suspended) go out of Collingwood’s side, with former NBL player Jack Madgen coming in for his fifth game and forgotten man Daniel Wells returning for his first match since Round 12 last year.
It’s amazing what a difference Buddy makes on paper. Sydney have managed more than 12 goals just once this season, but with Franklin named in the front six with Sam Reid, Will Hayward, Tom McCartin and impressive youngster Nick Blakey, it looks like a dangerous – albeit very tall – attack.
Luke Parker has been named in the forward pocket as well, and while his aerial capabilities make him a more than capable forward, it’s a fair bet he’ll spend most of the night following the footy.
At the other end of the ground, the Swans will be grateful for de Goey’s absence, but the Magpies still have dangerous players just about everywhere you look. Brody Mihocek, Ben Reid, Jaidyn Stephenson, Will Hoskin-Elliott and Josh Thomas are all capable of booting multiple goals – they combined for 13 last week.
It’s no surprise given their midfield firepower that the numbers are kind to Collingwood.
The Pies are ranked third for contested possession differential – Sydney are dead last – third for inside-50 differential and first for marks inside-50 differential.
In perhaps a sign of what to expect tonight, Collingwood have taken more marks than any other side this season, while the Swans have conceded the fewest.
While the Pies want to control the ball and move it cleanly, the Swans are keen to make things a bit more ugly and chaotic.
That will almost certainly be the plan for John Longmire tonight.
If the Pies can get the ball into the hands of Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom, Tom Phillips and Wells with time to size things up, there’s not a backline in the league that can clamp Collingwood’s versatile forwards – they’ve topped 100 points in each of the past three weeks.
But if Sydney can turn those kicks into long, high balls, Aliir Aliir, Dane Rampe and Callum Mills can pick the ball off in the air and launch their own attacks.
George Hewett is in outstanding form and coming off one of the best games of his career – 29 disposals, 20 contested possessions and nine clearance – against North Melbourne.
With Kennedy back in the side it will be interesting to see whether Hewett’s priority is hunting the ball or an opponent. He, Parker, Kennedy, Isaac Heeney and Ollie Florent will all need to be close to their best if they’re to break even with Collingwood in the midfield – and even then they’ll need help from the likes of Ryan Clake and Jordan Dawson.
There are few ruckmen in the league who can match Collingwood’s Brodie Grundy around the ground and, unfortunately for the Swans, Callum Sinclair is no exception.
However, Sinclair tends to have two or three games every season in which he sticks a few big marks up forward and boots a multiple goals. He’s yet to do so this season, and the Swans would love tonight to be one of those games.
The past two matches between these sides have been thrillers. In Round 20 last year, the Swans got up by two points, while their previous encounter in early 2017, saw the Magpie win by the slimmest of margins.
I can’t see it being so close tonight, but here’s hoping. Collingwood by four goals.
That’s my Friday night forecast. What’s yours?