It’s hard to know whether tonight’s clash at the MCG is more blockbuster or mockbuster.
The Pies are sitting in second spot but looking anything like a top-four side at the moment.
Nathan Buckley voiced his displeasure after his side stumbled over the line against the Bulldogs a fortnight ago, but his players didn’t seem to get the message, because they were bullied into submission a week later by Rhyce Shaw’s resurgent Roos.
Their final score of 37 was the lowest by a Collingwood side since Round 5, 1995 against Hawthorn – yikes.
It’s a hard thing to get a read on things when a seemingly quality side slumps midseason. By the time September rolls around we could look back on the Pies’ loss to the Roos as little more than a blip. Or perhaps it will be the point at which their season went off the rails.
The Hawks on the other hand have never really got going this season, and have yet to win back-to-back games. Their 5-9 record is pretty indicative of who they are at this point. They’ve lost to the Dogs, Dees and Saints and got out of jail against Brendon Bolton’s Blues. All available evidence suggests they’re not much good.
But despite their struggles, the ran top-four West Coast to the line a week ago, and really should have claimed the four points in a game which they kicked 9.17.
Jaeger O’Meara was one of the chief culprits, booting three behinds without a goal, but he probably gets a pass for his 37 disposals, 25 contested possessions, 12 clearances and 10 tackles.
The former Sun will probably need to produce something similar tonight because he doesn’t have a lot of help. James Worpel is a nice young player, and Liam Shiels keeps on keeping on, but that’s about where it ends in terms of ball-winners.
The Pies have no such worries, though they’re not batting quite so deep at the moment with Taylor Adams injured and Dayne Beams taking time away from footy to look after his mental wellbeing.
Still, Scott Pendlebury, Adam Treloar and Steele Sidebottom should have the edge.
Then, of course, there’s Brodie Grundy, who’ll find plenty of footy himself. Ben McEvoy is a more than capable big man, and while he won’t be able to match Grundy when the ball hits the deck, he’ll back himself to make an impact in the air.
Hawthorn are dead last for clearance differential this season, so Collingwood (11th) will expect to get on top in that area.
The Hawks have made two changes, with skipper Ben Stratton returning from suspension and Mitchell Lewis joining him in the 22. Jonathon Ceglar has been dropped and Dylan Moore is injured.
The Pies have made three changes – two of them forced – as Isaac Quaynor comes in for his first game, along with Jamie Elliott and James Aish. Travis Varcoe has been dumped and Ben Reid and Levi Greenwood are injured.
Luke Breust and McEvoy are both playing their 200th games tonight, which could give the Hawks a little extra motivation if you believe in that sort of thing.
Breust has got there in a hurry, averaging a remarkable 23.2 games a season over the past eight seasons, which is a testament to his durability and consistency as well as the Hawks’ dominance.
The last time these sides met was way back in Round 1 last year, when Hawthorn won by 34 points thanks in large part to four goals from Breust. Tom Mitchell was the star that night, notching an AFL record 54 disposals – how the Hawks would love to have him out there tonight.
In a season as tight as this one, any team can beat just about any other on their day (or night), and despite Hawthorn’s disappointing win-loss record, they’re still in with a sniff of finals if they roll the Magpies.
Alastair Clarkson is still fielding an incredibly experienced team each week, and tonight is no exception, with a dozen 100-gamers wearing the brown and gold compared with eight in the black-and-white stripes.
Collingwood are below their best and certainly gettable. Their vaunted midfield doesn’t look nearly as impressive as it did a couple of months ago. Their forward line, too, has taken a hit due to Jaidyn Stephenson’s gambling ban, and isn’t gelling as it has when they’ve looked their sharpest.
The stakes are high for both sides, but if Collingwood are serious, they’ll win and win pretty well.
Let’s see if they’re serious. Collingwood by 20 points.
That’s my Friday night forecast. What’s yours?