Imagine my disappointment when I discovered over the weekend that this – not Tigers-Lions, as I’d previously thought – would be the final Friday night game of the home-and-away season.
Oh well, I guess I shouldn’t complain after what we had to sit through last Friday night.
The good news is there’s plenty on the line tonight, and it’s actually the higher-ranked Magpies with much more to play for.
Barring the extremely unlikely scenario of the Giants losing on their trip to the Gold Coast – though it’s certainly not as unlikely as it appeared a fortnight ago – the Bombers are locked into finishing seventh or eighth.
The Magpies, however, still have a puncher’s chance of finishing in the top four and earning that valuable double chance. But to do so they first need to knock over the Bombers.
The good news is that after an indifferent couple of months the Pies are coming off their best performance this side of the bye rounds.
Still without their two best forwards – Jordan de Goey and Jaidyn Stephenson – Collingwood have Jamie Elliott and Josh Thomas.
Elliott equalled his career-high five goals and Thomas booted three for the first time this season after kicking three or more half a dozen times last year.
It’s been a tough year for Thomas. He’s managed just 18 goals in 19 games after a career-best year in 2018 in which he slotted 38 majors.
The chemistry just hasn’t looked the same in the Magpies attacking third this season. They’ll be hoping Thomas, Elliott and Will Hoskin-Elliott – who was brilliant against the Crows with 20 touches, 11 marks and a couple of goals – can put in another strong showing before reinforcements arrive in September.
The Bombers’ Jekyll and Hyde seasons continued in Perth. A week after being humiliated by more than 100 points, Essendon headed west and – without arguably their most important player, Cale Hooker – scored a 32-point win over the Dockers.
Adam Saad was brilliant in his return from injury, collecting 27 disposals off half-back and, importantly, pumping it inside 50 seven times. His aggressive running is crucial to Essendon’s success.
Was the result all that it seemed, though? Essendon lost the clearance count 43-29, had 54 fewer contested possessions and put the ball inside fifty 48 times compared with Fremantle’s 59.
Very rarely will those numbers add up to victory. The result was the one they were after, but the process was a little suspect.
There’s a broadly held view that the Bombers are just making up the numbers in September, but it wasn’t so long ago that they reeled off five straight wins. Michael Hurley has a game under his belt after a lengthy stint on the sidelines and he should be better for the run.
Last time these sides met was one of the better games of the season, the Magpies running out four-point winners in a high-intensity if not high-scoring Anzac Day clash.
Steele Sidebottom had 24 disposals and a goal that day, but he won’t be out there tonight after suffering a ruptured testicle – retch.
It’s not the best way to start the final round of the season, but there’s enough at stake here to make for an interesting contest.
The Bombers might not be able to move up meaningfully, but a win would do their confidence a world of good heading into an elimination final.
For Collingwood, the prize for four points tonight is much more tangible, albeit dependant on Brisbane knocking off Richmond at the MCG – hey, the Lions are on top of the table for a reason, it could happen.
I’m tipping Collingwood by 20 points.
That’s my Friday night forecast. What’s yours?