With the impending finish to the weird and wacky 2020 AFL season, the silly season is about to begin. And the silly season means one thing: trade period.
It dawned on me earlier this week that as long as the fixture remains as is, I’ll be previewing Collingwood matches for at least the next three matches.
That’s either good or bad news for you; I’ll let you make the decision on that one. I’m rather looking forward to it.
Collingwood are in pretty good shape so far in 2020. A couple of good wins, a close but entertaining loss to the Giants last weekend – and, for those wondering, yes, I am still kicking myself for not tipping GWS – and a tough battle with Richmond that ended in a draw.
They have been one of the teams to watch. Despite us being at such an early point in the season, they’re a side that could really make a charge towards finals action.
That was until Wednesday afternoon, when vice-captain Steele Sidebottom threw a spanner in the works by breaching a number of the AFL’s strict COVID-19 guidelines, resulting in a four-week suspension.
Teammate Lynden Dunn was also suspended for a week.
It’s a serious blow for the Pies, who have now lost one of their best players for a month for doing something dumb and against the rules.
And it’s frustrating because this keeps happening time and time again at Collingwood. It was this time last year that young gun Jaidyn Stephenson was handed a 10-match suspension for betting on the sport and, more specifically, betting on himself.
This is a side that continuously threatens to be great on the field, to take the next step towards premiership glory, and then hits yet another roadblock.
You can cop it if it’s an injury, like in Jeremy Howe’s case, but this is just plain dumb.
So what does it mean for Collingwood?
Well, they lose a player who was averaging 24 disposals, 4.5 marks, 2.3 clearances and 4.3 tackles per game so far in 2020. It’s a huge hole to fill.
I thought their biggest test was last Friday night against a hungry GWS side. Despite the loss it wasn’t a bad performance.
But it’s actually the month ahead, which will include the start of a three-week stint in Western Australia, should the fixture go ahead as scheduled.
It starts tonight in their match against Essendon. It’s nice that we will finally be treated to the highly anticipated Anzac Day clash, albeit two and a half months late.
There is certainly potential for this game to reach the same dramatic heights as last year’s game, but the crowd will certainly be missed. There are few things that can change a game quite like a crowd of over 90,000 fans.
Collingwood, who were brilliantly led by skipper Scott Pendlebury, managed to hang on to a four-point victory despite opening the game with an almost four-goal lead in the first quarter.
The pair met again in the final round of the home-and-away season, and while it was the Bombers who got out to a strong start, the Pies clawed their way back into the game and claimed victory.
There has already been a dramatic build-up to this evening’s match during the week.
Not only will the Pies be without vice-captain Steele Sidebottom but, as mentioned earlier, they have also lost defender Jeremy Howe to a long term injury.
I think the Pies do have some good depth, but Howe has been one of their best players so far in 2020 to the point opposition sides have looked for ways to shut down a man whose role is to shut them down.
His presence will certainly be missed, maybe even more than that of Sidebottom, as Collingwood’s midfield is incredibly capable of sharing the load. Especially with the timely return of midfielder Adam Treloar, who will play his first game of 2020.
The question I have is: are the Bombers good enough to rise to the challenge?
It’s hard to try and assess a side that has played one match fewer than almost all of the competition, but I will try.
The Bombers have won two games this year by six points and lost last week by a point.
They either do just enough or not quite enough. I think they have the ability to win the game, but they’re going to need to do a little bit more. This game will be the first time they face an opposition sitting inside the eight.
And unless Tom Bellchambers is really struggling, I don’t know if this is the right week to manage him and opt for debutant Andrew Phillips against Brodie Grundy.
There also needs to be a lift inside the forward 50, as the Bombers are ranked 15th in the competition for efficiency up forward. And that’s not just because they missed on one game – their opponents have been better in this area in all three games played so far this season.
Last weekend against Carlton the Bombers recorded an abysmal 29.4 per cent efficiency inside 50.
The other factor is how Collingwood responds to the loss of Sidebottom and Howe on the back of that narrow loss to GWS last weekend. They could completely blow the Bombers out of the water. Honestly, I wouldn’t rule that out.
So my tip tonight? I’ll stick with Collingwood. I don’t think they’re a one-trick pony, and I think there is enough spread, depth and talent to rise to the challenge.
That’s my Friday night forecast. What’s yours?