Is Carlton and Collingwood the earliest elimination final in recent memory?
The backdrop? The MCG. The gladiators? The oldest rivalry in Australian football. The result? A fringe team who are fighting for a seventh or eighth spot will almost be too far behind to make any sort of impact in 2021.
It was a fait accompli that Richmond would get Carlton. For all the endeavour and effort the Blues put in for three and a half quarters, Richmond had the extra gear to go too when they needed to, kicking the last 21 points after Paddy Dow missed a crucial goal to run out four-goal winners.
The Pies were flattered by the Dogs’ poor forward line and, without Darcy Moore and Brayden Maynard, would’ve gone down by eight goals. So, after that dust has settled, both are 0-1 and, barring an unlikely draw, someone is going to be 0-2 and it will spell disaster.
For the Magpies, after this clash, they have Brisbane at the Gabba, GWS at the MCG and West Coast at Optus Stadium before they’ll be favourites again, against the Bombers on Anzac Day.
Heading into that Anzac clash, if the Pies go down on Thursday night, they’ll have potentially a 0-5 record which really is season done, with Sydney in 2017 being the exception (but the Pies aren’t that good). The Giants game is winnable but without a win over the Blues, 1-4 looks the most optimistic standing for the boys from the Holden Centre.
Having the Richmond clash during the AAMI Community Series and now the Round 1 clash with the Dogs under their belt, the -22 point aggregate might look like they are only just off the pack, but the looks have been deceiving. From the defence forward, the Collingwood list looks like it’s in descending order.
Defence: Darcy Moore, Jeremy Howe, Brayden Maynard and Jack Crisp are stars and would make most clubs’ best 22, Scott Pendlebury is a champion but Taylor Adams won a best and fairest, Jordan de Goey is an impact player. Brodie Grundy was lacklustre on Friday night but he’s been a star for a long time and with minimum 153 games left on his contract, needs to deliver more.
Brody Mihocek is a very underrated good player up forward but isn’t a number one forward. Jamie Elliott, when fit, is very good and Steele Sidebottom didn’t play but is genuine quality. Beyond that, Collingwood’s quality declines quickly.
Just from Friday’s line-up: Jordan Roughead, John Noble, Jack Madgen, the Brown brothers, Brayden Sier, Will Hoskin-Elliott, Josh Thomas and Trey Ruscoe have all had a moment or two but have zero consistency about them. When the Pies are up and about, their bottom end can look good, great even but when they’re down, my god they make Swiss cheese look like it has few holes.
However, like anything, a win is a win and they are currently favourites with the betting market because their top end tops Carlton, without a shadow of a doubt.
Those names mentioned above compared to Patrick Cripps and Jacob Weitering – who are the only A graders that the Blues have got – means if it was the best versus best, the Pies would take the game by the throat. But let’s look at Carlton.
The Blues had a chance to take the lead with less than five minutes left over the reigning premiers and then got run over, but their attacking style looked impressive at times and their pressure forward of the ball was very good – with Zac Fisher and Lachie Fogarty up forward being good tactically and Fogarty looking a good trade by the Blues.
After Thursday, Carlton’s next month contains Fremantle at Marvel (very winnable), Gold Coast at Metricon (winnable), Port Adelaide at the G (would take a miracle) and Brisbane at Marvel (winnable, given a decent record). So, while the Blues are in a much better position fixture wise, if they want to be the team pushing for finals like they’ve preached since 2016, winnable games need to become wins, it’s as simple as that.
Carlton should get Zac Williams back into the side to inject some better ball use and flair through that midfield so a line-up of Williams, Cripps and Sam Walsh against Pendlebury, Sidebottom and Adams makes the average fan salivate in an elite match-up that I can’t wait for.
Harry McKay had a few slipups on Thursday night and the Blues will need him to be better, but they need to spot up their forwards better as Howe and co. are elite in the air – so hitting up leads will be vital. Watch for Michael Gibbons and Jack Newnes to be taking shots from 40 metres out.
So, at the end of the day, we have a team of high quality players with some struggling C Graders playing in a scrappy team system (Collingwood) against a team with mostly B grade players who are improving their system (Carlton).
With both are teams circling the eight, coming back from 0-2 will be a difficult task. Someone is leaving Thursday night with a lot of pressure off their back and someone is walking away with a thousand pounds of pressure on their backs.
So who will be all smiles and rainbows Thursday night? At this stage, I’m leaning towards Carlton without a lot of confidence. Both defences are tough with great means of rebounding and intercept possessions, Collingwood probably are ahead in the midfield with the ruck battle and experienced mids, but Carlton’s forward is ahead and by a fair bit.
Mihocek and De Goey can’t be relied on kicking a winning score, while the Blues have got more options but to be definitive or to lock it in? Can’t do it. Boy oh boy it’ll be a belter.