The Roar
The Roar


Are the Pies still hungry? Owen jokes aside, Collingwood are in serious trouble

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Roar Rookie
20th March, 2024

We’re in that weird early stage of the AFL season where we fall over ourselves finding evidence for the correctness of our pre-season predictions, and aggressively deflect information that contradicts our beliefs.

Now, obviously, I had predictions before the season started, but they’re always pointless anyway, because what do I or anyone else actually know? Well, we know what happened last year. But because the ladder changes every single season, almost always in extremely significant ways, last year is barely even a guide. Then we have reports of training. Statistically, every club is “training the house down” in January, according to themselves. Okay, that doesn’t help much either.

So, what do we make of Collingwood? Well, two games is a small sample size. After all, they did win the premiership last season. But that was six months ago. There has been an entire off-season and pre-season since then, as well as two very concerning games. The Pies are 0-2 and if they’re not careful, it could get even worse.

When the David Kings of the world describe them as “just a metre off” all over the park (SEN), which can be fixed, the former observation is fair, but the latter seems simplistic. Collingwood are well aware they need to close down space more quickly to justify their highly aggressive defensive style. That they are a metre off is concerning because there is no obvious reason for it. Are they not as fit as last year, not as motivated, not as good? After all, pressure is a multifaceted process. Being a metre of is the symptom, not the disease.

Collingwood have conceded triple figures in both games this year – games that weren’t abnormally open. Last year, they made a habit of cutting off attacks early with proactive defending. They would often turn the ball over and aggressively move forward before the opposition had time to think. But there is always the other side to the coin. It is now in Collingwood’s nature to defend assertively. We saw Sydney repeatedly pick their way through the initial lines of defence, and the entire ground opened up for them. Goals looked easy, and they blew Collingwood apart.

Chad Warner and Errol Gulden celebrate a goal.

Chad Warner and Errol Gulden celebrate a goal. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

But can the Pies change their stripes, or realign them? I’m not so sure. Keeping in mind that the bar of success is extremely high when you’re the reigning premiers, this season is already looking like an uphill battle. If it has been a hunger problem thus far, why would we suddenly expect them to get their hunger back? If the ageing of the likes of Steele Sidebottom and Scott Pendlebury is a problem, the problem isn’t getting any younger.


It’s also specific to their style. If the pressure is lower all around the ground, those already slower will be exposed. If there are fitness issues as a result of going all the way last year, which hurt their pre-season, it’s already too late to fix that.

Then there’s the personnel problem. We all understand Collingwood has a tremendous list. There is talent seeping through their best 22. But their success is method first, personnel second. When the method falls away, the personnel gaps get exposed. Maybe the serviceable rucks of Darcy Cameron and Mason Cox did a reasonable job on Brodie Grundy, but the lack of key forward stocks looked like a massive problem.

Watching Sydney scythe their way through Collingwood’s weakened press, and then seeing Collingwood try to find a target in their more crowded forward line was painful. It made one long for a better target. Someone you could rely on to make something of a long bomb into the forward line. But when Collingwood dictates games, this is no issue. They get open forward lines and good looks.

It has only been two games. Two fairly concerning games. If St Kilda take them down, we’re in official premiership hangover territory. And there’s almost no coming back from that.