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A final-round thriller as old rivals Collingwood and Essendon butt heads on Friday night at the MCG. Join The Roar for live scores and blog from 7:50pm AEST.
It’s always a massive event when these two clubs meet, but tonight’s game has extra significance. On the cusp of the finals, on a Friday night before every other club plays, the result of this game will massively impact finals positions and permutations as the rest of the weekend plays out.
Both clubs are locked into the final eight, Collingwood some time ago, but Essendon’s big win over Fremantle confirmed their spot in September in emphatic fashion.
Both clubs looked to be limping into the eight with late-season dips, but recent wins have steadied their respective ships. Collingwood has now won three on the bounce – including humiliating a nose-diving Adelaide by 11 goals last week – while Essendon arrested two recent losses with that win in Perth.
That leaves the following finals possibilities.
If Collingwood win they could realistically finish as high as third if Richmond lose to Brisbane at the ‘G (possible) and West Coast lose to the Hawks in Perth (less likely) – in truth, Collingwood could finish above Geelong in second if they can somehow manage a 200+ point victory, but let’s only include realistic things.
A Collingwood win would see Essendon drop to eighth if the Bulldogs beat Adelaide in Ballarat (likely), or stay in seventh if Adelaide get the points there.
An Essendon win could see them jump as high as sixth if GWS lose to Gold Coast (exponentially unlikely), while Collingwood would either stay in fifth or drop to sixth if GWS win and make up some percentage on the Pies (which is probable).
If all of that seems a bit Good Will Hunting then the simple equation is Collingwood need to win to ensure top five and could finish in the four, while Essendon needs to win to stay in seventh. And don’t be surprised, despite this result, to see Collingwood and Essendon face each other again in the first week of the finals.
Indeed, Essendon have chosen – or been forced – to rest a host of players for this game. Heppell, Clarke, Zaharakis, Stringer, and Fantasia have all been left out with injury, with Brandon Zerk-Thatcher also omitted.
In their place comes a mixture of young and old with Hooker, Begley, Laverde, Bellchambers, Clarke and debutant Tom Jok coming in. The return of Bellchambers for a run before finals will particularly boost Essendon hearts.
Collingwood will go in with a more settled side, and welcome back Darcy Moore for a pre-finals pick-me-up. Steele Sidebottom comes out of the side with an injury 50 per cent of us would rather not think about – but he should be fine for finals.
Collingwood should win this game now that they’ve arrested back some momentum and can sniff top four. The side selected by Essendon suggests some foxing by them as well, and it seems an old-school Worsfold tactic to not play their A-game this week to save it for the Elimination final.
But these games are often tight, and the competitiveness often flies in the face of ladder position and form. Collingwood should have enough firepower and midfield mettle, even with Pendlebury out, but it won’t come easy.
Collingwood by 18 points.