WHERE AND WHEN:The MCG, Saturday 15 September, 7.45pm
LAST TIME: West Coast 15.17 (107) d Collingwood 8.10 (58), round 22, 2012, at Patersons Stadium
Two of the biggest clubs in the AFL do battle at the MCG on Saturday night, with both having remarkably similar seasons. They both had their periods of dominance at the top and premiership favouritism, as well as both being hard hit by injuries and form slumps. For the Pies, this slump might have come at the worst time possible as they host a rejuvenated and hungry Eagles outfit in a do or die clash.
While still missing a couple of their best 22 players, the Eagles were looking as good as ever in their thumping of the Kangaroos over at Paterson’s Stadium last weekend. The result was never in doubt after the first quarter, which was pleasing for them, but just as pleasing for them would have been the form of returning stars Andrew Embley and Josh Kennedy. Both had faced extended stints on the sidelines and had looked rusty upon their return, but both kicked 4 goals on the weekend – Embley especially was fantastic in a near best on ground performance.
Collingwood, on the other hand, scrapped and fought but still went down to the rampaging Hawks by 38 points. It took 17 minutes for the first goal to be kicked, but the Magpies couldn’t maintain the pressure and Hawthorn ran away with it, as they have done to the Pies twice previous this season.
Still, there were positives there as well. Nathan Buckley has talked up his teams chances, and Scott Pendlebury has also, specifically citing the (truthful) importance of ruckman Darren Jolly being in the side:
Getting your number one ruckman always helps against probably the best ruck tandem in the league. We just want ‘Jols’ to compete for us guys at ground level.
We’ve got a bit of work to do, and we’re looking forward to getting our hands dirty.
In their Round 22 loss to the Eagles, which Jolly missed, the Pies were absolutely monstered in the ruck contests and clearances, losing them 59-12 and 47-23 respectively. Having Jolly back and in solid form is crucial for the Pies.
The Pies forward line also seems to be functioning far better than in the lead-up to the finals. Travis Cloke is finally back to his best after an average season, while Chris Dawes, dropped in round 23, came back and racked up 20 possessions and a goal in a much improved performance. His relief ruckwork will help out Jolly too, who while racking up a mammoth 49 hit-outs last week, struggled around the ground.
The earlier-than-expected recall of Andrew Krakouer also paid dividends, with the small forward booting 4 goals.
In the midfield, Dayne Beams continued the best season of his young career, Pendlebury hit his straps and Dane Swan racked up the clearances. They were outplayed by the Hawks in the middle, but it wasn’t dire. Most promising was the defensive forward role played by young Ben Sinclair on Grant Birchall. Birchall, almost a lock for an All-Australian position in the backline, was restricted to just 11 undamaging possessions. Expect Collingwood to try something similar against the likes of Shannon Hurn.
The biggest worries for the Magpies are two-fold – the loss of captain Nick Maxwell to suspension and their Round 22 game, just three weeks ago, against the Eagles. Maxwell is gone until the Grand Final if the Pies were to make it for a hit on Hawks small Paul Puopolo, while they were belted by a far superior Eagles outfit all around the ground in a 49 point loss.
On the flip-side, the Eagles have lost their vice-captain and backline general Beau Waters to injury, which is a big and unfortunate blow. Collingwood is also vastly superior at playing the MCG when compared to the Eagles – West Coast haven’t defeated them there in a whopping 17 years.
The game will be marked by a minutes silence before the anthem, signifying the loss of ex-Collingwood player John McCarthy in a tragic accident earlier this week.
It will no doubt be a thrilling and tense clash. Both sides are experienced finals campaigners and will not let their seasons go easily. The Eagles are just too red-hot at the moment to deny them though, and their forward line and ruck duo will stretch Collingwood just enough for them to get over the line. The 17 year hoodoo may well be broken, and the Pies may well be looking at a straight sets exit from the 2012 finals.
Prediction: West Coast by 6