He’s already an established midfield star but Mick Malthouse believes he can become the main man in the Pies’ flag quest.
Who are the real Magpies?
When Collingwood is at its best, it is perhaps the best in the competition. When it’s at its worst, quite frankly I don’t think I’ve seen it.
Sure, the Pies were badly beaten by West Coast last week, but Collingwood’s biorhythms were misaligned mainly due to lack of manpower. No Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom, Jordan De Goey, or Jeremy Howe.
Plus who knows how the hubs are affecting the clubs, it seems to be different for every club, even every player.
Collingwood will get most, if not all, of its injured players back by finals, with Sidebottom back on Sunday.
There has been some general discord in regard to Sidebottom taking on the captaincy role in Pendlebury’s absence, but I have no problem with it. He breached the COVID-19 rules, he was punished, and he would have learnt from it.
There’s no doubt the next four rounds present a challenge for Collingwood, but that’s all it is — a challenge, mainly due to travel and hubs.
Its opposition in the next month, on current form aren’t the biggest of tests, Fremantle (16th), Sydney (14th), Adelaide (18th) and Melbourne (13th).
Good teams don’t get beaten by lower ranked teams. Four wins from four would give Collingwood a healthy 8.5 wins from 12 rounds.
The Magpies have arguably the best midfield in the competition, I have said this repeatedly. Though Brodie Grundy lowered his colours to Nic Naitanui last week, he is the main cogs of the engine room.
He works a lesser opponent into the ground every week. His only real challenges come from Naitanui and Max Gawn.
The Magpies are also one of the best corridor teams in the league. Pendlebury’s absence against the Eagles highlighted this.
Grundy is at the top of the Pies fab eight list — the players who hold the team together. They hold the balance, and stick to the strategies.
Grundy, Pendlebury, Sidebottom, Darcy Moore, Adam Treloar, Taylor Adams, De Goey and Howe.
These are the players who lead from the front, and who the Pies need firing to win a premiership.
Pendlebury is the general in the middle of the ground, while Treloar capitalises on outside supply of the footy by Pendlebury or Sidebottom, and can be devastating. Adams is the work horse, in and under, reliable and tough.
They won’t all be the best on the ground each week, but their contribution to the team balance and results demands that they have a massive bearing on the outcome of the game weekly.
Collingwood has been close to a premiership in recent years. Runners-up in 2018, and a preliminary final loss to GWS last year.
The question on all supporters’ minds is can it go a step further this year?
It will certainly win enough games to finish in the top four.
The finals, however, look more and more likely to be played in Queensland which will be of a huge benefit to Brisbane and Gold Coast (if they can sneak in) because home life is better preparation for football than hub life.
So, this is one unknown.
There are other unknowns too.
Is Darcy Cameron the answer to the Mason Cox issue?
Mason Cox hasn’t been the same player since his eye surgery, clearly playing with doubt and the thought of ramifications if he was to suffer a similar injury.
Understandably. But it puts him in a fight for a game against youngster, Cameron who at a similar size (204cm 108kg versus 211cm 110kg) is also kicking goals.
How will their forward line function?
Collingwood’s defensive mechanism has it ranked No.1 in the league, and defence does win finals. But, you also need a score on the board.
Will the Pies be tempted to restructure the forward line to get Moore back playing as a key forward alongside Mihocek? Moore could be replaced in the backline by Ben Reid or Jack Madgen.
Jamie Elliott and Jaidyn Stephenson promise so much but their output is often lacking consistency.
If they can be remedy that, and throw in Will Hoskin-Elliott, and Collingwood has a multitude of forwards who can kick a bag.
The Magpies have had some big wins, over the Bulldogs, Saints and Hawthorn, so perhaps having multiple goalkickers is the right way to go.
But, in their victory over Geelong the highlight was De Goey’s performance with five goals in a low-scoring match.
This is where the potential is for Cox or Cameron to become the missing link.
Collingwood’s game structure is the reason for its successes. The Pies concertina their defence from centre forward, and if the opposition wins the ball they are pushed lateral or back before the Magpies tighten the grip and force an error to pounce on.
Slow ball movement against Collingwood is like waving a white flag.
Teams that can penetrate the Magpies’ backline quickly, before they can gather numbers, have a greater chance of scoring against them.
The Pies have some panickers in the backline when they are caught in a one-on-one contest. There is no doubting their toughness, but when pressured they can give the ball up. This rarely happens against slow moving teams.
Opposition clubs have also worked out that when Sidebottom has a big game, so too does Collingwood.
He is one of the best suppliers of the footy into a dangerous forward line, so those who have tagged him effectively have limited that.
The Magpies’ opposition on Sunday, Fremantle, were simply outnumbered, outgunned, and out talented last week against Geelong. It’s difficult to see them improving much on this.
It won’t be a practice run for the Pies, but it should be a chance to regain some confidence that was lost last week.
Life without long-term absentees, De Goey and Howe will become the norm for Collingwood. Life without Pendlebury will be brief and will require others to stand up.
It is a big opportunity for Sidebottom.
In March I picked GWS to win the premiership, but from around the time hub football began I started to doubt that and replaced them with Collingwood.
With the draw as it is, they should finish top four which will go a long way to helping them win this year’s premiership.