On the back of what was a stirring victory north of the border, our Magpies are now faced with a hurdle that in recent years we’ve not even bothered negotiating by air, instead just bowling it over with contempt, winning the event by some distance all the same. This year that task is bound to be different, as the Kangaroos have found some rhythm in the second half of the year.
I’ve caught a glimpse of the Kangaroos in a few of their games previously, they shape as a team who could trouble us if we allow them to determine the rules of engagement. The two teams who have got the better of us this year in Carlton and Hawthorn, largely through pace and fast ball movement by foot, share some similarities with the up and coming Kangaroos.
The likes of Shaun Atley and Kieran Harper have provided some of that raw pace, but what is apparent in the Kangaroos modus operandi is that they like to orchestrate an overlap – often starting from half-back – before moving the ball as quickly as possible to their towering figure up forward in Drew Petrie. Petrie is going to be one massive assignment, as he’s pushing the Coleman this year in what has become a tight tussle since Lance Franklin was sidelined.
It’s not all glitzy football for the Roos though, as they’ve got their fair share of hard nuts around the ball. Andrew Swallow leads the list, one of the better extractors in the AFL, but is ably assisted by the developing Ben Cunnington, along with the likes of Liam Anthony along with another new found mature aged accumulator in Sam Gibson.
Our task is made a little easier this week, as North will be without Daniel Wells to provide polish on the outside, along with the gritty Leigh Adams. We’ll once again be without Dane Swan, whilst we’ll wait anxiously for selection – and once again for game day – before breathing a sigh of relief at the appearance of Dale Thomas and a couple of others who played through some niggles last week in our gruelling match against the Swans.
It has been hard to gauge our form this year, but if you had to make an assessment at this point you would say that we haven’t “clicked” for any extensive period. It certainly is strange making that call, given that we sit equal first on points – likely assured of a top four spot – whilst also considering the players we’ve been missing throughout the year.
But that’s how I see it, and I’m sure most would agree.
Last week, Sydney looked to have our measure for significant portions of the game, although I don’t subscribe to the idea that they kicked themselves out of it. A lot of their behinds were rushed, rather than from easy missed shots. Whilst we didn’t dominate passages, we certainly arrested control when we needed to and grinded the game out for four quarters in trying conditions – avoiding the sort of lengthy lapses that have seen teams draw level or overtake us momentarily.
It was a four quarter performance, one that was worthy of the praise most heaped on it, especially given the mounting soreness as several players took hard knocks and received lengthy treatment.
Disregarding our form for much of this year, one can only hope that the commitment and concentration we displayed last Saturday night was a signal that we’re looking to get it together just in time. We’ll no doubt have the answer to that question this Saturday night at Etihad.
One of the best signs to come out of last week’s performance was the improvement from our key forwards in Travis Cloke and especially Chris Dawes. Much has rightfully been made of the poor form of Dawes this year, although at no point do I think anybody questioned his work rate. More than anything, last week was a most welcome and well deserved reward for effort for Dawes, one that will hopefully spark a resurgence in form at the most opportune of times.
Likewise, Travis Cloke performed admirably and it was good to see him look a little happier – celebrating his last goal of the night a little more enthusiastically than he has in recent weeks. I’m still disappointed in what has played out this year, but Travis is very much a vital part of our team this year and will be instrumental in our fortunes.
The courage from Buckley to persist with Tarrant forward seemed to pay some dividends, as we managed to create some more opportunities for our tall timber as the Sydney defence was spread a little thinner than we’ve managed in previous weeks. An issue still remains in regards to our speed once the ball hits the deck up forward, especially with Goldsack now missing, so the advantage of Tarrant forward is still open for debate.
Tarrant’s set shot kicking is also another problem, but in any event he is a possible swing man and can be moved to defence if match-ups are troubling us there. We’ve reached the point where we don’t have too many options left in the VFL, I suspect the coaches will be looking to settle the team at this stage, the only openings coming via injury or reserved for a miracle return by one of Krakouer, Macaffer or Johnson.
Something that in all probability, isn’t highly likely, but one we can still entertain for now.
We’ll pay the Kangaroos the respect that they deserve, which is plenty at this point in time. They’ve managed to win eight of their last nine games and are, by any measure, storming home and determined to seal a place in the finals.
Unfortunately for the Kangaroos, they’ll have to pay us the same amount of respect, as even without Dane Swan we are truly formidable through the middle of the ground with Dayne Beams taking his game to a level where the air is thin, along with Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom and Dale Thomas providing a mammoth dose of class and industriousness.
There’s also the rejuvenated Darren Jolly for the Kangaroos to consider, although Todd Goldstein is a quality ruckman who’ll be determined to atone after having his colours lowered against Essendon’s Bellchambers last week.
As pleasing as the performances of our key forwards were last week, I was equally as impressed by how our defence held up – possibly more so considering the pressure they were under. Guided by Nick Maxwell, we looked a lot more cohesive down back against the Swans, with Ben Reid finding some of his best form to provide a road block at half-back.
Heath Shaw hasn’t been as damaging as he was earlier in the year, when he was bobbing up everywhere with his frenetic fire starting, but he remains an immense talent who’ll provide plenty of drive. Harry O’Brien has found some consistent form and curtailed some of his early season tendencies of making crucial errors, whilst Alan Toovey was also critical in his shut down role on Lewis Jetta. Toovey will be given another role this week, possibly on a Kangaroo speedster in Harper or even Brent Harvey if he starts shaping to cause mischief.
Whoever plays on Kieran Harper should be prepared to work hard, as he’s a player who can be exposed. He has jets and is damaging with the goals in sight, but his endurance leaves a lot to be desired. No matter the player who stands him, they need to be instructed to work hard and look to become an option offensively.
It stands to reason that the majority of our team have a few more preseasons in the bank than quite a few of their opponents this weekend, we need to work them over.
Having found some good form, Ben Reid is the most logical choice to stand Drew Petrie on Saturday night, with Nathan Brown given the role on the improving Robbie Tarrant. Brown has been a bit of a worry this year, but he was sound last week and even took some good contested grabs. Tarrant could worry him, as he does lead well and has good hands, but Brown sorely needs a definitive win before finals t give his confidence a kick start.
We’ve spent a lot of time at the MCG lately, not having to venture anywhere else unless a plane ride is required, so it’ll be interested to see how we adapt to Etihad once again. Etihad is the sort of stadium that seems to cater for fast flowing football, something the Kangaroos would like, so we’ll have to be mindful on working the angles, cutting down space and preventing a run-and-gun affair ensuing.
If we can get the game on our terms via superior stoppage play and making it more about contested ball than uncontested efficiency, our talent around the ball should run deeper. When we don’t have possession, our intensity needs to match what we served up last week – once again over four quarters – as there are still question marks over how well these Kangaroos can execute when under pressure.
If we limit and hinder the amount of clean ball generated through the middle of the ground – slowing the Kangaroos up at every chance in transition – we’ll prevent the likes of Petrie getting a hold of us. Similarly, the likes of Brent Harvey have historically faded out of proceedings against us when denied space to operate in, reducing the options on the last kick into 50 for the Kangaroos will restrict Harvey’s opportunities.
I’m taking nothing for granted this week, even as proud as I was after the final siren last week, the thought of this game came straight to mind. The heroics of our side last week could be quickly forgotten if we drop our guard against the Kangaroos, a team with plenty of incentive to take it up to us. They’re currently fighting to secure a spot in the top eight, whilst the pain we’ve inflicted on them in recent years won’t be forgotten.
Another four quarters are required Collingwood, the order of the top four is yet to be sorted and we should be looking to win every one of our remaining games – finding some improvement each week in turn. I’m a little anxious about this one, as this year has been up and down, but eager to see how we perform all the same.
Before signing off, it would be remiss of me not to mention the latest news – and good news at that – in Dayne Beams signing for a further three years. Beams stands a very, very good chance of winning the Copeland this year, in fact if the votes were tallied up today I dare say he’d be a shoe in. His emergence this year makes the announcement that much better, his talk in the press conference about team success was the icing on the cake.
Congratulations Dayne Beams, you’ve displayed a level of maturity and consistency this year, an aspect to your game and personality that I confess I once worried about. You’ve now added loyal to all of those admirable qualities, I speak for all of the Magpie faithful when I say how appreciative we are of your efforts this year and your commitment at the negotiation table.
Time to cap your week off by being a dominant force on Saturday, for the umpteenth time this year.