After falling away quite terribly last week, we now have to bounce back in an attempt to subdue the increasing hype from Tiger Land. After making slow progress under Hardwick the last couple of years, the Tigers appear to have earmarked this year as the one where they make a statement. They’ve started the year well enough – being currently undefeated – but would have pencilled this weekend in as the one where they announced their arrival or, failing that, returned to the drawing board.
This isn’t unfamiliar territory for us Magpie fans, long accustomed to teams wanting to use the stage the Collingwood Football Club provides. This works two fold in this case, considering we have been a top four side for some time now, making us a perpetual target to any team striving to prove their September credentials.
Make no mistake, this week is a danger game.
The Tiger Army is up and about, the media are beginning to pile on the bandwagon and the players would certainly be growing in belief and confidence. Outside of their opening round contest with Carlton – a game they very nearly let slip – the Tigers would have had this game in the back of their minds the minute they got over that initial hurdle.
Richmond are poised to pounce, so we need to be prepared.
Just about everyone I’ve heard on the radio or read in the papers this week has written us off, a few of which have made solid cases for their reasoning. We’ve been solid and at times quite impressive, but it is becoming apparent that we’re missing some of our senior star power and as such, our structure has been vulnerable.
One of Richmond’s biggest and most obvious strengths is their midfield – driven by the likes of Cotchin, Deledio, Tuck and Martin – whilst being serviced by one of the better rucks at the moment in Ivan Maric. They’re capable of getting on top in the centre, an area that we’ve been lacking in lately. Our midfield is depleted at the moment, but we need a few players to stand up.
This is the area that many will point to when tipping Richmond; an apparent injury cloud over Scott Pendlebury only strengthens this claim.
I’ll be looking at Steele Sidebottom and Jarryd Blair to atone for last week against Richmond, as we desperately need these two players to stand up a little taller at the moment. Both were reasonably good up until last week, but having their colours lowered means that they need to bounce back with interest if they’re to hold claims to being better than “good solid footballers.”
Personally, I believe that Sidebottom clearly has the potential to raise himself into the next level of AFL players much as Beams achieved last year. Blair on the other hand I’ve always felt would probably plateau as a solid contributor, a commendable achievement in itself, but the points is that he’s certainly capable of more than he provided last week.
Whatever advantage Richmond might enjoy in the middle, dependant of course on whose stars line up and fire, I would like to think that our superior experience over the park in general play should balance the ledger. We have Travis Cloke and Quinten Lynch forward who’ll require a lot of attention with an increasingly dangerous Jamie Elliott and Sam Dwyer at their feet; quality defenders in Ben Reid, Nathan Brown, Alan Toovey and Heath Shaw; along with a quality cast of experienced peripheral players outside of our immediate stars in Sidebottom, O’Brien, Blair, Goldsack and Fasolo.
Perhaps most importantly, Dale Thomas will hopefully be better for the run last week and play a bigger part through the middle of the ground.
My point is, even if Richmond get on top for periods at stoppages through the agency of a few, I’m hopeful that the sum of our parts will be greater than theirs. If we get back to our best in the pressure stakes, we’ll hopefully cause the Tigers to cough the ball up and punish them going in the other direction.
We don’t have a tagger and even if we did, Cotchin doesn’t strike me as the sort of player you can shutdown given he is at his best at the coal face. Deledio however is a player who we cannot afford to let run amok and, scarily, the exact sort of player who we have let off the leash in recent times. If I was Buckley, I would entertain playing Toovey on him if he becomes influential. Toovey will have the toe to go with him along with the defensive concentration.
The more we can prevent the ball from getting into the hands of Richmond’s better users in Deledio and Newman the better; Houli is another who we need to keep honest by using his man often and harassing him whenever he gets near it. Richmond have an impressive array of ball winners, but I still feel they’re lacking polish and if we do our homework and remain focused, we should be able to prevent their forwards from getting silver service.
At which point, I rate the chances of Reid and Brown to thwart their opponents – even the lively Jack Riewoldt – in 50/50 contests.
I like our inclusions this week of Josh Thomas and Paul Seedsman, as both are immediate attempts to address two obvious areas of weakness. Firstly, we need to win a lot more contested ball at stoppages and we were probably a little deluded last week in thinking we could absorb the workload left by Ball and Beams without retaining the budding inside specialist Josh Thomas.
The absence of Ball and Beams sets the scene for someone like Thomas to come of age and repay the faith the club has shown. Even though he has struggled to run out four quarters given the amount of football he has missed in previous years, we need to persist with him until Ball and Beams return — we always have the option of subbing him and injecting run in the last term if he has used up all his petrol tickets.
The second area of concern has been our rebound and ball use out of defence and in transition, an area that Seedsman was being groomed for in the NAB Cup. Seedsman was disappointing against Carlton after missing the first round, failing to rise to the occasion, but can make amends this week when we need him the most.
I’ve loved the long term contribution and heroics of the likes of Alan Didak and Ben Johnson: who could forget that tackle against Port Adelaide in the 2002 Qualifying Final or Didak’s smother, snap and shimmy in the 2010 Grand Final? I will always extract a far amount of satisfaction that both players experienced premiership glory in the colours they so clearly love.
With this said, I feel that 2013 is a year that we need to see a passing of the guard, similar to what we saw in 2010. Both players have struggled in recent years for form and fitness and whilst I have no doubt they’ll assist us over the course and provide us with some further memories, we need to accept the reality that they’re unlikely to play a pivotal hand in any further, grander successes.
They are now more likely to be role players, returning me to my point regarding the likes of the next generation of Seedsman and Josh Thomas needing to stand up; I’m calling upon their less battered shoulders to carry more of the load and their younger legs to drive our fortunes.
It has become obvious over the last few weeks that Johnson has lost a yard – maybe more – of pace and probably isn’t going to provide the run-and-carry he was once exceptional at. Seedsman appears to be the heir apparent and needs to take hold of this opportunity with both hands. He has reasonable height (189cm), above average pace, is self confident and is capable of being damaging by foot — but he now needs to bring all this together over four quarters that mean something.
Should he avoid the vest this week, now is that time.
I’m not sure what is really happening with Pendlebury, but if he is carrying something then the club is likely to be cautious given that we have to back-up in short order against Essendon on ANZAC Day. I can’t see any midfielder carrying a niggle being able to run out both games. If Pendlebury doesn’t play, then Macaffer is likely to return and our hopes will turn to all of Blair, Sidebottom and Fasolo to keep us competitive in the middle.
Sinclair has been excused his poor performance last week, but simply needs to have a visible impact this week. I don’t want to see the likes of Houli, Morris or Ellis having it easy when releasing the pressure valve down back. Not only does he need to bring a lot more tangible pressure to the table than he did last week, but he has to start getting dangerous himself — either creating goals or finishing the hard work of others.
Elliott appears to have turned the corner with his finishing, Sinclair needs to follow suit.
Hudson I feel is a fairly good matchup for Maric in what will be an eagerly anticipated contest – something of a sideshow if you will – between beard and mullet. Maric isn’t an ultra athletic, finesse tap work type ruck but instead is a combative, hard working big man who throws his weight around. Basically, Hudson and Maric are very much cut from the same mould and whilst the younger Maric probably has more left in the tank, I can’t really see him exposing Hudson at the contest for spring or agility.
After our dismal final quarter last week, along with the bad news on the injury front during the week, I suspect many Magpie fans have had the wind knocked out of them a bit. Take heart though my Birds of a Feather, for this club has a tendency of standing up when our backs are against the wall.
We saw it interstate against Adelaide last year; we saw it recently against Carlton this year. Hell, we were even down to two on the bench for a long period against North Melbourne and got the job done.
Tomorrow shapes as a tough assignment but our run doesn’t get any easier after this weekend, these four points are extremely valuable. The Richmond hype machine is in full swing and they’ve been a little more impressive with each passing week, but our lads need to ask them the hard question and see how well they hold up over four quarters against a proven team capable of applying immense pressure.
I’m not expecting us to be flying and playing irresistible football at the moment – we’re probably missing too many important players whilst nursing some underdone talent – but I do expect every player to atone for dropping their heads last week by maintaining their pressure and intensity from start to finish this week.
Give these Tigers a baptism in the sort of pressure that a recent premiership side and perennial top four finisher can bring. Let’s see if these cubs can swim, no longer just stringing along the media and their passionate, often rabid fan base.
For they might just drown, like a bag of so many unwanted kittens at the hands of the inhumane.
And as awful and distasteful as that analogy is, let us be those hands tomorrow afternoon.
No animals were harmed during the writing of this preview.