It is about that time – in fact it’s probably overdue – that we begin to seriously discuss the look of our starting 22 come the beginning of the season. This year, I thought I might have a crack at a preferred 22 both before and after the completion of the NAB Challenge, which allows me to be a little more speculative and subjective in terms of wishful selections prior to the NAB Challenge. After the NAB Challenge, when player availability based on form and injury becomes clearer, along with the potential of a preseason ‘bolter’ or two, I will naturally defer more to probability based on exposed form.
I did contemplate throwing together a team for the first NAB Challenge game, but elected to bypass this option and forecast a Round 1 side from a little further out, owing to the extended benches and inconsequential nature of the preseason exhibition games, which lends itself quite understandably to experimentation.
As mentioned, it is my intention to redo the 22 at the end of our scratch matches. Expanding upon this, I also hope to find the time to project how I hope the 22 will shape-up by the end of the year, based on hopeful player development and so forth.
I’m quite sure many amongst the readership have already dabbled with their own preferred line-ups. I’m also sure that like myself, you’ve probably switched around the magnets multiple times in the course of trying to settle on something satisfactory. So as something of a disclaimer, I reserve the right to change my mind even after I hit the publish button on this piece.
For the sake of cohesion, I’ve elected to go line by line from the back half to the front, but I will save the midfield and centre line until last, so that I can cover it as a whole.
|B||M. WILLIAMS||N. BROWN||J. RAMSAY|
|HB||T. LANGDON||B. REID||B. MAYNARD|
Immediately, one is confronted with difficult choices. When considering the back six – at least in a traditional sense on paper – I had four locks in mind. Williams, Brown, Langdon and the recent defensive returnee in Reid. The other two spots occupied by Ramsay and Maynard above were less straightforward. Of course, I wanted at least one in the team and had to fight against the temptation of allotting one spot to a more conservative selection, with Toovey being the most obvious candidate.
But my thoughts turned to last year, where it has to be said that Toovey’s form was fairly indifferent. Anyone who has followed me over the years would know that I have rated Toovey highly for quite a time, particularly in terms of his ability to shut down smalls and talls. Whilst I hope that last year may simply be written off for a possum who had the wind knocked out of its sails, with a view to improving our efficiency coming out of the back half – particularly by foot – I cannot deny a desire to see a couple of youngsters provide a more polished exit strategy.
What is also apparent about the players listed above is that we may be a little vulnerable in terms of aerial deterrence. Reid and Brown will tangle with the tall timber; but a third tall may cause us some headaches with the above outfit. Tom Langdon, who I rate, is still something of a ‘tweener’ in that he isn’t a player you would confidently assign to a third tall, particularly one with a dangerous streak, whilst Maynard appears more of a bullish medium defender whose standout trait could potentially be his delivery by foot.
This is where Langdon shapes as a key for me, in that if he can elevate his game another rung or two and add that heightened level of accountability, whilst taking further strides in his intercept game, then we may be able to accommodate the developing duo of Ramsay and Maynard as our next generation of small/medium defenders who can provide some quality rebound.
As for Maynard, if his form holds up during the preseason and he finds himself in our round one team, I actually wouldn’t mind seeing him entrusted with the kick out duties for a period. I wouldn’t hand the ball to either of Williams or Brown in this circumstance, whilst Tom Langdon has been prone to the odd brain fade out of the goal square — perhaps just youthful hiccups.
Reid has a howitzer leg, but I would prefer him to be providing a marking target on the arc or even spotting up for that 25 metre short option, where he can use his prowess to set us up with a rocket to midfield or the wing. Maynard’s kicking was a noted attribute when we drafted him, which sets him apart from Ramsay, who we’ll be looking to shut down a player and provide some running rebound in conjunction with Williams.
What about Marsh? Trust that I hear you loud and clear. Be sure that I rate the lad highly, but suspect he’ll be looking to build again at the lower level briefly after his late year setback. Come the middle of the year, depending on how our defensive unit is combining and performing individually, I would like to try a three tall setup with Marsh involved at the expense of a tired or struggling youngster. This could even be accommodated via the possibility of moving Williams further up the ground as part of our midfield contingent, testing the waters on how far we can broaden his own horizons.
I expect both of Goldsack and Toovey to play a part in weathering a long season, and I’m not opposed to either player holding onto a spot if they are performing on a weekly basis, but the winds of change have been rocking our nest for a while and no player is above such elements.
Oxley may also prove another factor, as I wouldn’t be writing him off yet. Jack Frost will be the understudy for Nathan Brown, but if Reid is to miss I would probably prefer if we looked toward Marsh if he is up and about. I’m a fan of how Frost goes about his footy and he is to be commended for how he has put in the last two years, but I would like to see him work on polishing some of those rough edges. He is certainly very healthy depth at this stage.
We may also elect to play someone like Aish, Phillips or even Varcoe from a half-back flank in a sweeping and distributing role — we may just be spoiled for combinations.
And now, the front half.
|HF||S. SIDEBOTTOM||T. CLOKE||T. BROOMHEAD|
|F||J. ELLIOTT||D. MOORE||J. WHITE|
I’ll explain right off the bat that the reason for Jeremy Howe’s omission at this early stage is simply through strange convenience. He’s obviously had setbacks over the off-season, his most recent fairly comical if the reports are true, so for the time being I’ve elected to keep him on ice when contemplating this team.
I remain hopeful that Howe can surprise a few doubters – and I have some quiet reservations myself – by adding another dangerous element to our forward line and adding some value comparable to Varcoe of last year.
Also, I will not deny my desire for Broomhead to kick on and form a dangerous combination with Sidebottom as crafty high half forwards who can add some crumbing nous when operating deeper within our forward line. To be fair, there haven’t been any reports from track watchers about Broomhead tearing up the track and his development to date has been interrupted with injury, but I remain hopeful that he’ll come on very soon.
If Aish outperforms Broomhead during our upcoming scratch matches, then you could possibly swap them out and name Aish – on the team sheet at least – on a forward flank. Alternatively, throw Swan or Fasolo into that space and have Aish running off the bench, potentially as that sweeper down back (the plus one) that I touched on earlier.
I would like to see Sidebottom get forward a lot more often in the coming year, as he’s the sort of player who I feel is more value to us getting 20-25 touches whilst adding a couple of goals as opposed to amassing 30 or more in general play without threatening the scoreboard. We’ve been bereft of some smaller forward nous and Sidebottom, whilst not fleet of foot or mercurial in the traditional sense, is a dual-sided threat with an exceptional football IQ.
I would like to see Cloke more mobile – something many Pies fans have been calling for in recent years – providing that contested marking target through the middle of the ground and working his opponent over aerobically. Expanding on this, if Cloke is marking along the wings or the middle of the ground I hope we can program his first instinct to be a handball to some runners, who will hopefully be present more often than not.
Darcy Moore needs to continue his development unencumbered with any expected – and potentially wearying – rucking duties. I don’t mind him operating from full-forward, given license to roam so that he can call upon his mobility and athletic traits. Of course, when it comes to our key forwards I would prefer to see Moore attempting to convert from 30 out on a slight angle as opposed to Cloke.
Whilst I don’t mind Jamie Elliott getting up the ground to assist and get his hands on the ball when supply has dried up, I don’t want to see him as part of our midfield rotations. I consider our depth in that department sufficient and if things go to plan, potentially abundant, so I would rather not rob our forward line of a genuine weapon for the sake of midfield overkill.
Elliott has proven capable of kicking a bag of 3-5 and has been on track for a 40 plus goal year the last two seasons prior to injury niggles and diminished supply as the team hit a mid-season wall. Tether him closer to goal, at least in terms of how we structure up at each bounce, and give him every opportunity to reach those scoreboard benchmarks.
Bringing us to the much maligned Jesse White, who I’ve elected to go with from the opening round on the basis of not being entirely sold on playing Witts and Grundy in tandem. White enables us to spare Moore from the ruck whilst offering us more mobility than either Grundy or Witts. His mobility in combination with a roaming Cloke and an athletic Darcy Moore may scramble the defence, particularly if the likes of Elliott, Sidebottom and Broomhead can be lively in conjunction with our talls.
Contractually, White is on his last year and I see no harm in giving him a chance to earn an extension. If he struggles once more, then we turn to the Witts and Grundy option and hope that one of them – preferably both – further develop their forward game. Depending on how things pan out with a return to four on the bench and limited rotations, we may also be able to better accommodate two genuine rucks. For now though, I’m giving White one last chance.
All of Swan, De Goey and Fasolo will also roll through our forward line. Fasolo – who I felt had a solid year in 2015 – may get the nod ahead of Broomhead as a starter on field depending on preseason form. De Goey and Swan will split their time between the forward line and the midfield. Blair is an obvious omission at this stage and whilst I wouldn’t be surprised to see him named from the get go, not unlike Toovey and Goldsack I’m expecting him to come under heavy scrutiny to keep his spot this year.
I rate Blair’s endeavour highly and actually felt he was earning his selection early last year, but when things get tough for the side he just lacks a few weapons. I can’t help but feel that there are some others who have a few more strings to their bow – even if in some cases this is based on potential – who may also demand a little more thought and attention from the opposition.
It has been suggested that Macaffer may be reinvented once more as a defensive forward; or perhaps it might be more accurate to state that he’ll be returned to his original guise. If all goes well, Caff may find it difficult to win his way back into the seniors, but he’s been stoic in adversity and a top quality club man, so no-one would begrudge him being given every chance to do so.
It’ll be interesting to see if any of our younger faces in Sier, Crocker or Phillips can make a case for that forward flank baptism in year one.
Finally, we come to the all important midfield, incorporating the centre line and the interchange bench.
|C||T. VARCOE||A. TRELOAR||J. CRISP|
|FOLL||B. GRUNDY||S. PENDLEBURY||T. ADAMS|
|INT||A. FASOLO||L. GREENWOOD|
|D. SWAN||J. DE GOEY|
Starting on either wing, I’ve elected to go with Varcoe and Crisp, largely on the back of their respective engines. Now, neither are blistering in terms of pace, but they have the ability to get up and down the field repeatedly, enabling them to ride the wings, link up and provide some run and carry.
In addition, with Varcoe starting from a wing, he can always roll around to become that extra in defence to provide some rebound. Crisp may also do the same, but I would provide some clear instruction whereby one is charged with the responsibility of shoring up our back-line and escape routes; whilst the other is provided with some liberty to get offensive. We’ve already seen what Crisp can do from long range with a full head of steam, not to mention some nicely weighted passes to forwards. So with that said, I would lean towards having the seasoned head in Varcoe cut a path from the defensive line and the pleasantly surprising young buck given the green light to panic the opposition in transition.
The highly rated Treloar, our prized recruit, will slot straight into our midfield brigade and likely be starting on the pitch. Pendlebury will continue to be Pendlebury, and outside of the middle when resting or for rotational purposes we may see him distribute from half-back as we saw in our late season clash with Geelong whilst our younger brigade carry the torch in the middle, or he may also be thrown forward.
Adams took further strides in our colours last year and will continue on as the heir to Luke Ball as our primary bullocking inside midfielder. I felt he improved his kicking in comparison to his first year with us, but he is still prone to the odd shank. His consistency, grit and production cannot be questioned however. He was deserving of his Copeland finish and if he can put a lid on the white line fever, continue to rack up the numbers and stay within his limits – not unlike his inside predecessor whose kicking was blunted via injury – by taking the obvious options and using the ball conscientiously, he will be critical to any success we have.
I’ve gone with Grundy as our primary ruck initially, based entirely on last year’s output. I felt Grundy took some strides after an indifferent second season, but this spot is still very much up for grabs and will be determined in the coming month, as Witts has apparently been fairly impressive on the track and after digging in his heels during the trade period, may just be a man on a mission.
Off the bench we’ll have Dane Swan as something of a shock trooper to roll through the midfield or worry the opposition up front. In the twilight of his career, Swan still has something to offer if we can find a way to use him as a burst weapon once more. His one-on-one ability, particularly if isolated deep, may add a game breaking factor. Whilst he’s understandably not as dynamic as he was a few seasons back, he still knows how to find it and can add something to our rotations to keep the ball heading our way.
Greenwood I suspect will be our preferred run-with player, after his excellent jobs on the likes of Cotchin and Selwood in the back half of last year. This is very much year one for him in the black-and-white after he was derailed before even getting started in 2015, so it’ll be interesting to see how he changes our dynamic if he remains fit for 22 rounds. Outside of just shutting a prime mover down, he also knows how to find the football himself and along with Adams, will perform a lot of heavy lifting which may enable the likes of Treloar and Pendlebury to get dangerous a step from the coalface.
De Goey is entering his second year after some very impressive glimpses in his debut season and more than most, I suspect many eyes will be tracking him closely. If he develops as his early signs have hinted, along with Treloar he could become one of those dynamic mids able to win the ball and break away from stoppages. He’s not what you would consider fast, but he reads the tap quite well and tends to win the ball in motion, buying him a few extra steps on his flat footed counterparts.
De Goey will rotate between half-forward and the middle, but I expect the balance of that split to tilt more towards the middle incrementally as the year progresses. Assuming of course that his form holds up, which I hope is the case.
Fasolo fills the other spot on the bench, but you could just as easily exchange him with Broomhead. I felt Fasolo had close to his best year overall in 2015, although that isn’t to say that he truly came of age or that there isn’t plenty of room for improvement. I don’t know if you could confidently include Fas as part of our midfield rotations, but I wouldn’t rule it out. Nonetheless, even as a specialist forward he can be dangerous with his nous and marking. Last year his accuracy seemed to desert him at stages, something he’ll hopefully recapture as he had the opportunity to prove the match winner on a couple of occasions but wilted — somewhat uncharacteristically for a player of his confidence.
On midfield rotations, we should see all of Pendlebury, Treloar, Adams, Greenwood, Swan, De Goey, Crisp, Varcoe and it is quite likely that we’ll also see Sidebottom and Broomhead run through there in patches also. This gives us an estimated depth of 10, although you would expect that the bulk of our midfield will be driven by the initial 6 or 7 — with the others doing more damage on the periphery.
Looking at the interchange, I admit that it is midfield heavy and I can’t help but feel that a standout utility would have probably been my preference. This is where Howe may prove ideal as a player who we aim to use predominantly forward, but could be handy insurance in the event of an injury down back or providing tactical flexibility if we want to inject a little more height from a wing or marking prowess through the middle of the ground.
If this exercise and all the indecision it has caused has taught me anything, it’s that when perusing our list we do appear to have the ability to come up with some strikingly different combinations. With some creative selection, it may enable us to throw opposition teams off-balance from week to week.
Before I sign off, I’ll say once more that these are just some initial thoughts and I fully expect that this team will change significantly in a month’s time, after we’ve seen a few scratch matches. Please also forgive any typos or grammatical errors on my part, as I’ve been determined to make up for lost time and have punched this out somewhat frantically. Now that I find myself here at the end, I’m foregoing the proofreading and editing phase so that I can fire this out to you all as this Friday evening gets away from me.
So this is me, pressing the button…