Jesse-White

Story Of The Summer

After a disappointing elimination final loss to Port Adelaide, Nathan Buckley decided to cut the rope on the old firm and add a new coat of gloss to the clubs culture by moving on former premiership stars headlined by Heath Shaw and Dale Thomas. Both players are still in their prime so the decision didn’t come without its criticism, likewise the dumping of veterans Alan Didak, Darren Jolly and Andrew Krakouer, although the latter were met with a far more diplomatic response given their aging status.

The Magpies could be somewhat forgiven for their 2013 drop in performance from the season prior. They used 40 players in total across the year which was the third-most of any side behind expansion clubs Gold Coast and GWS. Only three players on the Pies’ list managed to play every game, whilst eight newcomers received debuts, the equal second-most with GWS and behind only the rebuilding Saints.

The silver lining behind blooding so much youth is it breeds depth and Collingwood should be ripe to attack 2014 with quality players ready in waiting. As was the case with Geelong, the Magpies have been able to achieve the rare feat of rebuilding their list without bottoming out, evidenced by the addition of top 10 picks Nathan Freeman and Matt Scharenberg.

Summer recruits Patrick Karnezis, Jesse White and Tony Armstrong aren’t household names that will put Collingwood over the top but they’re valuable commodities who can contribute from day one.

Season 2013 was a roller coaster of sorts for Collingwood, and they deserve applause for being proactive about fixing in-house issues before they grew even more toxic. Nathan Buckley made the tough calls that were necessary, and with a far more settled list in year three of his tenure, he’ll be looking to deliver more consistent results and regain the Pies standing as a genuine premiership threat.

Where they Excel

Few teams in the competition possess three genuine Brownlow contenders in their midfield. Scott Pendlebury, Dane Swan and Dayne Beams are game breakers who consistently perform and set the benchmark for the Magpies engine room.

All three of Pendlebury, Swan and Beams were in the top 15 for disposals per game last season after Beams returned in round 16 combining for a lucrative average of 93 disposals, 15.5 clearances, 13.6 inside 50s and three goals per game.

In support Jarryd Blair, Steele Sidebottom, Luke Ball and tagger Ben Macaffer compliment the big three and top off the Magpies’ midfield mix whilst youngsters Josh Thomas, Ben Sinclair, Ben Kennedy and former Giant Taylor Adams have all shown promise.

No team averaged more disposals per game than Collingwood in 2013 and despite ranking fourth overall for turnovers they were exceptional at limiting points on the counter attack conceding the second fewest behind only Fremantle.

If there was one criticism of this midfield group it was their lack of defensive nous at stoppages. The Magpies were excellent at limiting scores from stoppages in 2012 ranking fourth defensively but saw their ranking drop to 11th in 2013. In the preseason hitout against Geelong we saw a more bruising Collingwood outfit lay 91 tackles, their highest total since round 14 2012 which gives the impression a more focused and committed Magpie outfit can be expected.

Hiccups on the Horizon

Anyone who watched Collingwood in 2013 could identify a far too heavy reliance on Travis Cloke. The Pies’ forward line became predictable and one-dimensional with seemingly every entry directed towards the runner-up Coleman Medallist. Only Jeremy Cameron was in the same ball park regarding percentage of team targets inside 50, and as a result the Magpies scoring efficiency plummeted to 11th, the lowest ranking of all last season’s finals sides.

Despite the obvious Collingwood managed to find Cloke in front of goal frequently but unfortunately that often proved to be the easy part. Few forwards in the history of the game have been more unreliable than Cloke in front of goal. In 2013 no player sprayed more set shots at goal out on the full and no player inside the top 20 on the Coleman tally converted at a lower percentage. Minus Cloke the top 10 players in last season’s Coleman race had an average set shot accuracy of 67.7% compared to Cloke at 56.9%. When you’re targeted over 100 times more and experience 20 more shots at goal than Jarryd Roughead yet still can’t win the Coleman heaven help you.

With a lack of forward line spread a lingering concern former All-Australian defender Ben Reid looks to be the sacrificial lamb to the “kick it to Cloke” slaughter. The Reid experiment started to pay dividends against Brisbane in round 10 last season and was used sporadically with largely positive success as Reid bagged three or more majors on five separate occasions. With Lachie Keeffe and Nathan Brown fully fit in defence the Pies can transition Reid from super swingman to permanent forward in order to give their spine the required balance.

Small forward Jamie Elliot had a superb sophomore season kicking 30 goals as a dangerous livewire, whilst new recruit Jesse White finally fulfilled his potential as a key forward in Sydney last year and booted five majors against the Cats in the NAB Challenge to suggest he will add value. Livewire Alex Fasolo also returns from injury and adds another dimension to the once stale Pies forward line.

The Skinny

It’s hard to judge the impact a lack of unity can have behind the scenes of a playing list but it appeared to sour the Magpies prospects a year ago. What is black and white is the Magpies’ plethora of talent and far more structured balance. Old habits die hard but if Collingwood can remove the Cloke funnel and focus on securing a handful of regular contributors up forward they’re capable of surprising for a top four finish.

The other hurdle for Collingwood is the opportunity to grow into the season will be non-existent with a nightmare opening seven weeks to start their 2014 campaign. Fremantle, Sydney, Geelong, Richmond, North Melbourne, Essendon and Carlton are all of September calibre and will demand the Magpies’ best football from the first bounce which could potentially make or break the season before the bye kicks in. The flipside is if Collingwood can get through relatively unscathed they set themselves up for an excellent second half of the year, having five games at the MCG definitely helps.

Ladder Range: 4-10

Best 22

B: M.Williams, N.Brown, A.Toovey

HB: P.Seedsman, L.Keefe, H.Lumumba

C: J.Blair, D.Swan, D.Beams

HF: J.White, B.Reid, S.Sidebottom

F: J.Elliott, T.Cloke, S.Dwyer

Foll: B.Grundy, S.Pendlebury, L.Ball

Int: T.Adams, B.Macaffer, C.Young

S: J.Thomas

 

You can follow Scott on Twitter: @ScottyBarby

All data courtesy of AFL.com.au, Herald Sun, Footywire and Foxsports