Collingwood needs to rest Travis Cloke for as long as it takes for him to be 100 per cent. It might be hard for Pies fans to swallow as many would see the absence of Cloke as the final nail in the coffin for 2015, but it needs to happen.
After last year where the Magpies sat 8-3 after 11 rounds then capitulated to miss finals, many supporters are on edge trying to tell each other it will not happen again. Four losses in a row makes the ledger look like it is heading that way, but considering those losses came against the three best sides and Port Adelaide away, it is not all doom and gloom.
In all those matches the Pies pushed the opposition in at least three quarters and against Fremantle, Hawthorn and Port Adelaide had the chance to secure the four points. This is the same Hawthorn side that is belting everyone and the young Pies outfit got within two goals of the juggernaut.
Collingwood lacks polish but not intensity, and that is the difference in those games. This is why Cloke missing might impact the Magpies, but it is not the be all and end all. Some of Collingwood’s biggest issues this season have been delivery inside 50 and decision making once inside 50. Even with a star studded forward line, it would not matter if the players could not deliver it to the leading forward. The biggest concern for the young Magpies should not be results, but the future, particularly the welfare of Cloke.
Soft tissue injuries are the worst ones to get because they are repeat offenders. Just look at Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley and his hamstrings that ended his career. Ben Reid is another perfect example of why Cloke should not be risked, as is Nathan Freeman, the talented youngster who cannot seem to overcome his soft tissue problems.
Cloke needs as much time off as possible and go through as many fitness tests and game day simulations as humanly possible. If Collingwood were playing off for a grand final in a fortnight, Cloke plays. But for a team that is either side of the top eight/bottom eight ledger, it is not worth the risk.
Cloke, while a monster, would not determine the fate of Collingwood’s season by himself. If he needs a month out, or even the rest of the season, let him do it if it means he’ll be 100 per cent fit. It is the only way to see if he is clear of his calf tear. Soft tissue injuries are frustrating for everyone, but it needs to happen.
The next step Collingwood needs to take is how to shape the forward line to accommodate the loss of Cloke. Darcy Moore is the obvious replacement, and Collingwood’s future in a nutshell. He is still raw and will not dominate games, but he has the intensity coach Nathan Buckley loves and will throw himself at every contest, shown when he did not back away from a marking contest with Hawks skipper Luke Hodge coming the other way.
Along with Moore, Dane Swan and Scott Pendlebury should play forward. It is a gutsy call, but one that needs to be made. With Jamie Elliott also out, Collingwood needs some good one-on-one smaller players who read the ball drop well. That is not to say Swan and Pendlebury should not play midfield, but when it is all about the future, throw the young kids into the deep end. When they are tired, send Pendlebury and Swan in on a rotation basis to throw the opposition midfield off. Let’s not forget Travis Varcoe and Jack Crisp could also drop forward and be very dangerous.
Collingwood’s midfield would still consist of Crisp, Steele Sidebottom, Levi Greenwood, Jack Crisp, Jordan De Goey and Taylor Adams after next week. The next player I would raise to throw in that midfield is Marley Williams. He’s strong, finds the ball in a contest, good agility and is solid by hand or foot. He adds a point of difference to that group of inside midfielders.
Finally, I raise Alex Fasolo as a high half forward/midfielder. He is so skilful as a forward, but ultimately he could be developed as a midfielder who rotates with Pendlebury and Swan and kicks those extra couple of goals.
Jarryd Blair is another one who needs to remain forward. He is an average at best midfielder, but above average defensive forward. Blair’s best asset is his tackling and his burst running. He is not quick, but once he works out where the ball drop is, his little legs take off like the Flash. I would also throw in Patrick Karnezis who supporters need to find out if he is up to it.
While nearly all Pies fans are frustrated with Jesse White’s output, he needs to be in for experience, plain and simple. While his performances have been disappointing to say the least, he needs to gain his confidence back, and he is at his best when he is outside 50 taking grabs and kicking it inside the arc. He needs to be Cloke for the next few weeks.
So the makeshift forward line should be:
HF: Patrick Karnezis, Jesse White, Scott Pendlebury
F: Dane Swan, Darcy Moore, Jarryd Blair
While it lacks Cloke, there’s a mix of athletic talls and mart and strong midfielder/forwards. It is not an ideal scenario, but it could be worse.
Pies fans need to overlook the fact Cloke is out and think of the possibilities of his omission. While the Pies will lose their top key forward, the forward line could become more dynamic than ever before with midfielders and forwards rotating constantly and causing the opposition to lose their opponents or question whether their mids follow into defence or stay around the ball.
Cloke’s injury rehabilitation should not be a rush job. It needs to take as long as it needs to be 100 per cent, otherwise Pies fans could have another Ben Reid on their hands.