On the surface of it, this game loomed as a bit of a fizzer. A few weeks ago Andy Maher said on SEN that the Suns were playing in the game of ‘least interest’ every weekend, and superficially this was true for Round 20, with Collingwood starting hot favourites to reverse their recent form. It shaped as the perfect time for the Pies to come up against the struggling Suns, with the former having lost four of their last five games, and with the latter having lost 14 games in a row in the lead up.

All is not always as it seems though. The Gold Coast have been in large part the team many experts predicted they would be at the start of the year, in spite of their decent start to the year, in which they won three of their first four games and lost the other by a point. They were, at the very least, competitive last weekend against Essendon, who only won courtesy of goals from Cale Hooker and Jake Stringer in the final minutes. Their form at the MCG has been slightly better than you’d expect, I guess, although in nine seasons of existence they’ve played there just 13 times, and not once since Round 20 last year. They’ve only played Collingwood once there, in 2012, a game most notable for Gary Ablett topping 50 touches for the first and only time.

Collingwood’s recent struggles have been well documented. This is the pitfall of being the biggest club in the land, with media scrutiny following the club no matter what happens. Of course they deserve a little faith as a result of last season, but of all the top six clubs only Geelong have looked as shaky as the Pies over the last six weeks. Since a win against the Dogs in Round 14 to go 10-3, they’ve managed just one win, in a tight Friday night Grand Final rematch three weeks ago. Injuries have of course been a factor, with Jordan de Goey the latest addition to a lengthy injury list that is if nothing else the league’s most experienced. The return of Taylor Adams was no doubt important, but if Gold Coast have shown anything this year it’s that they’re not a team that will roll over like they have in years gone by. In Sunday’s off Broadway encounter, here’s what happened:

TRELOAR, MORE, MORE

 

Whether Adam Treloar had a point to prove today or not is essentially irrelevant, because he proved a point nonetheless. He was afforded far too much space for his running goal from 50, to open the major scoring for his side, but it shows exactly how good he can be with ball in hand. Of course, that goal showed the value of one on one marking down the line, with Mihocek’s clunk leading to the former Giant’s goal.

With the rest of his side taking half a quarter to really work themselves into the game, Treloar took it upon himself to take it up to the Suns, who were bullish early. He was amazing in the first quarter, with 12 touches at 100%, 6 contested, 5 inside 50’s, 5 score involvements, 3 clearances and 275 metres gained. No matter who you are, that’s an unbelievable quarter of footy, and he was hugely important in handing the Pies the quarter time ascendancy.

At the first break Stewie Dew and his coaching staff simply had no choice but to roll Touk Miller onto him. Miller might not be the best shutdown tagger in the league, but he has had success in the role before, most notably against Dayne Zorko in Q-Clashes gone past. It made essentially no difference to the contest, with Treloar having four touches in the first four minutes of the second, as well as involvement in both of Collingwood’s first two scores. Even when Treloar wasn’t getting the ball he was having an influence that Miller simply couldn’t counter, and though he was “quieter” in the second he still torched the Suns, with nine more touches at 89%, 5 contested, 2 inside 50’s, 3 score involvements, 4 clearances and 110 metres gained.

He may have been quieter after half time, when the game was essentially done and dusted, but he still had enough influence to be a clear best on ground. 91% of his 35 touches were effective, 15 of them were contested, 13 of them were score involvements, to go with 10 clearances and nine inside 50’s. All of those statistics, unbelievably, were game highs, with only Tom Phillips having more than his 551 metres gained.

A THORN IN THE SUNS’ SIDE, OR A PAIN IN THEIR BOTTOM

 

Or potentially both. With Jordan de Goey out, as the focal point of their attack, Nathan Buckley was afforded an opportunity to experiment with his forward set up. In the first quarter they went conventional, as may be expected, but after quarter time Steele Sidebottom was thrust into a high half forward role. There has been plenty written about his drop off in raw statistical numbers, having been shifted onto a wing to allow others more midfield minutes.

Sidebottom kicked 10 goals in a TAC Cup Grand Final, so obviously has some level of forward craft, and with this representing the perfect opportunity to experiment, Buckley’s decision to play him out of the forward line paid off nicely. He looked genuinely dangerous whenever he got space in the front half, which was a little too often from Dew’s perspective.  His impact forward of centre was tremendous, and while he should have nailed a set shot, he managed to earn just reward by soccering through a ball from the goal square which was, in a word, fortuitous, and in two words, extremely fortunate.

In the end he could easily have finished the day with three goals, having handed one off to Will Hoskin-Elliott in the third. 11 of his 27 touches resulted in scores, with 2.1 his own scoreboard return, while he also laid seven tackles in an impressive performance. His September last year was one to remember, having been clearly the Pies’ most important finals performer, and while they face a test to get there again this year, Sidebottom looms as an important factor if they are to get to the Grand Final again.

PROTOSTARS

 

I had to look up astro-physics on Wikipedia to find this subheading, so it’s exceedingly tenuous, but the Sun is, as we all know from Primary School, a star, and stars in their infancy are known as protostars. The Gold Coast list, as it currently stands, is at that stage, with a number of young players who are still just learning their craft.

Ben King’s signature looms as the most pressing for the Gold Coast’s list management in coming years, followed closely by Jack Lukosius’. King might not have had a huge impact on this contest, in part due to the Collingwood midfield tearing their counterparts to shreds and in part because Collingwood’s defence was stoic all day. He still managed to kick three goals, after his four goal haul last week, and while he still needs to fill out, he showed his forward craft is more than handy. His contested mark for his third was a beauty floating across the pack, and Gold Coast simply must move heaven and earth to win his signature.

Jack Lukosius was more than handy too against the Pies. His kick to King was a scorcher, and would probably have had Suns’ fans pretty excited. Ultimately it set up Sexton’s goal from 50, which really showed the Suns were up for the contest. The young Sun had a few good moments in the second, with his kicking especially a feature, and finished the day with 21 touches at 76%, with seven rebounds and 449 metres gained. Jacob Dawson and Charlie Ballard were also handy down back, with 29 marks amid 44 touches between the pair of them, but ultimately the sheer amount of entries were impossible to counter.

Jack Bowes had moments early, with his bursts through the middle of the ground in the first quarter setting up both of the Suns’ first two scores, but he ultimately tired and didn’t have much of an impact at all in the second half. Ben Ainsworth showed his talent at times too, and should have nailed the Suns’ third goal, but just couldn’t keep himself as a factor in the game.

Stewie Dew really needed a much bigger day from Jack Martin. His skills are well known, and when he does have an impact it makes a huge difference to the Suns’ outfit. He simply couldn’t get himself into the contest on Sunday. His goal came when the game was already over, and his eight touches provided very little for his side. I just don’t think he fits the profile of where Gold Coast are currently at, and as a result I can’t see him there next year. Jonathan Brown on commentary said a team somewhere would probably pay him $700k, and while that’s their prerogative, his year has not been anywhere near that value at this stage.

Ultimately for the Gold Coast it was just a case of too little from too many. David Swallow battled hard again, but didn’t get enough support, Miles and Miller were decent without being spectacular, and Alex Sexton kicked three goals, two of which were excellent finishes. Too many of their players just couldn’t influence the contest, with Martin and Peter Wright chief among those.

KEEPING YOUR WITTS ABOUT YOU

 

While the Queen’s Birthday clash over the last few years has provided us with one of the most captivating ruck battles of recent times on a consistent basis, this clash provided us with one just as tantalising. Jarrod Witts was a clear best on ground last week against Essendon, despite his side’s loss, and has been more than handy all year, leading the league in hitouts. Coming up against his former side added to the intrigue. Of course, Brodie Grundy has also been magnificent this season, with his ruckwork across the course of the season having him first in line for a second consecutive All Australian blazer. Last week, he was probably outpointed by Ivan Soldo and Mabior Chol, though, so he had a bit of a point to prove heading into this one.

The first quarter didn’t really give us any indicators as to who would win the contest overall on the day. Grundy and Cox had a slight ascendancy in the hitouts at quarter time, but the clearances were split 10 apiece, somewhat surprisingly, so there was no real winner in the first. Grundy began to dominate in the second, with Collingwood winning the second quarter clearances 12-5, though Grundy’s impact around the ground was not quite at his usual standard in the first half.

Witts, conversely, was handy, with nine touches to Grundy’s 10 at half time, but had no score involvements, as the Suns struggled to capitalise on any midfield wins they had. Couldn’t really get on top though, and while I’m sure Dew would have taken a breakeven at the end of the day, I’m sure he would have preferred Witts to really get on top when he had the chance.

Grundy’s only real blemish in the first half was an off the ball free which gifted King a goal in the shadow of half time. It definitely was not the Pie’s smartest decision. He also pulled out of a contest inside forward 50 late in the third when the game was pretty much done and dusted, and while it certainly was unlike him, it would be hard to blame him for entering a little bit of a self preservation mode.

After half time Grundy put Witts essentially in his dust. His influence in the third was enormous, with the first two clearances out of the centre and a wonderful goal from a boundary throw in. He’d flicked the switch, clearly. Eight touches, a goal, and his team won the clearances 10-7 for the quarter. Maybe a result of having to ruck essentially solo for the entire quarter, with Mason Cox not reemerging after half time with an eye injury. His shepherd on the wing for Tom Phillips in the third quarter was a thing of beauty, and it so very nearly paid off, with the ball being slapped out of Mihocek’s hand at the final second.

In the end, after a relatively even first half, Grundy’s dominance of the second half was probably sufficient to have him in the votes. He won the hitouts handily against Witts, which is no easy feat. Collingwood won the clearances 44-29, of which their ruckman had eight himself. Only Treloar had more, while he was one of four Magpies to have double digit score involvements. The others were Sidebottom, as mentioned above, and Taylor Adams, who was also reasonably handy on his return to the senior side.

SIDE BY SIDE

 

It would be hard to have found a Magpie on the ground who didn’t have some kind of impact on the contes. Mason Cox only played a half but kicked a goal and looked competitive in the ruck when he had to go in there. Will Hoskin-Elliot has been well down this year on his previous form, and hadn’t had a touch halfway through the second, but he made his first one count though, with a perfect set shot from 45 hard on the boundary. Had a pretty good day after quarter time, finishing with four goals from 11 marks, and if he can return to form it adds another avenue to goal for the Pies in September with Stephenson and de Goey to return.

Trav Varcoe was dangerous too, bobbing up in the second quarter with 2.1 and a goal assist after not having a touch in the first. His leg speed was hard to match forward of centre. Desperately unlucky to give away a free to Miller in the third with a rundown tackle, but he showed he can provide some September spark to the Pies where needed. Brody Mihocek worked pretty hard, and could have had three or four goals pretty easily, but had to settle for 2.2 from 10 marks. He looked a lot better when he was the tallest forward in the Collingwood setup.

Scott Pendlebury and Jack Crisp had good days again, from two of Nathan Buckley’s most dependable players. The backline was rock solid, with Jordan Roughead returning from a nasty concussion last week to be impassable once again, Jeremy Howe mastering the airs again with a team high eight intercepts, and Brayden Maynard once again the picture of consistency.

If wins against the Gold Coast have become a little of an asterisk at this point of the year, Collingwood would still have to be happy with how they won today. A few players found form at the right time of the year, and their ball movement looked a lot more positive than it has at stages in the second half of the year. The magnitude of the victory might have been irrelevant, but it was nevertheless critical to get the ball rolling into the final two months of the season.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

I feel like I haven’t really written much about the Suns in this, but that’s at least partially because after quarter time they simply couldn’t get into the game. The building blocks are all there, but player retention looms as absolutely vital, and losing either of King or Lukosius would be devastating. I can’t see where their fourth win comes from this year, with the Q-Clash next week, then the Hawks at Marvel and GWS at home to round out a year which started so promisingly but has somewhat faded into obscurity.

I’ve written a lot about the Pies in this one too, so I’ll keep this relatively brief. Melbourne next week may be a slight challenge, although with the way the Dees are playing at the monet you’d pretty much be willing to chalk that one down. The final fortnight of the year will be fascinating though, with games against the Crows away and Essendon at the G to have a huge impact on the final makeup of the top eight.