The Lead up

With the Suns sitting 13th and a win behind Collingwood in 8th, the scene was set for a clash to determine whether Gold Coast could match their young stars with a Collingwood team that seems on the brink of something big.

Losing Brody Grundy to injury meant changing the mix of what has been a very handy midfield rotation for the Pies, while allowing Aiden Begg to debut as a chop out for Darcy Cameron.

The Suns welcomed back Macpherson, Farrar, Rosas and Lukosius to the squad. Were it not for the season-ending injury to Ben King, they’d be pretty content with the brevity of their injury list.

 

Opening

GC started strong, working hard to keep pressure on the Collingwood ball carriers, forcing turnovers from the normally reliable workers such as Pendlebury and Sidebottom and ending up with a strong mark and goal to Casboult.

Matt Rowell pushed hard at the next centre bounce providing Ainsworth with a chance to add to his highlight reel with a no-look handball to Anderson who found Rosas in space for another textbook mark and goal from precise, quick movement into the forward 50.

And then, Collingwood woke up.

Tightening up in defence and running wide to space to move the ball along the mid-wing gave them the sort of ball security usually r3eserved for blokes in chastity belts. Seven goals in a row to Collingwood saw them surge into the lead, with De Goey, McCreery, Mihocek, Ginnivan and Tyler Brown all getting majors while Cameron kicked two.

Just when Gold Coast would adjust to cover the wider wings, Collingwood would open up the play through the middle, launching from half-back to find open players moving at speed. It’s amazing how much better a team looks when runners are skating by the player taking the mark, ready for the quick handoff. It puts the defence on the back foot, and Collingwood exploited this frequently as they pressured Gold Coast to decide between moving up into a high zone defence or sticking close to their man and being pulled out of the corridor.

A late goal to Chol and an unfortunate miss from Casboult taking another classic contested mark gave the Suns a bit of momentum coming into the first break.

 

Mid game

Casboult sought to make amends for his earlier miss with a pair of marks that resulted in goals. The first was his usually contested mark, aided by Witts putting his large frame at the drop of the ball to stop any additional flyers, while the second of the quarter was a classic goose step to lose the defender and find space 15 metres out.

Gold Coast still had some work to do but seemed up to the task for much of the quarter, but some wayward kicking from half back cost them several forward 50 entries. They had several chances, with an unlucky miss to Lukosius before Jack Madgen somehow found himself in the open running towards the 50-metre arc. There’s something almost romantic about a backman’s eyes lighting up as they realise, they can have a ping at the sticks, and Madgen looked like he had hit the defender’s jackpot when he launched from 50 to kick just the second goal of his 47-game career.

Nick Holman got one back for the Suns, but Collingwood turned up the pace to kick three goals in three minutes through a fantastic pair from Mihocek; one from an in-play snap and another from a pack mark that he had no real right to take, but made the most of it, and capped off by a goal of the year contender from Ginnivan that hurt every Gold Coast supporter in the country. Mainly because they know it’ll be replayed all week because a) it’s Collingwood, and b) it was actually very, very good.

Again, Casboult and Col got a couple late in the quarter for their sides to give them some level of optimism into the long break, but Collingwood looked settled and confident, which is never good for opposing teams, or supporters that like to see Collingwood struggle, which to be fair is almost everyone else in the country.

Dew fired up his team and was rewarded with early goals to Holman and Chol while Casboult was doing everything possible to lift his side with smart leads and hitting packs hard. At the five-minute mark, they’d managed to peg the margin back to nine points, and looked to be getting a bit of momentum their way, helped by some bullish work by Rowell in the middle that tested the umps on whether attempted fend-offs counted as prior opportunity. Matty got the benefit of the doubt on most occasions though, which is good for the spectacle of the game, though seemingly not a belief shared by the black and white army in attendance.

The rest of the third term mirrored the earlier quarters, with Gold Coast’s strong start met with a heavy challenge and then Collingwood making the most of late momentum, except this time they didn’t take their foot off the gas late in the quarter.

 

Crunch time

Again, Gold Coast managed the first of the term through Ainsworth, though not without Collingwood making them earn every metre. Josh Daicos had been working hard all day to create space and separation from his opponent on the wing, and finally managed to get forward as part of the classic three-man weave that caused the Gold Coast defence to try and cover five players with three teammates. Josh’s goal gave the Pies a five-goal break, and they shifted to working to contain and counter Gold Coast, rather than try and burn through all their petrol tickets and score while the Suns upped the intensity again.

As Gold Coast were attempting to mount a comeback, Touk Miller was trying to be the player to lift his team in their moment of need. He was everywhere, running with pace and purpose, but just didn’t have the aid required around him. One key play early in the last quarter had miller timing his run to be five metres away from Ellis when Ellis gathered a handball from Anderson on the 50-metre arc. He received the ball well and looked set to take a clean shot at goal, but Quaynor had it well scouted, taking advantage of Miller holding back to time his movement and getting Touk with a run-down tackle that had the Pies fans cheering and his teammates nodding approvingly, understanding that on this day, they could take what Gold Coast could dish out and return it with interest.

Miller still managed two goals in the final term, but by the time Callum Brown kicked his first for the day, the game was well and truly Collingwood’s win.

 

 

Collingwood finished with 30 scoring shots, an effort that will no doubt please the coaching staff, though they would of course prefer a little more accuracy from the third quarter where they managed 4.5, with three of those goals coming late in the quarter to see off the spirited comeback from the Suns.

 

Midfield matchups

In the red corner, we have Miller, Rowell, Ellis, Swallow and Anderson VS Brown, Adams, Crisp, Daicos, Sidebottom, Pendlebury and Daicos Mk II. Be honest, that’s a midfield contest that gets sports fans excited. You’ve got old hands and young stars matching up for each side and a ruck battle that doesn’t look like it had too much impact on the clearances. The scene was set for the players in the square to go toe-to-toe and show who had the skill, speed and courage to give their team the quick break from stoppages.

From an individual perspective, it’s impossible to go past Touk Miller’s efforts. 36 touches (17 contested), 10 clearances, six tackles, 10 score involvements and two goals off his own boot. Almost every goal from the suns either started with him, involved him or finished with him. It was a massive return to the sort of form that Gold Coast has enjoyed from him for the past few years. Will it see him climb the ranks of Brownlow favourites? I think GC will need a few more wins for him to surpass the more fancied players, but he’s certainly capable of matching the best out there on his day. It’d be worth putting a sneaky fiver on him now, just so if he does get up you can brag to all your mates about how you knew he was quality before anyone else did. If he craps the bed, well it’s five bucks (gamble responsibly).

 

Forward craft

Levi Casboult. The high-flying enigma. When he’s in form, he has buckets for hands and will leap up, over or through a dozen players to claim a mark and kick with textbook accuracy. On his off days, he’ll still take the marks but he’s about as accurate as a politician’s election promises.

Chol was handy, but it was Casboult’s marking that became the most reliable weapon for Gold Coast. His 4.4 return could still stand some improvement though. The Pies countered his pack marking by trying to fill his space and stick on his shoulder as much as possible, and it worked fairly well most of the time. It’ll be exciting to see how he and King function together next season, because Casboult has been exceptionally good value for money for the Suns so far this year.

At the other end, Mihocek was doing a bit of everything. He’s in career-best form and ably supported by crumbing forwards and some very intelligent field kicking from Pat Lipinski inside the forward 50. Finding an open forward with a short kick is an incredibly valuable skill to have in any side, but in this game, it gave Collingwood forwards a significant boost to know that any lead could be honoured at any time.

 

Same old situation

Another season, another batch of rumours about Dew being under pressure.

So, after surviving all the other seasons where his future was questioned, will 2022 see Dew slowly amble off into the distance? I think the biggest factor in that will be who the Gold Coast could line up to replace him. After he took the reins, the club systematically turned over the coaching staff. One of the ones that raised the most eyebrows was Assistant Coach Dean Solomon, someone that had been in contention for several head coaching roles in the lead up. Articles by former teammate Andrew Welsh at the time suggested this was Dew making sure his own job was secure by turfing out a coach that was both well-regarded and had history with the club, spending nine years building the playing group.

Though it’s worth mentioning that his sacking coincided with four other coaches during the time the teams were dumping salary with the heavy impact of Covid on the season. Solomon seems to be content to stay on the Gold Coast and run his burgeoning fitness empire, but could he be tempted to come back after two years out?

As is common with all embattled clubs, the media starts invoking the Holy Trinity of coaching. The father, Ross Lyon—despite being out of the system for many years now. The son, Alistair Clarkson, and the Holy Ghost, Paul Roos, whose work at Sydney and Melbourne have given him something of a club-whisperer reputation.

The elephant in the room with any coaching discussion though is the fact that Alistair Clarkson hasn’t signed a contract (or at least publicly admitted to doing so) has every coach not in premiership contention becoming the subject of rumours that Clarko is coming for their job. He’s the monster under the bed, just waiting to swoop in, magically bring the club into a premiership window and evolve each player into some sort of demi-God, beginning a dynasty for Gold Coast. Or his original team in North. Or the Bulldogs, Eagles, Freo, Essendon, St Kilda, Darwin, Port Adelaide, South Adelaide, Griffith, or the St Aloysius school for the blind’s u/13s girls team. Assuming that is, he doesn’t want to be the inaugural Tasmanian coach.

Some areas of the media seem to have him confused with Santa Claus, stuffing team list with premierships while everyone else is sleeping.

There are also plenty of other emerging coaches in the system, but would Gold Coast want to drop Dew to roll the dice on one of them?

It’s all a bit of a mystery, but as long as the Gold Coast remain outside the top eight, Dew can expect the media to continually bring the issue up.

 

Begg shoes to fill

Mid-season draftees are a bit of a mixed bag. Most earn the job by great form in the state leagues, but few have managed to make it into the best 22 on a regular basis.

So as a second-round pick in the 2021 mid-season rookie draft who came to the club with a shoulder injury, and as a backup ruckman behind Grundy, Cameron and a certain 7 seven-foot tall American, Begg’s debut shows that Collingwood wanted to give him a chance to prove himself. At least, that seems to be the only plausible reason to overlook Cox who has 15cm and 20kg on him. Cox seems to have taken it a little personally, kicking three and getting 21 touches, combining well with Ollie Henry who kicked 7.3  to create something of a welcome selection headache for the Pies.

Begg’s 15 touches, four marks and three clearances were a fair return, though only managing two hit outs would be a concern. He’ll need to improve his ruck craft, especially around the ground where he struggled to get a touch on the ball against Witts and Chol. He did win his first tap against Chol, which drew some cheers from the crowd, but didn’t have as much of an impact as he might have dreamed when lacing his boots up that morning. Still, he’ll be much better for the experience, as he now knows what he has to beat if he wants to be in the frame as a ruck/forward.

As the only full-time ruck in the game, Witts had a bit of a day out, amassing 44 taps to easily eclipse Cameron’s 15.

 

The beGinivanning of something special

Two things about young Ginnivan are undeniable— One; that he is a cocky little bastard, and Two; that at least some of that arrogance is justified. Honestly, I haven’t seen someone so pleased with themselves since Tom Browne got a call from his dad telling him he could be a sports journalist.

Plenty of people have mentioned how Scott Pendlebury seems to be able to create extra time for himself with his smooth moves, but in the mid-2nd quarter, his goal looked like he’d managed to freeze time and space for everyone except himself. It reminded me of one time in juniors when I weaved between defenders to snap a great goal, only to later realise that the ump had blown his whistle and everyone else had stopped playing, watching me weave in and out like a doofus. To make it worse, the ump called 50 against me, and the coach promptly moved me to back pocket for the rest of the day. Worse still, the coach was my dad.

Anyway, Ginnivan managed to chase the ball in the forward pocket after a Lipinski kick came off the hands of a Suns defender, gather the ball cleanly, run around Jy Farrar, shrug the tackle of Connor Budarick, balk Sean Lemmens, and get a kick off before David Swallow could affect a tackle, and then dumping Swallow on the ground for good measure.

Farrar was burned by Ginnivan’s speed and wiles, but the other two tackles were the sort you’d see when the Dad’s play their kids at Auskick—gentle to the point of farce. Ginnivan might look like he’d need parental permission to ride a rollercoaster, but he made the Gold Coast defence look like they had more in common with traffic cones than just the colour scheme of their guernsey.

It’ll be a deserved goal of the week contender, and the Collingwood fans texting in to make sure he wins it, Telstra will probably make their sponsorship money back just from prepaid recharge cards this week.

 

Other bits

Tackling is going to be an issue for a long time yet. You can’t be behind someone if they fall forward, can’t be beside someone if you sling them sideways, and can’t be in front of someone in you make contact with their head. The fact that some players can tackle at all without giving away a kick is remarkable, but plenty of players manage to thread the needle and apply real physical pressure in a tackle.

Far too often, Gold Coast chose to go the other way, and instead of wrapping their opponent up in a tackle, simply grabbed arms, jumper or shoulders with hand tackles.

With the current interpretations, it’s almost inevitable that this sort of thing will happen, especially when a team has so much youth that sits shy of the 80kg mark, but while it makes it less likely to give away a free kick, it is much more likely to be broken or otherwise allow the player being tackled to get an effective disposal away.

Sometimes it’s almost worth giving away the free in a heavy tackle (as long as it’s not reportable) in order to stop the opponent’s run, give teammates time to set up, and if they object strenuously you can always start with the jumper-punch square dance as you both do-si-do around in a spectacle that is sure to impress everyone watching in the stands and at home.

What do Gold Coast do about Lukosius? On one hand, his talent seem obvious and he’s played numerous roles when needed. On the other hand, he seems to have a gift for pissing off the coach almost as much as the kid on the KFC drive-thru forgot his sweet-n-sour source in his family feast meal.

Do Gold Coast dare consider a deal that would send Jack home to SA and net them some draft capital, or do they lock him in for the next 2-3 years? Do they float a longer contract, considering he’s only 21 at the moment and in all likelihood has more than a decade of footy ahead of him? Has he signed already and is just acting as the red herring to get SA teams to the trade table to discuss other deals? No one can really say right now, but it’ll be an interesting development as the season wears on.

On the subject of contracts, Steele Sidebottom still hasn’t put pen to paper for 2023. He has been massive in the past few years, but with the young talent coming through, it’s meant less midfield minutes for him, and less impact in games.

He’s only 31, so still ahs a few years ahead of him, but will be an unrestricted free agent at year’s end. Do Collingwood re-sign him, trade him, or hope for decent free agency compensation? My money would be on a one-year rolling contract, as even if he ends up being a second-rotation midfielder, his best is still very, very good, and will help the players around him develop faster.

One last little bit: Does the Scott’s Transport corporate box at the G only get used when Port play finals there? I swear, it has not had anyone in it in the last few years, and I’ve been to a few Port regular season games there. There is a thick layer of dust on everything, and to be blunt, there’s a funky kind of smell coming from the area that makes me wonder if a small mammal has expired within. Do they even know they still have it? Did someone leave their keys in the microwave when they nuked their membership? Is the last owner still trapped inside, surviving on meat pie crusts smuggled into him by tame possums and rats?

I’m just saying, if they want someone to give it a quick once over with a Dyson, I’m happy to give it a go for a game or two of use in return.

 

Next Up

Collingwood have a six-day break to play away-at-home against Richmond. The Tigers are a win outside the eighth spot that Collingwood currently sit in, but have better percentage, so a win will see them likely elevated into the eight, and a loss will have them staring down the barrel of the end of a dynasty.

The probable return of Dustin Martin will lift the side, but it shapes up as a season-defining game for both teams as Collingwood look to capitalise on their mix of reliable experienced players and exciting youth, while Richmond’s champions look to show that they have more to give beyond 2022.

This one really can go either way, with the Pies having a shorter break, but Richmond returning from a long plane trip to Perth from the previous week. The Pies team also seems well settled with the Daicos’s… uh..Daicoses… Daicosi?… Daicos’….. Josh and Nick Daicos both elevating each other’s game, perfectly complementing the senior mids in the team, despite missing Grundy.

Richmond doesn’t tend to rely on a heavy ruck presence either, so may not be able to exploit the loss of Grundy as much as other teams, though you’d expect Nankervis and Soldo to be more than a match for Cameron and Beggs, especially after making light work of West Coast’s second-string big men. With that in mind, I’m tipping that Richmond’s mids will probably get first touch a little too often for Collingwood to completely counter, and provided they manage a decent conversion in front of the big sticks, they should have Collingwood’s measure.

Richmond by 11 points.

Gold Coast will head to the SCG to take on a Sydney team that was beaten but far from humiliated by a quality Brisbane side.

With Buddy looking like he’s enjoying his footy more than ever, and some deadly attacking rebound style of play, Gold Coast will have to be extremely efficient with their transition into the forward half of the ground if they want to keep Sydney bottled up. I’d have to say, I’m not sure they can do it, and Sydney look like they will be aiming for a top four spot if their form continues, while Gold Coast are languishing around the 9th-14th mark that hurts teams with not enough wins to target finals, and not enough losses to get a big draft haul.

Suns fans will be looking for big efforts from their tall defenders, and some big marks from their own key forwards, but I think the Swans will be too tough for them (and for many other teams) this season.

Sydney by 22.

 

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