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The Good, Bad and First Half - Collingwood v Western Bulldogs

Prior to the 2019 season, the AFL introduced new rules to increase scoring and prevent congestion. We heard from all the talking heads and your regular AFL puppets about how great it would be. We heard about how it would open up the game, how it would promote an open forward line, and how it would encourage quick ball movement inside 50.

Did someone forget to tell these teams?

Only one word fits well enough to describe the first half footy – boring.

Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs played a half of footy that was the polar opposite of what the AFL was hoping for when they trotted out their new rules. They were defensive, they were overly cautious, and they gave a clear example that it doesn’t matter what rules you bring in – if a team wants to play defensively, they will.

And there is nothing the AFL can do about it.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and obvious ugly.

 

THE GOOD

THE BIG MEN DON’T GET ANY SMALLER

Okay, can we please set aside that horrible, ill-conceived attempted short pass to de Goey in the last quarter? We can? Good, because everything else Mason Cox did in the final stanza was of the highest quality.

He took contested grabs, brought the ball to ground inside 50, and he even made his loping way down to half back to smother a ball out of bounds as the Dogs challenged.

Cox finished with six contested marks for the game, and started to demonstrate a little of that swagger he had about him late last season. When he gets a little bit of space to work into, all it takes is an intelligent kick to his advantage, and he is a huge obstacle to overcome in the air.

Jack Dyer would say he extends those arms like two giant testicles! You know, like an octopus! And he extended those testicles tonight when it mattered… at the social club! Nah, just kidding – he was great in the last quarter when the Pies needed a big target to take some marks – that’s exactly what Cox did.

 

AARON NAUGHTON

How good is it to see a key forward running and hitting the pack hard, and not just bringing the ball to ground, but clunking big marks as well.

I’m going to find the piece I wrote last year where I said that Aaron Naughton might just end up being the best player to come out of his draft year. I was ridiculed at the time, but every time I watch him, I nod my head like I am some all-seeing, all-knowing sage.

The reality is, I may end up getting one thing right, but what a great thing to get right, particularly if you’re a Dogs fan!

I’ve been loving his attack on the ball, and the way he keeps hold of the pill until he brings it to ground. It’s as though he’s like a dog with a bone, and refuses to let go until he is 100% sure that the bone is his.

The third quarter display by Naughton went a long way to aiding the Bulldogs take the lead, and caused an adjustment in the Magpie defence that saw their tall defenders converge on the contest whenever Naughton was involved.

He finished with four contested marks for the game, and looks every bit like the kind of game-changer that every team wants.

 

BRODIE GRUNDY V TIM ENGLISH

You know that ad – compare the pair? It’s got meerkats in it. Well, 24 hours after Max Gawn tore Callum Sinclair a new one in the ruck contests, Brodie Grundy decided he had better establish his dominance over a bloke who is (at the moment) ill-equipped to match strength with him.

Grundy was far too powerful for English to compete with at stoppages, but a funny thing happened in the third quarter. Grundy continued on his ruck-dominant way, but it was English who started to move without the ball and place himself in good positions to receive. As a result, he finished the quarter strongly, and with almost as many touches around the ground as his nemesis.

If we’re looking at the game as a whole, Grundy takes the points - easily. He had a career-high 58 hit outs the night after Max Gawn notched 53. He had a game-high 18 contested touches, laid eight tackles and had six clearances himself. He was dominant, but he wasn’t clean with the footy.

English wasn’t disgraced despite what the hit out stats tell you. Decimation in the ruck like this was always on the cards, as the Dogs know their young star won’t be able to match it with the monsters of the game for quite a while, but he learned a little bit tonight.

Just because you cannot impact one area of the game does not mean you can’t impact another, and in the second half, English had an impact around the ground as the Dogs made their move.

 

TAYLOR ADAMS

We all heard about the “greatest midfield ever” all the way through the pre-season, but this is the guy who makes it all work.

Why is that?

He works just as hard defensively as he does offensively, but is not anywhere near as negative as a tagger. He is an accountable midfielder who takes pride in his ability to stop the opposition in their tracks. And he did that with eight tackles in this one.

Only Grundy matched Adams’ aggression at his opponents tonight, and once the ball spilled, Adams was onto it. He had 28 touches overall, with six clearances to his name. Whilst so much of the attention goes onto Sidebottom, Pendlebury, Treloar and Beams, it is the tireless work of Adams that is the key to the Collingwood midfield. He does the stuff everyone else isn’t doing.

 

THE BONT

He was the best player on the park for the first three quarters, and not by a small margin.

There have been times when I’ve been harsh on Bont, but that is because he is so damn good, that I expect a lot from him. He was hurt a bit last year and his ability to win the ball was compromised, but that seems to be rectified this year.

He had 16 contested touches amongst his 36 disposals, and also had eight clearances - both game-high totals. When he gets the ball, his hands are beautiful, and a couple of his releases from stoppages were so quick, I reckon only Clayton Oliver has a quicker release. They're probably tied in terms of vision.

If there was one negative aspect of his game, I thought he was a little quiet for a long stretch in the last quarter when the Dogs really needed someone to stand up. The person that probably did was Caleb Daniel. The team needed Bont, but then again, the team always needs Bont. There’s only so much he can do.

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THE BIG THREE

I just pointed out that Bont was a little quiet in the last, but that wasn’t the case for three big Collingwood mids when the game was on the line.

Steele Sidebottom had ten touches in the last quarter, as did Taylor Adams, and Scott Pendlebury picked up nine.

When people are wondering whether the Pies midfield is any good, show them this last quarter. These three really picked up their games and did what was necessary to get their team over the line. 29 touches between them speak of an engine room ready to accelerate when the heat goes on.

In contrast, the Dogs big three of Bont, Macrae and Hunter had 21.

 

MATT SUCKLING

He is still a potent weapon off half back, and even more so when he drifts through the centre.

That raking left foot kick served the Dogs well tonight. 25 of his 27 disposals hit the mark, and he was a reliable option either exiting defensive 50, or going long to give his forwards a chance inside his own 50.

It was around the third quarter when I started to wonder why Suckling wasn’t dropping back to ensure he took the kick ins. This duty was entrusted to Caleb Daniel, who was a little hit-and-miss with his production exiting defensive 50, and lacks the piercing penetration that Suckling possesses. In a game that was there to be broken open, Suckling was one player with the capacity to do it from full back, but he really didn’t get the opportunity. A 60 metre bomb from him, hitting a target after running 15 metres himself from full back could have set the Dogs alight.

Maybe we’ll see more of that as the season progresses, because not seeing it tonight was quite disappointing.

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THE BAD

 

JOSH SCHACHE

Has anyone spotted this bloke tonight? I haven’t seen him since early in the second quarter.

I know young forwards take time to develop. They’re a bit slow, you see… that’s why guys like Aaron Naught… hang on, Naughton can seem to get involved in the game – why can’t Schache?

Maybe Schache will never be the key forward the Dogs need him to be? They seem to have found the one they were looking for in Naughton; maybe it is time to trial Schache in another role? Right now he is playing second or third fiddle, and all the strings to his bow are snapped.

Whether he was matched up against Moore, Langdon, or Roughead, Schache was completely dominated. He failed miserably to make any impact at all when he went into the ruck (I didn’t expect him to beat Grundy, but just offering an option once the team spread would have been nice) and believe it or not, that wasn’t the worst of his game.

Once the ball hit the deck, Schache became even less useful than he was in the air. Zero tackles from him, and one 1%er for the game. He was like a witch’s hat out there, particularly in the second half. The Dogs needed someone to stand up. It wasn’t Schache, who had just one touch after half time.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, but Schache had both no luck, and was definitely no good. To summarise his night, it was like he found himself in a barrel of nipples, and wound up sucking his thumb tonight.

 

THE CHRIS MAYNE INJURY

This is just a quick one, because after all the crap he copped in his first season with Collingwood, Chris Mayne really came good. It’s actually a pretty cool story to see him turn the perception people had of him right around, and play good footy again.

If anyone deserved the chance to have an impact on a milestone game, it was him. Five minutes into the game, however, he was off the ground nursing a lower back injury. He did not return.

Funny thing is, even with spending 96% of game time off the ground, he was still just as influential as Schache and Billy Gowers.

 

THE UGLY

 

THAT DISGUSTING FIRST HALF

I know I wrote about it in the intro, but here’s the thing – I love footy. LOVE it!

I hated that first half. As a neutral supporter, I was frustrated and had I not been reviewing this game, I may have tuned out. In great conditions, at the home of footy, these two sides took no risks and played one of the most conservative halves of footy I can remember watching.

There was one genuine highlight in the first half – Hayden Crozier’s towering mark over Jamie Elliott at half back, but that was about it. The kicking for goal was abysmal. The diagonal kick to open the game up was non-existent, and the courage to run and carry and actually try to find someone inside 50 with a chance to have a shot from somewhere other than near to the boundary line was as rare as a white rhino.

It was a truly deplorable half of footy, and if the AFL thinks they can alter this with tweaks to a few rules, they’re sadly mistaken. This was driven by the coaches and players, and played in a way where each team was afraid to turn the ball over. It’s a sound strategy, when you think of it – it just stinks as a spectacle.

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QUICK BITS

The Dogs really have to work out a way to prevent Caleb Daniel from being isolated inside forward 50. It’s just happening too often, and whilst I am sure they love his decision making back there, there is no possible way that he should be defending Travis Varcoe or Jordan de Goey back there. Simply put, there is no excuse for it.

Really nice game for Jordan Roughead against his old mob. He hardly put a foot wrong all evening en route to picking up nine intercept possessions and nine big spoils.

Here’s a contentious one – the Collingwood midfield looked better without Beams in there.

Let’s forget the first half stats – they were basically useless as there was so many “nothing” kicks to keep possession. If we look at the second half, who is the one that stands out? I reckon it was Sidebottom. He hit target after target and just continually found the right spot to be in.

Nice first half from Bailey Smith, but Wayne Carey was right on commentary – he needs to work on that left foot to avoid trying to screw the ball back unnecessarily with banana kicks from right in front. If they’re only working 50% of the time, some investment of time in his left foot may be worthwhile.

Not sure if Jack Macrae has a back or not, but I am pretty sure that several Collingwood players landed right into the area his back should’ve been. It must not have been there, however, otherwise he would’ve been awarded free kicks for all the times people jumped into his damn back when he was on the deck, right?

My favourite commentary piece of the night – Brian Taylor spouting “it’s a funny old game” right before quarter time. Everyone knew he meant “this is a shit game.”

The only bloke looking like he wanted to get any penetration on his kicks in the first half was Tom Phillips. Sadly, as soon as everyone else decided that was a good idea and started to do it as well, he didn’t get much of the ball. At half time he’d gained 426 metres for his team. At full time, just 530.

Lachie Hunter went missing for way too long in the last quarter. He picked up a couple of cheapies very late in the piece, but he had 24 at three quarter time and ended up with 29. He is such a good user of the footy, and the Dogs really needed him to be involved more in crunch time.

I still think Trav Varcoe has the best pair of “front and centre” hands in the business. If not him, then who?

I still much prefer Jaidyn Stephenson up forward, but he spent a heap of time down back today. Once forward, he hurt the Dogs where it matters – on the scoreboard. The Pies are not getting that run and carry they expected from Stephenson from half back. He is as dangerous as hell inside 50, though.

If the Dogs are going to live and die by the decision making of Zane Cordy in defensive 50… they’ll be dead soon enough. I don’t trust him with ball in hand.

Conversely, I have enormous trust in guys like Jack Crisp, Jeremy Howe and Tom Langdon at Collingwood. They just seem so much more composed.

25 touches and seven tackles says Libba had a good night at the office, but he was far less influential tonight than those numbers indicate. He had nine in the last quarter, which tells us he’s running games out well, but where was he for the first three quarters?

Another guess at what is, and what isn’t a dangerous tackle tonight. This time it was on Mihocek early in the third quarter. The Pies kicked a goal regardless, but far out I hate seeing umps guess at things that clearly are not there.

Nasty nut-shot that Caleb Daniel copped from the Grundy clearance and hack forward. It really got him flush, and you wouldn’t have blamed the bloke if he had stayed off the ground. Unpleasant…

So the Pies avoid a 1-3 start which started looming in the third quarter, and head into a belter of a game next Thursday against the Lions at the GABBA. The corresponding game was a ripper last season, and if we get something close to that again, I’ll be rapt.

The Dogs have no squandered a great start to the year, and will be middle of the pack. They should get some respite when they play Carlton next week, particularly depending on what happens this week as the Blues take on the Suns.

Are the Pies looking good? Not yet, they’re not. The midfield is yet to really gel, but the last quarter was promising. Their defence is rock solid, but they need Mihocek gloving marks (he dropped probably three he should’ve really taken) and they need de Goey rewarding the team for the work in getting him the ball – 1.3 and a couple that didn’t even get near the goals is not good enough.

Can the Dogs make finals? Yeah, they can, but those at the bottom end of the scale tonight (Gowers, Schache) cannot provide as little as they did. You often hear people say that teams are only as good as their bottom six – the Dogs’ bottom six were pretty average this week.

 

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