Tomorrow night the relatively young suburb of Docklands will bear witness to a battle between two of Australia's oldest sporting clubs, currently separated by 6 percentage points, a splash of teal and a couple of stolen hubcaps.
Both wear opposition disdain like a badge of honour, have rich histories forged in working class roots and each has an insufferable president at the helm, despised by everyone outside of their own diehard clan.
This is The Mongrel's preview of Collingwood vs Port Adelaide
Collingwood's gamestyle is a more refined version of the frighteningly quick ball movement that came to fruition at the Adelaide Oval early last season. The 2018 Pies averaged 91 points a game, four points more than the 87 of the current group, suggesting they're not quite as potent going forward at present. That's kind of true but it's been mitigated by a stingier defence who are on average conceding 4 points less (72 vs 76).
At times Collingwood have been content to possess the footy and drag opposition players around the ground this year, working them overtime and making every opposition player accountable. This is still a work in progress but the ability to deny opponents the ball was something that Collingwood struggled with at stages last year, most notably in the three games against the Eagles.
Watching the ball repeatedly enter their defensive 50 with little midfield resistance was a theme of the decider's final stanza and no doubt prompted a few tweaks from Buckley and his fellow coaches. In 2019 some believe that the Pies have slightly overcorrected their possession-based style as they're averaging a whopping 102 uncontested marks per game. That's seven more than the next highest in GWS and 11 more than the reigning premier.
The Pies still have an ability to play fast but there seems to be a heightened on-field awareness to slow the tempo down, this is most noticeable as Collingwood exit their defensive 50 and when the opposition gains momentum. Overall the balance between defence/attack and playing fast/slow hasn't quite clicked for the Carringbush (a scary thought!) and on Anzac Day they found it hard to re-establish an attacking brand after their early dominance, managing just three 2nd half goals in a narrow win over the Bombers.
If 1990/91 was the recession the economy had to have (I'm not buying it) then last year's regression by the Power was equally necessary for their evolution. An overly cautious and methodical style didn't really suit Port's list but it did unearth a solid defensive back six. Some inspired recruiting and savvy trading has rejuvenated the team and a licence to run, carry and generally take the game on has made the Power one of the better teams to watch in 2019.
If Collingwood are a patient side then Port are in a hurry! This doesn't always translate to defensive solidity but an average of 90 points a game (up nine from 81 last year) while only conceding two points more (77 to 75) has made them a destructive opponent who are constantly keeping the scoreboard ticking over.
The disparity in uncontested marking between the teams (Port average just 78 per game) probably shows up the Power's inferior foot skills but also highlights a willingness to move the ball at speed. And when you manage 25% more clearances than your opponent (Port 44 v Pies 33) why wouldn't you get the ball rapidly going your way!
Boak v Greenwood
When I was asked to submit my current All Australian team to collate the Mongrel’s version, Travis Boak was the first name I jotted down. At the ripe old age of 30 and on the eve of his 250th game the former captain is producing his magnum opus in 2019. 33 disposals (14 contested), seven clearances, six tackles and six inside 50's are staggering numbers. There is no chance in Hades that Buckley won't send someone to him and the first cab off the rank is likely to be Levi Greenwood.
The only concern I have with Levi is his ability to track Boak's explosiveness out of stoppages but Levi will have gained plenty of confidence from his efforts on Martin in round two.
Pendlebury v Rockliff v Adams
I have an inkling that Ken Hinkley may not start a hard tag on Pendlebury initially and just see how Rockliff goes head to head. The ex-Lion shades him when it comes to disposals (33 v 28), contested possessions (13 v 10) and clearances (6 v 5) but there are few players who are more damaging than the Pies' skipper.
Pendlebury's ability to put teammates into space with perfectly weighted handballs and creative short-kicking is a treat to witness and if Rockliff can get somewhere close to breaking even (impact, not strickly possessions) that would be a huge win for Port.
Just to throw a cat amongst the pigeons it's also possible that Adams will start on Rockliff to occupy his space. Collingwood's superior midfield depth gives them the luxury of sacrificing one of their ball winners to lock down on a dangerous player and although Adams' own numbers are strong (Avg 25 disposals, six inside 50's) his willingness to roll his sleeves up for the team has been proven time and again.
Wines v Treloar
I'm expecting these two to shake hands at the first bounce and rarely see each other until the final siren. Co-captain Wines is now match fit after his much publicised waterskiing exploits and is edging closer to his best form. 25 disposals (10 contested), six clearances and a goal a game are strong numbers.
Like Wines, Treloar is very much cut from the 'see ball, get ball' cloth and can hit top speed quickly, making him especially dangerous when on the move. Treloar knows where the sticks are and can kick 55 metre goals at full pace so the scoreboard impact from this pair could be keenly felt. An average of 32 disposals (10 contested), five tackles and four clearances are a reflection of Treloar's strong start to 2019.
Grundy v Lycett/Ryder
Of all the matchups this is the one that I'm salivating over. Brodie Grundy is clearly the league's form ruckman averaging 20 disposals, 38 hitouts and six clearances. Being able to link up with the play in transition sets Grundy apart from his contemporaries and makes an absolute mockery of the 'never handball to a ruckman' adage.
However, the last time Grundy faced off against Scott Lycett he had his colours lowered as the former Eagle combined with Nathan Vardy to limit the Pies' champ to just 10 touches en route to a West Coast Premiership.
A lack of aggression was evident as Port slipped out of finals contention last season and Lycett's return home (West Coast recruited him from Port's S.A.N.F.L. team) has brought a harder edge to Port's stoppages. Lycett can physically work his opponents over, allowing Paddy Ryder to exploit their fatiguing legs with his athleticism. Lycett gets 15 disposals, four clearances and wins 24 hitouts on average with Ryder claiming 20 hitouts and a goal a game. Together they're the league's most potent ruck duo, complementing each other extremely well.
The absence of Mason Cox will give Port Adelaide a lot of confidence and make life even more difficult for Grundy in his biggest test of the season thus far. Cox is usually good for 4-5 hitouts per game when Grundy is resting and it's hard to see another Collingwood player fill that void.
Port Adelaide's forwards
Roughead v Ryder (when forward)
The recruitment of Jordan Roughead has added some brute strength to the Collingwood back six and looks an even more prudent trade given Lynden Dunn will miss the rest of the year through injury. Unlike his fellow defenders Roughead isn't a creative player but can be relied upon to quell the tallest forward playing closest to goal. I'd expect him to take Paddy Ryder who will be suited to the still, dry conditions inside the circus tent.
Ryder has been more impressive in the ruck than up forward but has at least two looks at the goals per game and is a pretty reliable set shot.
Moore v Marshall
I was surprised at how comfortable Darcy Moore looked when the Pies reinvented him as a defender last year. A great judge of the ball in flight, Moore's speed and composure to both spot and hit teammates further afield makes him an attacking weapon and gives the Collingwood back six a very different look to the undersized defence who fought admirably out of their weight division last September.
I expect Port's players will be instructed to honour Todd Marshall's leads early in the game to keep Moore accountable and I wouldn't be surprised to see Marshall dragging Moore away from the action as often as possible as the game wears on.
Howe v Westhoff (when forward)
What a super battle this could be! Howe is one of Collingwood's most reliable performers and has blossomed into one of the league's best intercept defenders. I see him as being the best matchup for Westhoff, who, after a slow start to 2019, appeared to be in good touch last week. The reigning John Cahill medalist, Westhoff will spend time up on down the wings (where he may be tracked by Phillips) and will also float back to help his defence at times too but when stationed forward it'll be a treat to see these two go at it.
Crisp v Ebert
Ebert's move forward (along with Boak's return to the midfield) has proved a masterstroke so far. Whilst still winning plenty of the ball (20 disposals), Ebert's presence in and around the attacking 50 has helped Port heap pressure on opposition defenders through his tackling (2nd most league-wide inside 50) and general pressure acts. A strong mark overhead, Ebert is a tough opponent for any side and is well on track for a 40+ goal season. I like Jack Crisp for the Ebert role as he can match him for strength, endurance and footy smarts. Crisp is one of my favourite Collingwood players due to his competitiveness, clean ball use and long kicking and he'll be up for the challenge.
Maynard v Rozee
In my opinion Connor Rozee has been the most impressive out of this year's debutantes, primarily due to the role he plays. Standing at 6 foot 1 and built like a strand of spaghetti, Rozee is strong in the air, supremely clean at ground level and elusive as a two dollar coin when dropped in a crowded space. Add a natural nose for goal and you have a ready made AFL player who probably becomes the Power's most dangerous small in the absence of Robbie Gray.
He'll be in for a tough time tomorrow with Brayden Maynard as an opponent, the young defender one of those players who never gives an inch. I can imagine Maynard being competitive in every facet of his life, one of those people who never lets you into traffic when the lanes merge should it cost him a precious few seconds! He generally takes the best opposition small and his positioning, strength and last ditch efforts have become a feature of Buckley's side. Maynard will seek to physically bully Rozee at every opportunity which will be a huge test for the round 3 rising star nominee.
The only knock on Maynard's game is his tendancy to blaze long, haphazard kicks upfield but his defensive efforts can't be questioned.
Langdon v S Gray
There was a time when Tom Langdon was a bit of a whipping boy for the Magpie faithful but those days are long gone, his defensive exploits last year (often when ceding height and weight) winning plenty of admirers. I think he'll start on Sam Gray who has been a livewire up forward after missing the first two games. Gray has always been a 'moments player', drifting in and out of games and, like Langdon, has copped his fair share of criticism by Power fans. What's undeniable is that Gray (like a lot of his team) is currently in career best form and averaging a tick over two goals to go with his 20 touches.
Given Port Adelaide only convert at 50% (Powell-Pepper's 4.8 & Robbie Gray's 6.7 the main culprits) his nine goals from 13 shots have been a godsend, the opportunistic forward regularly finding pockets of space and making teams pay dearly. Look for him to buzz around the feet of Ryder feasting on crumbs.
Lienert v Reid
The perennially unlucky Ben Reid comes in for his first senior appearance of the year, and will be minded by Jarrod Lienert. Injury has robbed Reid of his (previously elite) dexterity but he's still crafty enough to fancy himself against Lienert, who's playing just his 8th senior game. However, Lienert's pedigree is strong and the mature-age recruit didn't look at all out of place last week in his first game of 2019.
Reid will have to give Grundy a chop out in the ruck so will have ample opportunity to get his hands on the footy. Robert Walls likes this.
* Dougal Howard is a similar size to Reid but I expect him to be a late out for Steven Motlop
Clurey v De Goey
Jordan de Goey is close to the most difficult matchup in footy due to his unique physical gifts. He's become almost impossible to curtail leading up to the ball with an explosiveness from standstill aided by his bulky, sizeable frame. Worse still (for opponents) is his aerial marking capacity and his knack of shaking off tacklers like an irritated bull at a rodeo (Edit: has there ever been a placid bull at a rodeo?)
Tom Clurey is the man with the toughest assignment on the field and though his profile may be small outside of S.A. he'll be thrust firmly into the spotlight tomorrow night. I expect him to do an admirable job, one that's seen him mentioned as a possible All Australian candidate. Clurey's speed, strength and balance are all traits he'll need in abundance to quell De Goey and this matchup will go a long way toward determining the result.
Houston v J Elliott
The return of Jamie Elliott at first glance hasn't quite seen the fruitful partnership with De Goey that we all would've envisaged. Dig a little deeper though and you'll see that Elliott has six goal assists from only five games to complement his vertical leap, clean hands and natural goal sense. Still, he'll do well to get the better of Houston who's been a standout down back for the last 18 months and is yet another player who goes under the radar outside of the festival state.
Elliott's defensive duties can't afford to be neglected as Houston can rebound with the best of them and his kicks rarely miss their target.
Burton v Hoskin-Elliott
Will Hoskin-Elliott returned from injury last week and is an important cog in the Magpie machine; a great connecting player between the defensive and offensive lines. Hitting up at the footy for 120 minutes is Hoskin-Elliott's specialty but he's also capable of the mercurial, flying high above packs and slotting goals from ridiculous angles. Hawk recruit Ryan Burton could be given the task of tracking him around the ground as he has the requisite pace and smarts. Burton also has a cool head to go with his cannon of a right foot and will be suited to the pristine conditions under the roof.
How will it play out?
Port Adelaide will see this as a great litmus test of their progression, the heavy round 22 defeat to Collingwood last year more or less ending their 2018 finals aspirations. The Power will take plenty of confidence in their record of six wins from their last 8 meetings against the Pies and the frenetic game style they've adopted should be suited to the fast, slick conditions at the Docklands. Centre square clearances fall a lot closer to goal than they do at the longer Adelaide Oval and Port on paper look to have a sizeable advantage in that area.
Moreover, the absence of Mason Cox just about cancels out the unavailability of Robbie Gray and Tom Jonas and the Power will feel that they can run the Pies off their feet, similarly to the way Essendon approached the Anzac Day game.
But...I'm leaning toward the Pies in a close one. Games under the roof are a uniquely strange experience and Port will have close to half a dozen players making their first appearances there (at AFL level) in front of a feral Collingwood crowd. I also think the Pies' small forward line will be able to apply a bit more pressure to their opponent.
The fact I'm only now mentioning players like Sidebottom, Beams and Stephenson speaks to Collingwood's superior depth, even though the Power have unearthed some gems like Duursma and Butters. Sam Powell-Pepper is an absolute brute too and looks to have raised his game to another level after an unsettled 2018.
Still, my head says the Pies just know how to grind out wins and on recent evidence the Power still lack a bit of composure when games tighten up. Their last five minutes against North were horrendous, they honestly looked like they'd never trained to preserve a lead and I fear a similarly close finish will see them fall just short.
Collingwood by 9 points
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